Competition benefits retail students, 13 area businesses

By University Communications
December 16, 2015
Gus Myran, a competition judge, talks with student team
members Bradley Brunner, Tia Conwell and Derek Susa.

Photo: Gus Myran, a competition judge, talks with student team
members Bradley Brunner, Tia Conwell and Derek Susa.

A group of University of Wisconsin-Stout students is $2,000 richer and 13 area businesses have tangible, go-to-market strategies thanks to a university competition.

Students majoring in retail merchandising and management competed in early December in the Strategic Design competition. A total of 32 student teams from three class sections of Global Sourcing and of Basic Merchandising took on idea challenges from area retail businesses.

Two to five teams were assigned to each business, and students conducted research throughout the fall before presenting their ideas Dec. 9 to judges. Students’ findings also were presented earlier to their businesses, which they interacted with throughout the semester.

The winning team consisted of four students who worked with Triangle Art & Antiques on Main Street in Menomonie. The team was challenged to develop ideas that could raise the store’s profile, increase sales and capitalize on its limited hours of operation.

First prize was $2,000. Most of the amount, $1,200, was donated by Retail Realm, a California-based retail software company. The remainder was donated by friends of UW-Stout.

Members of the winning team are Corey Bahr, of Forest Lake, Minn.; Christina Pearlman, of Oshkosh; Rebekah Hoffman, of Brainerd, Minn.; and Stephanie Swatscheno, of Neenah.

“We’re reaching out to the community. That’s what the mission of the university is all about,” said Meriem Chida, an assistant professor who taught the classes and organized the competition.

Students present their research to judges.Teams presented market strategies with specific proof of concepts and timelines that clients can implement, Chida said.

Many of the students have expressed interest in starting businesses, making the project even more meaningful to them, Chida said. The competition involved 93 students.

Along with Triangle Art & Antiques, businesses that took part were: Whitetail Golf Course, the Barrel Room, Red Cedar Cookies, Cultural Cloth, Farmer to Farmer, Iris Boutique, Estate Emporium, Fleet Feet, Dairyland Bakery, Chuck Wagon BBQ, A’Cute Bead and the Raw Deal.

Some of the businesses are established and some are start-ups.

Judges impressed

The 37 judges included Chancellor Bob Meyer and his wife, Debbie Meyer, as well as subject matter experts, industry executives and university professors and staff members.

One of the judges, Steve Jahn, executive director of the regional business development group Momentum West, was impressed with the teams that presented ideas for the Barrel Room. “They did their research and formulated their assumptions based on the research. They were very thorough,” he said.

Kim Nimsgern, a judge and owner of Casual Panache of Menomonie, said it was evident that students learned from the experience and that they approached the challenge like professionals.

David Kochendorfer, UW-Stout alumnus and a business adviser, said he was pleased to see UW-Stout giving students “real world experience and engaging with those who have been there and done it consistently.”

Another judge, Michael Farbelow, president of Medistim USA Inc. of Plymouth, Minn., commended the students he reviewed. “This is the caliber of students and the kind of talent any executive looks to hire. I would definitely think of Stout as my first stop when looking to fill positions,” he said.

Along with Retail Realm, the competition was sponsored by UW-Stout’s Discovery Center, which connects businesses in need of solutions with experts at UW-Stout.

The winning team accepts its prize.



Middle: Students discuss their research with judges.

Bottom: The winning team, front from left, Corey Bahr, Rebekah Hoffman, Christina Pearlman and Stephanie Swatscheno. Back row, from left, are Chancellor Bob Meyer; Cori Linder, vice president of marketing at Retail Realm, the event’s major sponsor; Abel Adekola, dean of the College of Management; Assistant Professor Meriem Chida, the event organizer; and Joan Navarre, an associate professor and owner of Triangle Art & Antiques, the business that worked with the winning team.