Course Pack Sales Jump, Keeping Texas In-plant in the Black
Printed course packs, once a staple for college and university in-plants, have been on the wane for years, replaced by digital versions. So how is it that The University of Texas at Austin experienced its highest total sales of course packs in years this fall, paving the way for a $78,000 profit over expenses in its Copy Services operation?
Two words: e-commerce and COVID-19.
“The pandemic … was a saving grace for us,” declares Steve Burdette, Mail Services manager at Document Services, which includes Copy Services. “We actually ended up in the black, and none of that would have been even possible if it wasn’t for … the opportunity to do the online learning and support that initiative.”
In the early days of the pandemic, the 46-employee in-plant got an e-commerce site up and running in record time, added the option to download course packs, and made the savvy decision to place UT merchandise on the site. By reacting so quickly to the situation, the copy center not only provided an essential service when the university needed it most, it was able to generate $460,000 in total sales in August alone (which included the printing of COVID-19-related signage).
“The combination of the course pack sales and the merchandise is what saved our copy center,” proclaims Burdette.
This is a surprising development considering how things started off when the pandemic hit in March. Copy Services closed three of its four campus satellite operations.
“At that point we were scrambling,” Burdette says.
Prior to that, course packs were only sold in person at the copy centers. Back in December 2019, the in-plant started the process of adding digital course packs to its offerings. A website was created where students could download them, but it was not an ideal process.
“We had to actually enter in all of the credit card information manually,” Burdette says.
Recognizing the need for an e-commerce site to automate the process, the team worked quickly to modify its Shopify Point of Sale platform to set up an online store. They built a webpage that could process credit card data, capture shipping information, and send automated emails to customers.
“We built it in 30 days,” remarks Burdette. “It was a race.”
Students can select a digital course pack and get a download link, or they can buy a printed version, which they can either pick up in person or have shipped to them — a new option, since Copy Services had not previously shipped course packs.
“It did add some additional workload to my mail team,” he acknowledges, but it was nothing they couldn’t handle.
Adding UT merchandise to the site proved to be a profitable idea, enticing students to add UT-branded items to their orders when they came for course packs.
“We sold over 2,000 UT masks along with course packs,” remarks Burdette — not to mention hundreds of UT-branded pens, stuffed animals, padfolios, umbrellas, socks, water bottles, and more. “Our merchandise sales just soared.” This generated about $15,000 in merchandise sales in August alone, he says.
“Our total sales, year over year, went up 6%,” he says of Copy Services. “The whole thing was driven by online learning.”
Sales weren’t the only thing that improved, he adds.
“It brought our team together too,” Burdette points out. “[They] had to rally together to pull this off. This was quite a task to get done.”
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited nearly 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.