UW-Green Bay students want to redefine textbook market

As students at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Wyatt Smet, Garriet Kanis and Zach Zeutzius had an easy time coming up with an idea for the Campus Student Business Idea Contest — an idea that took first place in the contest held a few weeks ago.

“When we were asked to come up with an idea, we looked at a problem we all had,” said Smet, the group’s chief marketing officer. “The cost of textbooks is so high that some students aren’t even buying them, and it’s hurting their learning.”

They defined the problem. Textbooks are not only expensive, they also can be hard to find, hard to sell, driven by market pricing and logistically difficult to acquire. After brainstorming, the team came up with Bookbates, a business that would provide a better solution for buying and selling.

“We are different than the major competitors,” Smet said. “We don’t have an inventory, and all books would be sold in the local market whether it be by meeting or shipping. By not having an inventory and the associated costs, we lessen the risk.”

These three partners already have gained the experience to understand business risk. Smet is from a family that owned hair salons and currently works several jobs, including weekend management at a golf course, while going to school full time.

Kanis, the chief executive officer, has worked in his family’s hardware business for 18 years, and Zeutzius, the chief operating officer, has a financial planning business. All are students of Green Bay SCORE mentor Ryan Kauth, lecturer of entrepreneurship at UW-Green Bay and an inspiration for the students.

“The certificate of entrepreneurship that is offered has really helped me understand what entrepreneurship is,” Smet said. “I never really thought I would start a business, but talking to Ryan really got me excited about what could happen.”

The thought of starting a business is now a goal, and Bookbates is being pursued as a possibility. With a well thought-out business model and plan, details are being fine-tuned as they enter other contests and look for investors.

“After we won that first pitch contest, it was like, ‘We can do this,’ Smet said.”

They have clearly defined their customer base; a base that includes about 20 million college students in addition to professors, stores, academic institutions and book enthusiasts.

They have a marketing and growth strategy that includes targeting specific geographical areas, attending college fairs and registration days, use of social media and paid advertising, creating relationships with professors and developing a website.

Most importantly, they believe they have found a void in the market that Bookbates can fill.

“A lot of entrepreneurs fail because they don’t know what sets them apart from their competition. We know that and that’s why we can be successful,” Smet said.

That difference is offering both online and local buying with market-driven pricing. Plans include the development of an app that will allow buyers to search by geographic area to make it easier to make the transaction.

All three have done their research. In addition to studying the competition, they have gone directly to students for input and have incorporated the suggestions.

“Using our platform, a buyer will be able to locally sell,” Smet said. “They can take a picture of the book, state the condition and post it out there. The pricing will be based on what they want to sell it f! or.”

Costs for selling will include the options of a transaction fee or various subscriptions. The fees have been set based on the revenue that will be needed to realize a profit. They are estimating a cost of about $400,000 to launch.

“We know this is very expensive, but there are companies out there that focus on entrepreneurs and business start-ups,” Smet said. “We just started putting the business together this year and are ready to hit the ground running. We have talked to our customers and know how successful this can be.”

Note: reprinted with permission from the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. The story was not posted online.

By Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt, co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.