A private Wildcat Store must put students first

Illustration by Liz Coffee
Illustration by Liz Coffee

The mere sound of the phrase “privatizing the Chico State Wildcat Store” sounds like something out of a dystopian nightmare, but Follett Corporation’s plans for taking over the Wildcat Store sound like something straight out of a business majors nocturnal emission.

Lower textbook fees, improved inventory, equal benefits for full-time employees, continued student employment – there really doesn’t seem to be a downside to this privatization.
While all of these promises sound great on paper, they still are just that: promises on paper.

The truth of the matter is that Follett is stepping in on an already-failing business, and it takes more than promises of job security to save a sinking ship.

The Wildcat Store didn’t struggle because of how it treated employees, be they students or full-time staff. The bookstore failed because it couldn’t compete in the textbook market. It could never escape the huge shadow Amazon cast on all college bookstores across the country.

Follet has shifted a lot of its focus into e-commerce in recent years, but students don’t just want a pretty website. It comes down to competitive prices.

About 40 percent of the Wildcat Store’s sales come from the book division. If Follett could compete with Amazon over textbook prices, students would be more willing to stop by and buy their books in person.

There’s a lot of work to be done in the negotations phase of this move. The board of directors needs to use the expertise of Robert Meyers, the current director of the Wildcat Store.

Meyers warned the board that during his time working with Follett at Arizona State University, his store lost all its local buying power and went backwards in technology.

The last thing the store needs is technological hiccups that will just give students another reason to shop elsewhere. The loss of local buying power means we can see a Wildcat store where beloved local Chico products are a thing of the past. The A.S. might have to take their Klean Kanteens and ChicoBags with them.

There’s a lot of work to do and the A.S. must set strict standards in negotations. Give the students what they really need and don’t take any chances. Like Meyers said, if the A.S. really wants something, “put it in the contract.”

The Orion can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter.