DENTON, Texas (UNT) — Two University of North Texas students were one of the top-three finalist teams to compete in one of the retail industry’s biggest events of 2017, the National Retail Federation BIG Show. Sarah Muller of Mount Olive Township, New Jersey, and Hailey Turner, of Flower Mound, Texas, won the third place prize of $1,500 each in the National Retail Federation Foundation Student Challenge.
The pair clinched the honor for their business plan for STORY, an innovative retailer that reinvents itself every few weeks. The store has the look and feel of a magazine, but changes design like an art gallery and sells merchandise like a boutique. Competitors were tasked with creating STORY’s next great experience after choosing from three emerging trends in retail: Travel, Made in America or Sensory.
The students, both majors in the Department of Merchandising and Digital Retail in UNT’s College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism, were drawn to the travel theme.
“Right now, there is a shift to focus on experiential retail, and travel was something that really fit that,” said Muller, a junior. “When you travel, you’re going for the experience. Our STORY is about the emotional journey you go on and the memories you make.”
The results were announced opening night at the annual foundation gala January 15 in New York City. The three finalist teams had previously presented their proposals at KPMG headquarters to a live panel of executive judges, including executives from Nordstrom and West Elm. UNT’s pitch spotlighted why and how their STORY should be brought to life and included a mock website, a 20-page presentation, a budget, a video and ideas for social media and events.
“We’ve learned so much more this semester because it’s the real world application of the knowledge we’re gaining in the classroom,” added Turner, who said that their mentor from big-four auditor KPMG and that conference calls with Nike and NRF leaders helped immensely.
“That’s what I love about this competition. Our students experienced many professionals critiquing their concept from a business point of view to ensure it could actually work in the real world,” said Linda Mihalick, senior director of UNT’s Global Digital Retailing Research Center and the team’s advisor and mentor. “It’s all about bringing industry and academia together. Students are the next generation of leaders, and anything we can do to get them closer to the industry is paramount.”
UNT students have consistently performed well. Last year, a UNT team won the challenge for the first time, and UNT is the only university to make it to the top-three finalist round every year of the competition, which named its first winner in 2014.