HIGHLAND PARK – Nearly 60 Rutgers University business students spent the Spring Semester studying how to increase profits and awareness for 15 small businesses in Highland Park.
Providing a project that offers hands-on, real life experience is a tradition in Stevie Watson’s Consumer Behavior class that everyone involved benefits from.
“This is a triad,” said Watson, assistant professor of marketing in the Department of Supply Chain Management and Marketing Sciences at Rutgers Business School. “The students benefit because they really learn what’s going on in the local business community and apply marketing theories and concepts to real-life business problems. The businesses get free consulting and establish a relationship with Rutgers Business School and it makes me feel good when businesses see we’re trying to make a difference.”
The 59 students were assigned to groups of three and four and each group was assigned a business that is a member of Main Street Highland Park, a non-profit that promotes the businesses along Raritan Avenue. The groups met with their business owner a few times over the semester to:
- Research and discuss factors that affect consumer-decision making, such as internal and external influences, self concepts, lifestyles and experiences;
- Conduct primary research, such as surveys and observational studies, and secondary research, such as business articles and company reports;
- Analyze market problems and opportunities to improve customer value, satisfaction and loyalty;
- Recommend new marketing programs and suggest changes to existing ones;
- And research and incorporate issues related to strengthening relationships and communication with customers.
Some of the recommendations for increasing the customer base and awareness included creating FaceBook pages.
“It’s a solution where you don’t have to spend a lot of money,” Watson said.
Other suggestions included distributing flyers to various target markets, increasing the size of a company’s logo on their websites and making the websites more user friendly.
The participating businesses include Unity Bank; CyberKnight Computers; White Lotus Home; Through the Moongate Gifts; PJ’s Coffee; Nighthawk Books; Eden Organix; PINO’S Fruit Basket Shoppe & Wine Cellar; Inspire Me Fit Studios; Make-me Take-me; Lifetyme Studios; Peachpot Boutique; Aposto Pizzeria; Centerpiece Gifts and Over the Moon Toys.
Tiffany Yang, a marketing major who expects to graduate in 2011, was in the group that worked with Inspire Me Fit Studios. Owner Ametra Lundy shared her concerns about her recent move to Highland Park and her inability to attract local residents to the fitness studio.
“Since consumer behavior in our case, the decision to purchase membership for fitness classes, is driven by psychological constructs, such as perception and motivation, we were encouraged to apply these concepts learned in class to the campaign. In this way, we could help Ms. Lundy gain greater insight into the minds of her customers and ultimately offer the greatest value to them,” Yang said, adding that it was very rewarding to be able to give back to the local community and help a small business owner.
Reema Sharma, who is also majoring in marketing and expected to graduate next year, said the project helped her gain real-world experience.
Sharma’s group was assigned to Make-Me Take-Me, a personalized gift shop.
“From this project, I was able to take away valuable knowledge and learned that things do not always go as planned, as in the case of the struggling businesses in Highland Park,” Sharma said. “I also learned how to counteract these unpredictable situations and to keep a competitive edge over others in the industry, continuous planning is necessary and this is where marketing comes in.”
Brian L. Taxman, president of PINO’S Fruit Basket Shoppe & Wine Cellar, said he benefited by participating in the project. The students gathered information on PINO’S history, business plan, current status and future needs.
They “listened, asked questions, evaluated strategies and ultimately recommended a solution,” Taxman said. “…The result is that PINO’S is now poised with a social networking position on both Facebook and Twitter. We are sending weekly tweets and messages to our existing clientele and, of course, seeking new ‘fans’ with every email.”
Taxman expects the changes will be beneficial in expanding his customer base.
“We are hopeful that this new capability will assist in continuing to promote PINO’S portfolio of product/service mix to the marketplace in conjunction with established marketing programs of the website, constant contact, print and electronic media,” he continued, adding that the students should be highly commended.
James McCrone, executive director of Main Street Highland Park, (MSHP) said because of the project, the Highland Park business district will be better positioned to compete with the surrounding shopping areas.
“The students gained real-world, practical experience, while benefiting the community. I think it’s fantastic and I’m looking forward to more partnerships like this,” he said. “The students took their work very seriously and came up with first-rate ideas.”
McCrone said having a Main Street in place helped move along the project. When Watson contacted McCrone, he was able to quickly reach out to the members of MSHP.
“Having a central downtown manager gives some validity to the downtown and it allows us to take advantage of a wonderful program like this,” he said.
McCrone said the project came right on time.
“These are difficult economic times, but it’s not the time to retreat. Main Street is not retreating. Established business owners may not have looked at their business plans in a while. Having young people with energy and bright ideas is beneficial.”
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