Big show, big win: UNT students clinch top award in National Retail Federation contest for first time

Wednesday, January 20, 2016 - 16:19
UNT Merchandising and Digital Retailing students Ashley Nudge, Katelyn Patrick, Nichole Fallis, Mckenzie Hibler.
UNT Merchandising and Digital Retailing students Ashley Nudge, Katelyn Patrick, Nichole Fallis, Mckenzie Hibler.

DENTON (UNT), Texas - Four University of North Texas students have won first place in the National Retail Federation Student Challenge, clinching a first-ever win for students in UNT’s Department of Merchandising and Digital Retailing. They were each awarded a $5,000 scholarship Jan. 17 during the NRF’s annual “BIG Show” in New York City for their pitch of a product worthy of a national retailer.

UNT seniors Nichole Fallis, Mckenzie Hibler and Katelyn Patrick and junior Ashley Nudge collaborated for several months to develop the Medici RFID Trattoria Tote concept for online retailer eBags. Billed by the UNT group as a “modern woman’s briefcase,” the tote’s design features special compartments to “store, protect and organize digital devices and essentials.”

“I am amazed, but not surprised, by the accomplishments of our students,” said Richard Last, senior director of UNT’s Global Digital Retailing Research Center.

 “The amount of preparation and research that went into their business plan – surveys, articles, and industry and faculty interviews – it is very impressive and contributed to how well they’ve done,” added Last, who also coordinates UNT’s digital retailing degree program.

In addition to their behind-the-scenes preparation, members of the UNT group said their individual strengths and courses in merchandizing, digital retailing and logistics were a major factor in their success.

“Going into this competition, we were prepared to look at and have a basic understanding of all angles of product development and the project outline because of the courses we’ve taken,” Hibler said.

While this is the first time a UNT team has won the entire competition, it’s not the first time the university has done well. With top-three placements in 2014, 2015 and 2016, UNT is the only university to make it to the finalists round three times in a row.

Competing against 16 teams from the NRF Foundation’s college and university partners, UNT moved into the finals to take on students from Florida State University and Columbia College in Chicago.

As part of the first round, each school’s team created and presented a written proposal and video pitch to bring a new product to market for an existing U.S. retailer. Their 15-page business plan was then read by senior leadership of the company, including its chief executive officer. Moving into a second round, UNT’s team had a detailed question and answer session with a new group of retail executive judges. For the finals, a panel of industry executives from top U.S. businesses and brands read the plans and selected the winner: UNT.

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