Pandemic Leads SBS and Collegeville, Normally Competitors, to Collaborate

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Andrew Graham for ELi

Student Book Store (SBS) and Collegeville Textbook Company announced in late December that the two East Lansing retailers — normally competitors in the sphere of providing Michigan State University students their course materials — would be collaborating for the Spring 2021 semester. 

“Both SBS and Collegeville are locally-owned small businesses,” Collegeville co-owner Tom Muth said in an email. “And while we are competitors in normal times, we have a tremendous amount of respect for each other and understand the value that small business brings to communities like East Lansing.”

According to a press release, “MSU textbooks, course packs, and supplies will be available at Student Book Store.”

Muth, answering questions on behalf of both parties, said that both companies bring value to the arrangement. SBS’s array of various products and its status as an East Lansing institution — it’s been in business since 1960 — complements Collegeville’s “extensive marketing and student outreach, as well as strategic inventory procurement,” Muth said.

SBS co-owner Greg Ballein is quoted in the release: “By teaming up together, we will be able to streamline operations and continue to provide the MSU community with the course material they need with the exceptional service they have come to expect.” 

The collaboration came about after the completion of the Fall 2020 semester, Muth told ELi. Both parties were aware of the challenges ahead and determined it was in their best interests to collaborate. 

MSU’s decision to hold classes virtually for the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters “affected our outlook,” Muth said. But that was true for almost all businesses in East Lansing, which are heavily reliant on MSU students for business. 

“Removing the student body and athletics is like removing the engine from a car,” Muth said. “It just will not go.”

Collegeville and SBS are in slightly different positions than restaurants and other hangouts, in that they can still reach their customers remotely. And, barring remote learning extending to the Fall 2021 semester, Muth said neither business faced an existential threat. 

And while the collaboration might have been born out of the Covid-19 pandemic, Muth expects the two local businesses will continue working together in the future.

“While longer term plans are not set in stone, I suspect that our collaboration will continue beyond the immediate future,” he said. “The textbook industry is facing some more endemic challenges beyond Covid-19.”

Check out ELi’s full Spend Locally series here.

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