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Nebraska Book Co., 6/29/2012 (copy)

Workers sort and pack textbooks at the Nebraska Book Co. warehouse in this 2012 photo.   The company is getting out of the bookstore operations business to focus on supplying books and services to independent campus bookstores. 

Nebraska Book Co. is getting out of the business of operating college bookstores a week after announcing it would close Nebraska Bookstore in Lincoln, one of a few stores it actually owned. 

Follett Corp. and Nebraska Book announced that Follett has purchased Neebo, Nebraska Book Company's retail store division. Terms were not disclosed. Employees in Lincoln were told Thursday afternoon. 

The company said 60 jobs would be lost at the company's headquarters in Lincoln, but not immediately. Those employees were given 60 days notice, during which they will be compensated, said company spokesman Bill Bonner.

The agreement adds the operations of more than 200 campus retail stores to Follett's portfolio, making Follett the operator of more than 1,150 local campus stores and 1,600 virtual stores across North America.  

Nebraska Book said the agreement underscores its commitment to providing textbooks, strategic services and technology products to independent college retailers nationwide. Those retailers are on-campus stores owned by institutions, or off-campus stores owned independently, but not those leased and operated as Nebraska Book did and as Follett and Barnes and Noble still do. 

As recently as last July, Nebraska Book was adding campus bookstore leased operations.  But now it will focus on books, rented, bought and sold, and services added since 1990, including: college bookstore management systems, distance learning distribution, buying services, turnkey e-commerce, marketing services, store design and planning.

Nate Rempe, the company's chief technology officer, said the company operated the leased bookstore division until it was able to refine and refocus its strategy for serving the independent store.

"For a century we've built products and services to make bookstores successful," Rempe said. Having that separation between operating stores and serving independents didn't allow Nebraska Book to make one of the two channels successful, he said. 

Follett said it plans to hire Neebo's store and retail field workforce and use many of the existing Neebo supplier networks. Follett operates the University Bookstore in the Nebraska Union, among others.

Nebraska Book said it has been taking steps to direct more attention to independent college bookstores, most recently restructuring its sales force to better support consulting services to help those businesses.

The company emerged from a structured bankruptcy three years ago, and since then has been aggressively paying off debt and finding its way in the highly competitive and changing college retail market.  

"Nebraska Books Company is realizing the opportunity to shift its strategic focus to the singular pursuit of supporting the independent college retailer's business model," said Ben Riggsby, interim president and chief executive officer of Nebraska Book Co., in a news release. 

Rempe said that college retail client has elements that give it a competitive advantage. "It's embedded, it has a high level of relationships, it's aligned with the school brand, it has a balance of academic and financial goals," he said. "We believe in that balance of financial and academic goals." 

Follett calls itself higher education's largest campus retailer.

Nebraska Book is at 4700 S. 19th St. It employs about 800 people in Lincoln, a number that ramps up and down seasonally.  Summer is its high employment time. 

Last year, Neebo Inc. opened a new office in Naperville, Ill., where an unspecified number of jobs were moved from Lincoln. The company's marketing, general merchandise, merchandise planning and Internet platform development functions moved there. 

Even with that, the planned closing of Nebraska Bookstore and the sale of the retail division sale, Bonner said he wanted to make it clear there's no intention of the company leaving the community.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or at dpiersol@journalstar.com

Twitter@RichardPiersol

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