Bill Dampier has been working for MBS Textbook Exchange, a wholesale textbook distributor based in Columbia, for more than two decades since he got his start in the order processing department.
“I took the phone calls from our customer bookstores, processed one list, worked my way up and continued to do other things in the MBS Direct, which is a retail division,” he said. “I spent a number of years there and continued to kind of progress within the company.”
Dampier is now executive vice president of MBS. He said his story is not unusual in the company.
“We look to our people within to continue to elevate them in other positions,” Dampier said. “I think we have a fairly good reputation as we are the place that people do want to come to work, and we do try to take care of our employees.”
“It’s the people that make the company what it is today because they put a lot of hard work from all areas of the environment,” said David Henderson, the company’s president. “Therefore, we really care about our people.”
Henderson said he could not imagine having MBS located anywhere but Columbia.
“In Columbia, Missouri, our pool of skilled labor is terrific, and their work ethic is incredible,” Henderson said. “We are so fortunate that the original founders founded it here, and we are able to build upon it.”
More than 1,000 employees work in MBS’ sprawling headquarters building on West Ash Street. When the company was founded in 1909, it was known as The Missouri Store Company and mainly dealt with school furniture and teacher supplies. In 1973, the company became University Book Services, shifted its focus to textbooks and eventually was renamed MBS Textbook Exchange.
One distinct advantage for MBS is Columbia’s proximity to major avenues of transportation like Interstate 70, Dampier said. MBS sells textbooks to around 3,400 physical bookstores all over the country and ships more than 10 million textbooks annually.
Because Missouri is located in the Midwest, “we can really ship products in both directions fairly efficiently and fairly quickly,” Dampier said.
According to Dampier, one thing that has made MBS successful is that it uses technology where it may not have been used before.
“We were one of the first wholesalers, for example, to bring computerized buyback and use a computer in the bookstore to manage course materials,” Dampier said.
“You now see computers doing a lot of (management things), but we were the first to really allow a bookstore to have a large computer system to manage all of the course requests and adoptions that came on campus.”
Dampier said that today, MBS facilities are highly automated, and the percentage of orders that are accurate and on time is 99.8%. MBS also created methods that help stores on campuses manage their textbook operations – an inventory product that is used by about 400 clients.
With its creative staff and innovative technology, MBS can always adapt to new environments, Dampier said.
“The current environment with COVID-19, obviously, is a struggle for everybody,” he said. “But I think we continue to make changes no matter what time it is.”
Henderson, the company’s president, said, “We also have inclusive access programs. The main goal of them is to ensure the digital course materials to be available (on the first day they are needed).”
Henderson said the company also wants to ensure that students have their materials at a very low cost of acquisition so they can have the materials the day their classes start.
For students who cannot afford those books on day one, “We lower the cost of the materials to students through their campus bookstores,” Henderson said. “Students can use things, such as financial aid or the campus card, in tendering out the product or buying whether they’re physically in the store or shopping online.”
In some classes, physical books are required rather than digital ones.
“Used books provide an alternative method for students to make a purchase, and they are cheaper,” Dampier said.
Used books have been around for a long time, but MBS was the first company among others with similar services that got into that market, Dampier said.
“When bookstores really worked within their own clusters, prior to our wholesale business, we had a group of 25 stores. We swap books between each of the stores and give students the ability to sell their books back,” he said.
Because of the pandemic, universities have been operating in varying formats, making for an interesting time in the textbook supply indsutry.
“It’s very crazy to deal with the higher education system right now,” Henderson said. “But I love going to our facility and seeing the automation in play.”
“It’s like a candy store to me back there, and we’re actually getting ready embarking on it,” he said.