Alan Martin, a former student of Weber State University, was named Entrepreneur of the Year in the 2012 Ernst & Young Utah Region Retail and Consumer Products category because of an idea he had to help college students get cheaper deals on textbooks.
In 2007, while Martin was still in school, he said he wanted to find a way to make it easier for students to rent books at a lower price. Despite the economic struggle, Martin said more students were coming to school and wanted to spend as little money as they could on books. He then started Campus Book Rentals.
“I was a college kid, and just thought, ‘Hey, there has to be a better way,’” Martin said.
When Martin launched the business, he told people he had any book they wanted even though he actually didn’t.
“I had a way to get the books and get them to the customers,” Martin said. He started using his money to buy books for people who wanted to rent them.
Martin said his company got a lot of free press because of the kind of business it was. They did online marketing, which helped it grow. After five years, the company takes in up to $45 million per year in revenue.
Martin said the skills it took to start the company came from classes he took in college, such as public speaking, art in negotiation and personality profiling.
“At the end of the day, it’s understanding how to work with people; it’s massively valuable,” Martin said.
Carl Grunander taught the negotiation class to Martin.
“He was an excellent student, with straight As in all of our courses,” Grunander said.
Grunander said Martin had an independent spirit and was a really hard worker. Grunander also taught Martin in a customer service class and a sales presentations class.
“One of the things that really make Martin successful is that he really does bring that enthusiasm to his business, and I think his employees reflect that,” Grunander said.
He said there are a lot of opportunities in the area for entrepreneurship, and that anyone who has ideas should go for it.
“Small business seems to be where the growth is,” Grunander said.
Maxx Chan, a student at WSU, said she used Campus Book Rentals in the spring semester and plans to use it again as often as she can. Chan had been looking for ways to avoid “ridiculous” textbook expenses and checked into the company.
“Books can be rented for a fraction of the price the whole semester,” Chan said.
Chan said the only problem was the company had limited options on books, so she ended up renting half of her books and buying the others.
“It’s a lot better than buying the books, because you can just return them with the prepaid packaging and not worry about them instead of having them gather dust after one semester or trying to sell them online,” Chan said. She said the company provides great service and that she would highly recommend it to any student.
Martin said if anyone wants to start a company, they should reach out to mentors around them and get some good selling advice.
“At the end of the day, though, entrepreneurs make the world go around, so we need people to keep coming up with ideas and create businesses,” Martin said.