DENTON, Texas (UNT) — Last spring, local business owner Kim McKibben got a call she couldn’t resist. Eric Kennedy, a doctoral student and teaching fellow at the University of North Texas, had seen an article about her coffee shop in the North Texas Daily, UNT’s student-run newspaper. He wondered if McKibben was interested in collaborating with two marketing courses at UNT that give students hands-on experience helping to brand independent businesses in the North Texas region.
McKibben knew this was a chance to make the locale truly her own.
Three years ago, the Highland Village resident and longtime lover of the Denton community took over a small coffee shop near Fry Street in Denton and slowly began to make changes. She gave the venue, which had a reputation of being dark and seedy, a much needed deep clean, repainted the walls and upgraded the interior lighting. This summer, she painted over the “Big Mike’s Coffee Shop” sign and replaced it with a temporary sign that read “COFFEE.”
McKibben said while earnings paid the mortgage, she wasn’t profiting. However, she saw the potential in working with students, her primary customers.
“I would be foolish not to take advantage of hearing ideas from the people I’m trying to serve,” she said.
After learning that McKibben’s marketing budget was “zero dollars,” the marketing students were faced with a stark realization.
“For so many new, independent business owners, this is the reality. We don’t walk into something with big fat pockets of money,” said McKibben.
When she originally bought the shop she was in the market for something very different: a building to open a private practice for occupational therapy and integrative complementary therapies. She was having trouble finding the right venue when a real estate friend suggested the building with the coffee venue.
There was a catch. The owner insisted McKibben keep the coffee shop. She knew nothing about coffee; however, she took a leap of faith and used loans plus personal money from her 401K to fund the purchase.
“I joke, but this is my retirement plan,” says McKibben.
“The stakes are real,” said Kennedy. “If this doesn’t succeed, she could be in trouble; the students take that to heart.”
The classes, each offered as Strategic Brand Management, are among several in the UNT College of Business that gives students training in their fields. Every semester the class pairs with a different local entrepreneur, said Kennedy, who is filling in for the longtime instructor, Francisco Guzman, an associate professor of marketing who is on faculty development leave for Fall 2016. Past classes have teamed with Pizza Snob, West Oak Coffee Bar, Loco Cafe and Velo Republic.
Iesha Daboya, a 21-year-old senior taking the course, said the class is “great at teaching creativity.”
“It’s one thing to sit in a class and learn, but to actually implement something that you can show future employers about what you can do for their company is amazing,” said Daboya, who is leading the charge for brand presence and social media for her team of six. “There are no limits or requirements, and it’s all in your hands.”
Since the semester start, the students created business plans complete with budget and funding recommendations; market research; logo designs; remodeling suggestions; ideas to grow the shop’s online presence; and finally, a new name of the shop: Aur Coffee. The name was a departure from McKibben's original, secret name that she had planned.
“I hadno idea what they’re going to come up with, but our students in Denton deserve an opportunity to have real life experiences,” said McKibben. After watching more than a dozen teams, McKibben will personally select the concepts she loves the most.
Ultimately, she hopes the rebranding will change the shop’s feel and create an environment that’s inviting for new clientele.
“Even if she took one idea from our presentation, I’d be happy,” said Daboya.
The students will present their ideas to McKibben in November, but she’ll have the final say on what is implemented.
“It’s the real-world application of what we teach at UNT,” said Kennedy. “The students are learning what it’s like to be the brand manager so that they can be intelligent about the process when they begin their careers. It’s also about pride. When their family and friends come to campus, they can take them to this location to show off what they’ve done.”