In September 2004, Wendy Wiley, the Northlake Bookstore manager, was considering the implications of a shocking development. For the first time in her seven years as the Bookstore manager, textbook sales for this fall had decreased from the prior fall sales. The sales decrease was approximately $180,000, or 3% of annual textbook sales. Wendy wanted to address this problem before it got worse. She found that this sales decrease was due to two emerging technology problems, possibly of equal magnitude: 1) the students increasing use of online textbook vendors, and 2) the professors increasing use of online textbook publishers. Wendy reported the bad sales news to her boss, Chuck Irwin, the Vice Chancellor of Finance at Northlake University.
After commiserating with her, Chuck told her that he was not surprised by this sales problem and that she should consider how to deal with these emerging technologies in her next performance evaluation report by comparing the performance of the Northlake Bookstore against competitors using benchmarking analysis. This analysis would help Wendy find the strengths and weaknesses of the Bookstore. Additionally, Chuck wanted Wendy to develop a few key related short-term performance goals and related measures that could be used in future performance evaluations. He wanted to discuss the situation at their meeting next week, which was the annual review of the Bookstores performance for the prior fiscal year 2004 (July 2003 through June 2004). A benchmarking analysis was required by Chuck for the annual review of all the nonacademic departments under his management. Northlake is a private university, located in a major metropolitan area in the Midwest, with an annual enrollment of 12,700 students, mostly undergraduates.
Northlake is quite dependent upon student tuition, which typically accounts for 60% of its total revenues. However, the Chancellor was concerned because donations and gifts to the University were down, possibly due to uncertain economic conditions and erratic stock market performance. Prior to becoming the Northlake Bookstore manager, Wendy had spent 15 years in retail sales, most recently as a Wal-Mart sales manager. She was an outgoing, supportive individual who really liked being a retail sales manager and enjoyed working with her employees. She strongly believed in continuous improvement of any sales department that she managed. Despite her extensive retail experience in the for-profit sector, this was her first experience working in an academic environment. Wendy occasionally became frustrated working with faculty due to their late or inaccurate book orders. However, she liked helping students and enjoyed working in an academic environment without all the pressures of a for-profit business with aggressive sales and earnings targets like Wal-Mart.
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To prepare her benchmarking analysis report required for the upcoming annual performance evaluation of the Bookstore, Wendy had collected income statement, product line, and other performance measures for the last three fiscal years. To aid evaluation, she summarized the various Bookstore operations into five product lines: textbooks, supplies and sundries, clothing, software and accessories, and computers.
The textbook product line included new texts, used texts, class notes (course packs), and general reference books. The supply and sundry line included school and office supplies, electronics, food, sundries, greeting cards, and miscellaneous campus department sales. The clothing line included all insignia clothing, gifts, and memorabilia. Wendy knew she needed to act fast to thoroughly analyze all the information needed for the Bookstores annual benchmarking analysis that Chuck and the Chancellor required. She had a lot of historical information and was wondering how to analyze this financial information for her benchmarking analysis report.
Benchmarking is the process of identifying superior performance of other organizations for products, services, and processes, and then attempting to improve necessary areas with the goal of achieving similar excellence. The benchmarking process first became popular in 1989 after Xerox advertised its success with the tool; however, the tool was initially employed by Xerox in 1972. In fact, more than 70% of the Fortune 500 companies”which includes AT&T, Ford Motor Company, IBM, and Eastman Kodak”reported using benchmarking regularly. Benchmarking is useful in countless decision-making settings including performance evaluation, health and safety management, and supply chain management.
To reach for greater standards of excellence, Ford would likely consider foreign automobile manufacturers that have been well known for high efficiency and quality, such as Toyota, the current world-wide leader in automobile sales. Wendy currently benchmarked the performance of the bookstore against other college bookstores and major booksellers. In performing a benchmarking analysis, it was imperative for Wendy to benchmark processes that were aligned with organizational strategic objectives. Since the Bookstore was a profit center, it was imperative that she compare the profitability of the various product lines with other universities.
The Bookstore also had an objective to provide service excellence. Thus, if available, it would be beneficial for Wendy to benchmark customer satisfaction data with other universities. Once processes that were consistent with strategic objectives were identified, it was necessary to collect and analyze internal information vis-¡-vis external information from competitors. The benchmarking process did not stop once areas of excellence and inferior performance were identified. Rather, it was imperative for Wendy to identify how to sustain the areas of excellence and improve the areas of inferior performance. In determining how to improve poor performance, she needed to understand the reason behind the poor performance. Once that was attained, it would be possible to determine a long-term plan for improvement.
A key role of the Bookstore was to supply the Northlake University communitywhich included but was not limited to faculty, students, alumni and parentswith textbooks, supplies, clothing and gifts, computers and software, and much more. The Bookstores formal mission statement was as follows: The Northlake Bookstore is an academic resource for the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and guests of the University. The Bookstore serves the University with a business presence dedicated to providing service excellence that meets or exceeds the needs of each customer and University department. The Bookstore played a significant role in enabling parents of freshmen to participate in getting their children ready for the first day of class. Additional temporary staff was hired to ensure there was adequate assistance available for new students and returning students who were purchasing their textbooks.
These staff members were readily available and happy to answer any question that new parents or students might have regarding textbooks or the University in general. Also, congruent with the University laptop requirement for all students, the Bookstore sold computers and software. This was a great way for parents to enjoy onestop back-to-school shopping. Additionally, the Bookstore tried to promote the University as a brand name by selling clothing and accessories with the University logo and/or name. Availability of clothing and accessories was also a service provided to students, parents, and alumni who wanted to show their support for the school. Sales of merchandise with the University logo indirectly promoted the University, but the Bookstore did not try to formally create alumni support nor was that a formal goal.
This was the function of the University Alumni Advancement (funding) office. As indicated by the mission statement, by the role taken to familiarize new parents and students, and by the sale of merchandise with the University logo, the Bookstore operated in a manner aimed at achieving high customer satisfaction. To measure customer satisfaction the Bookstore conducted an annual customer satisfaction survey and a separate faculty satisfaction survey. Customer suggestion forms were also readily available on the Bookstore website.
In her years as the Bookstore manager, Wendy had developed various financial performance measures to help assess the performance of the Bookstore. Over the last few years, she had used these measures as part of her benchmarking analysis. She felt fortunate to have a fairly comprehensive benchmarking database available to her. It was provided annually to all bookstore members free of charge by the National Association of College Stores (NACS). The only requirement was that each bookstore had to contribute its own data to the benchmarking database in order to use it. The NACS database included income statement, product line, and other types of benchmarks.
With the looming threat from online textbook vendors, Wendy had started to benchmark Northlakes textbook prices against the major online textbook vendors. She also tracked mail orders and Web orders from Northlakes own website (started in 2000). Her task now was how best to use this benchmark information. She believed that her first step was to compare her current financial and operating results with the benchmark data to pinpoint areas in need of improvement. This analysis would likely uncover some areas that needed her attention, which would be useful in identifying areas in need of improvement.