DENTON (UNT), Texas — JCPenney and Mud Pie Texas are giving University of North Texas students a unique learning opportunity to gain real-world experience in their chosen careers before they graduate.
The retailers are among a growing number of organizations turning to UNT students for a fresh perspective on ways to grow their businesses.
Projects designed for UNT’s Department of Merchandising and Digital Retailing task students with identifying and solving everyday business challenges. Lecturer Michelle Burton’s Advanced Merchandising Applications class is collaborating with JCPenney, and lecturer Linda Mihalick’s Digital Retailing Strategies class is collaborating with Mud Pie Texas.
“These students are learning how businesses actually work,” said Tiffany Jenkins, who launched Mud Pie Texas with her husband Brian Jenkins and mother, Sherry Craft. “In school, you learn concepts, but it’s different in real life. What’s nice about this class is that students are getting hands-on practice. It’s opening their eyes.”
At the semester’s end, students share their ideas with the company. Student teams working with JCPenney surveyed target markets to develop competitor insights and market analysis. For example, one team pitched concepts for new marketing campaigns, suggested modifications to existing webpage layouts, recommended new pricing options and developed an interactive checklist for the JCPenney dorm shop.
“The assignment itself is one thing and is important because of its relevance to industry, but the opportunity to get feedback in terms of how to go about attacking a problem professionally was even more valuable,” said senior Daniel Garcia. “For our team, the focus was really about offering JCPenney a new set of ideas on how to reclaim their American legacy.”
The goal is to give the organization an understanding, from both a consumer and consultant viewpoint, of what’s working and what’s not. For senior Yasamin Gholipour’s team, that meant suggesting the Mud Pie Texas owners incorporate more Google advertising tools, grow their social media channels and launch a blog and focus on hyper local marketing,
“Niche marketing is much more cost effective and allows you to leverage your marketing dollars by working on a more relevant audience. Mud Pie Texas’ two locations are close in proximity, so it would be beneficial for them to take advantage of the surrounding area and build relationships with those customers likely to shop locally,” she said, adding that other techniques the owners tried didn’t pay off. “It ended up being a waste of time, which can be frustrating.”
“It’s awesome to be able to get that outside perspective,” said Jenkins, Mud Pie Texas’ owner. “We know we have areas that we’re not experts in, so if someone has a new outlook that may help our business, then we’re all about it.”