When Tom Post, president of campus services for Sodexo, was helping his son move into his college dorm he was frustrated by the lack of services available on move-in day. He spoke to FSD about his decision to make sure students and parents at Sodexo universities didn’t have the same problem by creating Sodexo’s Fill My Fridge program.
How did the idea for Fill My Fridge come about?
They say that necessity is the mother of invention but in this case, I guess necessity was the father of invention. Last August, my wife and I moved our freshman son into his new campus home. For students and parents, this move is regarded as a rite of passage. However, it wasn’t exactly an exceptional experience for any of us that day. After hours of confusion on campus, we then had to hop in our car and drive 40 minutes to buy supplies and to stock his dorm refrigerator. I thought to myself, we need to make sure students and parents at Sodexo-served campuses have an exceptional experience during this really important time in the life of a student and his or her parents. We decided to make sure what happened to my family, doesn’t happen to families at campuses we serve. We came up with a program to create the kind of experience I wished for my family.
How does the program work?
During the resident hall move-in days Sodexo will set up an area where parents can purchase goods to stock students’ rooms with dry goods, refrigerated goods or beverages. We also engaged our local produce companies to bring local and fresh produce, our local dairy and bread partners and national beverage contractors. In addition, there will be an event where they can hear music, get a free bottle of water or snack or just enjoy being with their son/daughter on campus. We want to make it easy for every parent to enjoy the move-in day experience.
How is it marketed to incoming students?
It varies. At places like the University of South Carolina, there is a system where as the students are touring housing, they see refrigerators full of items so a parent can pre-order their fridge during the tour. At Stetson University, we are taking orders for a full refrigerator and at Drake University, we are tapping into freshmen via our dining Facebook page. Campuses are also sending out mailers, e-mail blasts and texts to let our customers know that when they come to campus we will be there to greet them with something fun. As part of move-in day for campus, we have referral cards for the RAs to use to let parents and students know the event is happening on campus. Our partners are excited to have a welcoming event on campus, and we are determined to make sure our customers are happy from day one on campus.
What were some of the challenges involved with setting this up?
We started with a group of 50 schools as a test. Once our Sodexo partners heard about the program we now have 182 locations that will be testing the program this fall. My team from marketing thought it was an awesome idea right away while the culinary, procurement and operations teams were a little more cautious and wanted to test it first. This program will be memorable for all those first time freshmen parents.
What advice would you give to other operators who might want to try something similar?
Take time to research what you want to sell. Sodexo involved many partners to finalize our product list. Our procurement and operations support team’s motto was if the students don't eat something regularly, then don't order it. Stay focused on making them happy and having fun.