Dangles Stock Options to Student Reps

Online college bookstore decided in July to grant company stock options to its estimated 300 lead student representatives nationwide.

The move by the 2-year-old Washington, DC, company seeks to capture the loyalty of its chief foot soldiers for on-campus promotional activities nationwide.

“We really feel that these reps are an integral part of our company and we want to make sure they feel part of it,” said Paul Salyards, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at VarsityBooks. “I think we’re the first ones doing this, and we think it’s a tremendous advantage. We see [reps] as our competitive advantage.”

The star-performing lead reps, and not the fellow-student reps reporting to them, will receive the ownership shares under the company’s employee stock option plan.

Recruited from campuses, lead reps write marketing plans, hire staff and execute plans with the help of VarsityBooks professionals.

Representing marketing at the grass-roots level, these reps then convince students to shop for textbooks at the site. The company eventually plans to have more than 2,000 students reps in the U.S.

Salyards declined to comment further on the stock options deal, except to say that the student reps could hold onto them even after they graduated from school. The reps could eventually join the company at its headquarters.

“We’re in the process of building our rep team [and] this is our third selling cycle,” Salyards said. “Our intention is that we’d like to keep reps for the long term. In a lot of ways, the company was designed with students in mind. The reps policy is an extension of that.”

Competition in the online textbooks market is fierce. Each marketer boasts speedy title searches, low prices, large inventory and quick shipping. And each claims to be the largest textbook seller online. None will disclose sales figures.

VarsityBooks earlier this month launched a new ad campaign created by K2 Design, New York. Starting with spot radio, it extends to student-focused media such as college newspapers, flyers, posters, and publicity in fraternities and sororities.

Online, the company will run banner ads on unnamed portals and Web sites, and have hyperlinks on its affiliates’ sites.

Based on the premise that VarsityBooks is a better way to save time and money – it offers discounts up to 40 percent and one-to-three-day delivery – “the creative tries to have a little fun with college life and leverages things which students typically do,” said Salyards. “We’re very much focused on generating awareness and then moving on by acquiring new customers.”

Extending its reach in the educational and institutional market is a crucial component of VarsityBooks’ marketing mix. The marketer is signing deals with unnamed prep schools and distance learning institutes.

“We’re becoming their official bookstore [online] and they’re getting out of the bookstore business,” Salyards said.

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