Just Ask George
by Stacy Majewicz
Many art supply retailers love their jobs because they enjoy working with customers who have a unique creative energy. George Scofield is no exception. He loves working with the artists, designers and architects he encounters at his job each day. Since he is the product manager of the art department at The Cornell Store, the creative minds that George interacts with belong to young students who are just starting to explore and getting to know their skills. He considers that a perk.
“They’re vibrant, energetic and so excited about what they’re learning. With each project that they’re assigned, they want to push themselves to go further and do better,” George said. “They don’t want to do the same thing over and over again, so they’re constantly looking for new ways to develop their designs, and new materials that will create different textures. They have a real passion for their studies.”
George has worked at the Ithaca, New York store for 34 years, transferring in and out of various departments. When his current position in the art department opened up in 2000, he jumped at the opportunity. It can be chaotic, but George loves it.
“The days are never boring because the students are constantly moving. They have projects, deadlines, projects, deadlines,” he said. “It’s not orderly. It’s not like I work with one student, answer all of his questions, and then move on to the next. Usually there are 10 to 15 students packed in here, and they’re all talking and asking me questions at once. I can be talking with one customer and someone will yell from two aisles over, ‘George, how do I measure out casting resin?’ I love it. I thrive on the chaos.”
It’s All About the Students
“The only real way to understand the art trade at Cornell is to keep communication open with students and faculty,” George said. “I always try to know my customers’ names, listen to them and learn about their projects. I take an honest interest in what they’re trying to achieve.”
That means that no matter how hectic things may get, George makes sure that every question gets answered and every student gets the materials he needs. “Students come in with their assignments and their ideas, and they’ll say to me, ‘What kind of material should I use to create this look?’ or ‘What kind of glue can I use to stick this to this?’
After so many years of seeing student project trials and successes, George has learned which products work best for which projects. Still, he is constantly on the lookout for new materials to create different textures and structures. He often visits local fine art, craft, hardware and hobby stores. “Sometimes the traditional art companies like Alvin, Staedtler or MacPherson’s don’t make the product that the students need, so I have to expand my search and look at craft or scrapbooking supplies,” he said.
While some artists have the flexibility to wait for a product that’s not in stock, that’s not the case for students. George knows how important it is for them to get their materials right away; their grade depends on it. That is another reason he visits local art stores: to see what they carry that he does not. “Students will get an assignment on Monday and they have to have a certain part of it done by Wednesday. They move along very quickly so I have to stay on top of things. If I don’t have the product they need, I have to know where to send them.”
The Buying Process
The Cornell Store carries about 11,000 non-book SKUs, 3,100 of which are found in the art department. Most of the items there are the same as those traditionally found in art and hobby stores, such as paint, brushes, canvas and paper. However, Cornell offers a particularly wide range of programs, including fine art, design, fiber science and apparel design, architecture and landscape architecture, so George has to stock several items that are uncommon to most college bookstores. An example of this is Rockite expansion cement used for casting. “Students use hundreds of pounds each semester because they can cast it and remove it from the mold in half an hour,” George explained.
To ensure that he orders all of the products the students will need for the semester, George goes through the course listings online, sees who is teaching what classes and sends out e-mails to the professors.
“Usually I focus on the intro courses. The professors who are teaching those have very specific requests for what they want their students to have,” George said. “I try to get e-mails out as soon as classes end the previous semester. The professors will either send a list or set up a time to meet with me and discuss their needs.”
For the fall semester, George likes to have all of the orders in by late June. For the spring semester, there is a much shorter window of time to complete the process because of the holiday vacation. He usually starts ordering in early December to be ready by mid-January, so he has to contact the professors right away. Fortunately, he has found that the professors are good about getting back to him with their requests. “They’re always very glad that I got a hold of them and am taking care of their needs. It’s just one less thing they have to worry about. I get a lot of ‘thank you’ e-mails,” George said.
Some professors will request that George assemble kits for their courses. “Each instructor is different. Some want me to put together kits with all the materials that students will need throughout the semester, and others just want a kit that will get students through the first couple of weeks,” George explained.
Once he’s compiled a list of products, he passes it along to the inventory management team, Shelly Drake and Steve Kaiser. Throughout the semester, Shelly, Steve and George work together to determine which items are selling well and which ones need to go. “If we bring in some new items and they don’t do well, Shelly and Steve will either contact me or I’ll contact them to say, ‘Our sales are really lousy in these categories.’ At that point, we start pulling out items and refilling with new stuff,” George said.
The tricky part of the whole process, especially before each semester starts, is coordinating the times that merchandise will be delivered to the warehouse. “We have a finite amount of space in the warehouse, so we don’t want art supplies, office supplies, clothing and textbooks arriving at the same time,” George said. “I like to make sure all of my art supplies are in and taken care of before 150,000 books start showing up on the dock.”
Receiving Made Easy
To keep the receiving process organized, the store uses a program called Visual Ratex. It was developed for the bookstore industry in the 1970s, but it is fairly new to The Cornell Store art department.
“We just started using an updated version of the program a little over a year ago,” George said. “It took some time for me to adjust to it because I was so used to doing everything myself. It works very well, though, and now I’m incredibly comfortable with it.
“The system gives us complete control so we can track literally everything that’s on our shelves,” he continued. “We can track by category or by vendor. It’s all real time, too, so as soon as a student purchases an item, the program will delete it from inventory.”
When a shipment arrives, the receiving department compares the packing slip to the purchase order online. Once the purchase order is updated, the store’s inventory is immediately updated as well. The system also separates the products into Store 1 (the actual bookstore) and Store 2 (the warehouse) so George can see where all the products are. “If I sell down to 10 pieces of chipboard, the system will automatically notify the warehouse to pull another 50 sheets and send them over. It’s all very controlled and easy to use,” George said.
Customer Service is Still Key
George’s office, which is located in the back of the bookstore’s art supply and materials department, features a small window that looks out on the store. It’s always open; no glass. When we asked him what its purpose is, he responded with a laugh, “It’s so students can stick their heads in and holler at me.
“Actually the window was here when I got here, but I find it very useful because I’m often the only one working in the department. During slow times, I can be back in my office answering e-mails or phone calls and still see out into the store. If a customer comes in, I can jump right out there,” he explained.
Even though a college bookstore is a different environment than a traditional art store, George said customer service is still the most important thing. “I want to be available to help customers, answer any questions, or just offer a friendly greeting when they enter my department.”
Besides being friendly, George takes a genuine interest in what the students are working on. “They’ll come back with pictures of their finished projects to share with me. They know that they can come talk to me even when they’re not working on anything. The students are definitely the best part of my job.”