Institutional food has plenty of detractors. But you won’t find many at Red Deer College these days, where students and staff can lunch on the likes of pitas, pizzas and smoothies.
In fact, said RDC president Joel Ward, revenues from the college’s food services during the past six weeks are up more than 40 per cent from the same period last year. Much of that business is being done in the college’s new Marketplace, where Extreme Pita, 2matos, Reds Grill, Reds on the Go, Pureblendz and Starbucks operate.
Also located in the Marketplace is another success story: the college’s bookstore. Now selling products like RDC-branded clothing and Rebels wear — as well computers and related equipment at a nearby Tech Store — its revenues jumped 186 per cent during that same time frame, said Ward.
The changes didn’t come cheap, with the renovations needed to create the Marketplace costing approximately $5 million. Fortunately, it wasn’t Red Deer College footing the bill.
Ward described how he met with the presidents of Follett of Canada and Compass Group Canada, which operate the bookstore and food services facilities respectively, just over a year ago. He proposed a three-way partnership to improve their shared facilities, and revenues.
“That’s the unique piece of this,” said Ward of how Follett, Compass and the college took on the project together.
“The concept was that we were going to take the old bookstore space, the old cafeteria space and that dingy hallway, and blow it all open and turn it into an open concept Marketplace with a campus store that sells more than simply textbooks.”
That vision became reality this fall, with the Marketplace celebrating its grand opening last Friday.
Follett and Compass paid for most of the work, excluding core infrastructure like mechanical and electrical systems. They now have approximately five years remaining on their contracts to operate the bookstore and food services, after which time they’ll have to bid on renewals.
The increased sales in the Marketplace are good news for them, but Red Deer College also receives a percentage of the revenues earned.
“The contribution to our bottom line, given our new concept, has increased dramatically from what we were getting before,” said Ward.
“This is a model that generates revenue. At the end of the day, every penny we make goes back into serving our students.”
Ward also thinks it makes good sense to entrust companies like Follett with operations like the bookstore.
“They have access to inventory we could never have gotten; we don’t ever have to worry about stale merchandise and having to write off merchandise.
“They get the best prices.”
Officials from a half-dozen other post-secondary institutions attended the Marketplace opening, most with an eye to duplicating the project, said Ward.
“Many of those institutions are now in contact with our vendor partners to investigate doing the same kind of thing.”