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University reviews eXpress dollar options

By , University Affairs Editor  |  Wednesday, December 19, 2012 2:43 PM

Blue Door Blucy burgers, cinnamon crunch Panera bagels or Jimmy John’s Turkey Tom sandwiches may be options for St. Thomas students when they want to spend their eXpress dollars next year.

It could happen as early as fall 2013 after the university reviews the contracts of the companies already participating in the program.

<p>A St. Thomas ID card is swiped through the eXpress reader at Davanni's Pizza and Hot Hoagies. The restaurant on the corner of Grand and Cleveland avenues is one of the local venues that accept St. Thomas eXpress. (Heidi Enninga/TommieMedia)</p>

A St. Thomas ID card is swiped through the eXpress reader at Davanni's Pizza and Hot Hoagies. The restaurant on the corner of Grand and Cleveland avenues is one of the local venues that accept St. Thomas eXpress. (Heidi Enninga/TommieMedia)

Mark Vangsgard, CFO and vice president for financial affairs, said the process will start in March or April and will look at what changes need to be made to the program.

“Maybe the contract that was out there is the same contract that was out there 15 years ago and, just from a legal standpoint, needs to be updated,” Vangsgard said. “Maybe there are particular terms and conditions with that particular vendor that we would want to talk to them about.”

Vangsgard said the university may consider dropping or adding venues based on student interest, something that Undergraduate Student Government junior class senator Tom Deiley has been trying to gage since Dec. 5.

“We’ve made a survey and put it on various social media outlets and sent it to the junior class,” Deiley said. “So far, we’ve gotten 258 respondents.”

The response to the five venues (Cleveland Wok, Panera Bread, Jimmy John’s, Menchies and Blue Door Pub) have been positive so far with 86 percent of respondents saying they would be “somewhat” or “very likely” to use eXpress dollars there.

“We just surveyed to see if there was a general consensus on campus, that this was something that students wanted, and it turned out to be that they want it, and they really want it,” Deiley said. “There’s a lot of buzz and hype around it.”

There are currently nine venues that participate in the eXpress program including restaurants, a tanning salon, a grocery store, a gas station and car repair shop.

Vangsgard said a business has to decide whether or not participating in the eXpress program will be profitable since there are costs involved, including a nearly $1,000 machine designed to read eXpress cards.

“In many cases, vendors don’t want to come on the eXpress program with us due to the equipment that they have to buy and install,” Vangsgard said.

USG vice president and junior, Jenna Johnson, said she thinks pitching the revenue that participating businesses like Café Bene and Davanni’s bring in from eXpress on a daily or weekly basis is a selling point.

“I just think the numbers speak for themselves,” Johnson said. “(It) brings in a lot of revenue, so I don’t know why companies would say ‘no’ to buying the machine.”

Businesses also pay the university a percentage of total sales from eXpress dollars that Vangsgard said covers the administrative and human resource costs, as well as a slight subsidy toward student tuition.

“A lot of them don’t want to pay that fee, and it can be a range from 2 to 10 percent, depending on the business,” Vangsgard said.

Delayed cash flow is another reason Vangsgard said businesses don’t want to participate. Rather than immediately receiving profits from sales, businesses get a check from the university twice a month for the total in eXpress sales.

Vangsgard said the businesses participate hoping that additional sales will drive overall profitability.

“The vendor has to believe that it’s going to get enough additional volume to offset the cost of the equipment and fee that it has to pay to St. Thomas,” Vangsgard said.

Junior Rachel Murray said she took the survey and thinks businesses would be very interested in the program.

“I think it’s good especially for the businesses because students will go there more,” Murray said. “They’ll spend more money on it even though it takes a little effort to get it through St. Thomas.”

Vangsgard said the university will use student preferences to determine which venues it will renew contracts with in the spring, but the number of business won’t necessarily increase.

“The idea isn’t to have every vendor within a 12-block range of the school on the program, it’s to provide some access to a variety of services to students off campus,” Vangsgard said.

The options for venues to add to the existing list have been limited because the university doesn’t allow eXpress to be spent on gambling, tobacco, or alcohol, but that the review this spring might re-define the guidelines.

Values of students have changed over time, and Vangsgard said the tanning salon option for eXpress dollars has been a cause for concern lately.

“I think anybody right now who would look at tanning and some of the issues associated with that would say, ‘does that make sense?’” Vangsgard said. “Maybe it did 15 years ago when they first signed them up. I can’t speak to that, but all I can say is that they’ll be looked at along with everyone else.”

Vangsgard estimated that the last time a business was added to eXpress was three to five years ago when Noodles and Company and Chipotle were added.

Johnson said the convenience for students is worth the extra effort for the university.

“A lot of the times I don’t carry my wallet with me, but I always have my ID card,” Johnson said. “It’s very convenient just for students to run to like Davanni’s, and if you don’t have your wallet, you can still get food.”

Deiley said the survey is still open for student responses on the USG Facebook page and that he wants to see this initiative through.

“I wanted to make a lasting change to this university before I leave,” Deiley said.

Heidi Enninga can be reached at enni5264@stthomas.edu.

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