The Campus Chronicle
Vol. XVI, Issue 1
for the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts
Sept. 1, 2000

Page OneGrain & ChaffObituariesLetters to the ChronicleArchivesFeedbackWeekly Bulletin




Olson feels at home directing University Store, Textbook Annex

by Sarah R. Buchholz, Chronicle staff

Photo: Phill Olson
Phill Olson is the new director of the University Store and Textbook Annex, now run by a private company, Follett Higher Education Group. (Stan Sherer photo)

When Phill Olson left the ministry more than a decade ago after pastoring churches in Ohio, Maine and Massachusetts, he was looking for another venue in which to use his people skills.

     "This company particularly appealed to me," he said of Follett Higher Education Group, which brought him to Amherst to serve as store director when it assumed operation of the University Store and Textbook Annex in July. "There are a lot of management skills in it that are similar to ministry. One of the things I really enjoy about Follett is that, in spite of its corporate size, it's still a family-owned, family-run business. They've never asked me to compromise my ideals. It so far has been a very good match."

     Earlier positions he held through Follett include textbook manager at Trinity College in Hartford and store manager at Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I. For the past 10 years he had been overseeing 23 stores in the Northeast as a regional manager.

     Another good match has been with the area.

     "This is my home state," he said. "I grew up in Waltham. We're delighted to be part of this community. I can't wait for the [fall] colors." The other half of "we" is Olson's wife, Barbara, who will be teaching fifth grade at the Bement School in Deerfield.

     An academic family, they have two daughters, 19 and 21, who appear to be headed toward teaching careers, he said.

     He also loves his job because he gets to be around books all day.

     "I think books get in your blood," he said. "If it weren't for libraries, I'd be broke." Olson reads adventure novels and science fiction, among other things.

     As the director of the store and annex while they adjust to being part of a large company, he has tried to limit the impact of the transition on those who use the store.

     "I really tried to make this transition as seamless as possible for the customer," he said. They'll see some new faces, but most of the faces will be familiar."

     Store manager John Kuusisto said the changes in his job have been minimal but that he and new Annex manager Jennifer Lee, '93, '98G, have been learning a lot about the company from Olson.

     "It hasn't been as different as I thought it might be," Kuusisto said. "My role hasn't really changed very much. Now I have someone in the store who I report to instead of elsewhere in the Campus Center, and I probably refer more things to Phill than I did to Meredith [Schmidt, director of Business and Facilities Services at the Lincoln Campus Center] because I've worked for Follett for three months instead of 22 years and I'm still learning the Follett system."

     Olson said that although he is not changing many things about the operation, most of the few alterations are aimed at providing "the best possible customer service."

     "You'll see some small, cosmetic changes to the front end of the store. We're starting a program called 'guaranteed buyback'—a quantity will have a sticker guaranteeing 50 percent of what they paid at the end of the semester. We're continuing the 5 percent rebate program that's been popular. If students save [textbook] receipts they can come back after rush and apply 5 percent to future purchases at the bookstore.

     And we're doing a Web site promotion called 'No Nightmares.' Students get a bookmark with a code on it. When they go to the Web site, they will see what prize they won. Most of the prizes are $1-, $2-, or $5-off coupons, but there are a couple of grand prizes: $25,000 of tuition money. We gave away four brand new cars last spring. That's to get people familiar with the Web site.

      On Sept. 5, Follett is hosting a party, called Moonlight Madness, at the store, from 6 to 9 p.m., hoping to get more students to buy books before the first day of classes and ease the crunch of the following two days. Olson said the company hopes to serve students by keeping prices down.

      "We're acquiring as many used books as we can," Olson said. "One of the reasons we ask for information from professors early is we literally shop for used books on a daily basis. We want to be as prepared as we can, to have the right books in the right quantity at the right time."

Related Web sites (will open in new browser window):

  UMass Logo This Web site is an Official Publication of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It is maintained by the Web Development Group of the Division of Communications & Marketing. © 2000