Can HBCUs Catch the On-Campus Retail Wave and Bring Along Black Entrepreneurs?

Online shopping has drastically reduced the need for brick-and-mortar retail locations, but there is one type of setting where shopping and commerce in-person will never go out of style.

College campuses.

That’s why retail conglomerate Target is expanding its on-campus and campus proximate store building strategy, according to a recent report in Education Dive.

Because Target stocks a wide variety of items and its supply chain allows the retailer to readily juggle products based on consumer interest, she said, its smaller stores are able to meet demand for items specific to its college customers, such as grab-and-go food, electronics and bedding that fits oddly sized dorm room mattresses.

The retailer is not alone. While colleges have long looked to outside companies to help them run features like bookstores and fast-food restaurants on campus, a newer retail push includes department stores, supermarkets and even locations of popular apparel brands.

Retail partnerships with HBCUs collectively can run hundreds of millions of dollars for food service, beverage rights, trash removal, and other services. But if colleges are rethinking their facility plans to earn more revenue through leasing commercial space, then HBCUs are in a great position to do the same within their campus communities.

But unlike other campuses, they can begin with creating selling space for black artists and entrepreneurs within the confines of college or university borders.

Several campuses currently have or in the past have featured on-campus barber shops, salons, boutique clothing stores, and independent operated eateries. But what if black colleges converted or built space to specifically zone for retail serving the students and their proximate communities?

Areas which have been decimated by the loss of malls and mega stores like Walmart or Target can reclaim commercial space for lower leasing rates and closer proximity to buyers are have no patience or resource to accommodate online buying and shipping.

There would be an obvious increase in liability and insurance costs, but also new opportunities for earnings and community engagement with the conversion of offline dorms, academic buildings, and meeting space for business and retail.

HBCUs can be more than landing spots for Barnes and Noble, Starbucks, Papa John’s and other non-black-owned corporations and brands. If black colleges are to ever become the targets of million and billion-dollar gifts and corporate support, they have to become the catalysts for wealth building within their direct lines of influence and advocacy.

After all, how has the lack of aggression in working with black entrepreneurs worked out for our schools?

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