Charleston welcome center drew over 65,000 visitors in 12 months
When USC planted its Carolina on King welcome center in Charleston last August, President Harris Pastides touted it as “a front door” to the university for Lowcountry tourists, alumni and potential students.
One year later, Carolina on King has drawn more than 65,000 visitors from almost all 50 states and a number of foreign countries, serving as what USC officials consider an initial touch point for prospective students and another branch of marketing for the university.
USC’s Division of Communications budgets $300,000 annually to support the store, according to Wes Hickman, the university’s interim vice president for communications.
Barnes & Noble operates an independent retail center within the store, which returns a portion of its profits to the university if the store hits its sales goals, Hickman said. To date, the store has sold more than $300,000 in merchandise, according to Hickman. But, he said, the mission of Carolina on King is not to make money.
“The purpose of the center from a university perspective is for it to be an … offsite center for people to engage with the university,” Hickman said. “Carolina on King is part of our overall marketing strategy. It’s a way for us to have a presence in one of the top tourist destinations in the world.”
Having a location in Charleston allows the university to reach out to both locals and, more significantly, tourists from around the country and the world, said Hickman and the store’s director, Ashley Slane.
Located in the heart of Charleston’s downtown retail and business district on King Street, the shop is designed to remind visitors of the Columbia campus, with floor-to-ceiling panels depicting scenes from campus and a winding brick pathway reminiscent of the Horseshoe, Slane said.
“(The store) is designed to pull guests in and give them a taste of the university’s flagship campus,” she said.
Slane, a USC graduate, said her role at the store is to personally connect with guests and serve as an information resource. She has the opportunity to introduce prospective students and their families to the Columbia campus, she said.
“Some have ties to the university, and some don’t know anything about us at all,” Slane said. “We feel like we’re really reaching out and planting seeds with a lot of people that might have a future need for the university and certainly reconnecting with those … (who have) moved away.”
The university is considering Carolina on King a marketing success based on its visitation figures for the first year, Hickman said. Over time, he said, the university will be able to track the number of students that apply, are accepted and enroll after making an initial connection to the university at Carolina on King.
Hickman said the university is not close to considering planting any other out-of-town welcome centers just yet.
“What we want to do is see some continued success in Charleston, and any discussion about the future would be based on the success there,” he said.