business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

"Kate's Take" is brought to you by Wholesome Sweeteners, Making The World a Sweeter Place.

"Beyond" took on new meaning when readying my daughter for her freshman year at a university 650 miles away. Packing light is a foreign term to her. We debated how much, and what, to ship ahead. A conundrum, particularly when the school didn’t accept packages early nor did it allow campus deliveries on freshman move-in day.

Fortunately, Bed Bath & Beyond anticipated this shared parental dilemma and offered several innovative options to ease the schlep from home to dorm room. While college specific, these strategies (including well-timed pop-up shops) have broader retail applications.

For starters, the website has an entire Shop for College tab with numerous check lists, 13 advice videos and more, including all-in-one beddings sets with the necessary Twin XL sheets. You can shop online and then choose your ship date.

I know several families who opted for the “Shop Here. Pick Up There” option, in which the student creates a registry at the local BB&B and then picks everything up at the store nearest their campus, for free. You can find the closest store simply by entering the college name on the website. (One customer service rep at a store near Tulane University in New Orleans “edited” the order when a friend arrived with her 18-year-old son, replacing any and all glass items with plastic. “Trust me,” she said. “I’ve got boys.”)

Additionally, BB&B had “pop-up” shops on campuses across the country – tents selling fans, bed risers, door mirrors, hangers, pillows, area rugs, bedding, desk lamps – all the basics. At Wake Forest University, the fully-stocked tent was located across from the freshman dorms on move-in day, and gone the next.

While BB&B wouldn’t release specific numbers on campus “pop-ups,” a quick Facebook check showed its presence at huge universities such as Michigan State and Arkansas and smaller schools such as Middlebury in Vermont. Jumping on the bandwagon this year was Target, which said its “pop-up glass dorm room” would visit five schools and shoppers could purchase the bedding and accessories in the room by scanning barcodes on the wall with their phones.

Interestingly, I was debating where to purchase certain dorm room items when I read a Yahoo Finance article touting BB&B’s prices. An analyst for BB&T bank put together a market basket of 30 items (glassware, cookware, small appliances) and found that BB&B’s prices beat out Amazon for the first time, coming in at 6.5% lower even without the ubiquitous bright blue 20% coupons. And I’ve never had a coupon rejected because it was past the expiration date. So it would appear that BB&B is trying to take a more consumer-centric approach.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the growing pop-up trend this holiday season, with national retail vacancy rates running at about 10%. Toys R Us found success with its Express stores. Target has opened pop-ups with panache, such as the two-story life-sized dollhouse it built in Grand Central Terminal for two days this spring to promote its new furniture and home décor collection.

Clearly, on college campuses, if you build the right pop-up, they will come. I’m sure savvy food truck operators have already determined that outside the quad or Student Union is place to park on Friday and Saturday nights. For students who do not have cars, I’d bet that a satellite grocery truck stocked with Gatorade, granola bars, Tostitos, Kraft Easy Mac and other staples of the college diet every Saturday morning would be a winner as well. And during exam time, Reese’s cups and 5-Hour Energy drinks.

Comments? Send me an email at kate@mnb.grocerywebsite.com .
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