For most Knox students, the prices at Knox stores are a bit of a mystery. They know that someone sets them, but they don’t know how, why or by whom.
The actual system for setting prices in the Gizmo, Out Post (also known as the C-Store) and Out Post Express is a very complex and delicate system, geared to bring students the lowest prices while still allowing for the payment of labor and utilities. Some students have noticed that some prices on campus are higher than at others. Director of Dining Services Helmut Mayer says there is a simple explanation.
“We aren’t Wal-Mart, and we can’t be Wal-Mart,” Mayer said. Since the Dining Services budget also has to pay for utilities, goods, delivery fees and employee salaries and benefits, Dining Services marks up most of their products to cover the cost and keep the budget balanced.
Every year, Mayer sets a balance for dining services. Some of the costs, such as labor, are fixed, but others, like equipment that may break down at any time, are not. Mayer has to account for these contingencies in the budget.
“It’s a self-sustaining operation,” Mayer said.
This means that there can be leftover funds in Dining Services. At the end of the year, this money goes into improvements, like next year’s Out Post expansion. However, this does not mean the department inflates prices unnecessarily.
Mayer says he tries to even out prices. If he increases prices too sharply, things will not sell. However, if the prices are too low, the department will lose money.
“It’s a balancing act,” Bobbi Helander, the manager of the C-Store, said. “I do try to keep everything down.”
Helander says she does not have a ‘standard’ mark up for items. Some things are categorized courtesy items (think 12 packs of soda or produce) and are hardly marked up at all. She is also able to cut deals with distributers for lower prices on some items, so long as she marks up other items.
For example, the Out Post Express is able to offer Naked Juice for $3.49 because she has an agreement with the Peoria supplier.
If a student really wants an item that the Out Post does not have, she will get the item at Hy-Vee or Wal-Mart and then sell it in the C-Store. When she does this, she marks up the price slightly to cover the trouble of finding the item.
Even with the markups, Helander is proud to say that when she compares the items in the Out Post to items in Hy-Vee, her items are often cheaper. The only exception she found was the “Ben and Jerry’s” ice cream, which she hopes to fix.
Mayer pointed out that the fair trade Inkeeper’s Coffee in the Gizmo is cheaper than the coffee is at Innkeeper’s, where, he added, it is not fair trade.
According to Mayer, some foods are more expensive in the Gizmo than the C-Store because they require more preparation.
After she ran out of dining dollars, junior Eva Marley began to notice prices in the Gizmo. She said she is “feeling it more” than she did before, but she did not notice different prices between the Gizmo and the C-Store.
Junior Alice Corrigan also said she had no idea how prices compare to the real world since she never shops outside the “Knox Bubble.” She also said she does not usually compare prices between different Knox locations.
“I don’t think of things by prices, but I think of them by availability,” she said, which is why she usually shops at the Gizmo.