DENTON (UNT), Texas — A team of merchandising students at the University of North Texas is among teams from six U.S. universities and institutes to be named semifinalists in this year’s National Retail Federation Foundation Careerbuilders.com Student Challenge.
Students from all universities and institutes that are NRF Foundation College and University Partners are eligible for the competition. Each team of two to four students develops and presents a proposal to bring a new product to an existing U.S. retailer, which could include an Internet-only retailer. Each team submits a 10-page business plan, intended to be read by the chief executive officer and senior team of the retail company. The business plans should show clear understanding of the target market for the product, trends, competitors, marketing and finance.
Each team also submits a 90-second video pitch of the product. Retail executives from top companies and brands across the U.S. judge the business plans and video pitches.
The UNT team from the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism includes Subrina Hossain, senior merchandising and digital retailing major from Irving; Khuyen Nguyen, senior merchandising major from Vietnam; Karen Saltzman, junior merchandising major from Plano; and Adriana Solis, senior merchandising major from Dallas. The students developed a product for a national department store that focuses on customer service. The product is targeted for women ages 25 and older who are in urban workplaces.
“It is designed to transition with each woman throughout her career,” Solis said.
The other semifinalists in Round Two of the challenge represent the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, Georgia Southern University, Indiana University, Texas A&M University and the University of Florida.
In Round Two, the UNT team and the other teams will take part in a question-and-answer teleconference on Dec. 13 (Friday) with a different panel of judges, who will receive feedback from the Round One judges and review the business plans and videos before the teleconference. Each team will have 20 minutes to speak with the judges.
Three finalist teams will be chosen on Dec. 19 and will receive travel scholarships to attend the NRF Big Show annual convention and expo in New York City Jan. 12-15. During the Big Show, they will present their business plans in person to another panel of retail executives. The winning team will receive a $2,500 scholarship for each team member, with the second place team receiving $1,000 for each team member and the third place team receiving $500 for each team member.
The UNT students began working on their idea in August, and met for up to 10 hours a day, three days a week and also on weekends, during the last month before they submitted their business plan.
“Time management was definitely a challenge for this competition,” Solis said.
Rich Last, UNT senior lecturer in digital retailing and advisor to the students, said he is convinced that the students’ product will be available by this time next year.
“I have been very impressed with the research that these students have done in developing their product — not only researching the literature, and reviewing competitor product, but also conducting interviews with industry professionals in sourcing, technical design, packaging, and consumer intelligence,” Last said.
All of the students are also in the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism’s Merchant Development Program, which is aimed at undergraduates who have a passion for the retail industry. Students must have completed a certain number of lower-level courses for their degrees in merchandising, digital retailing or home furnishings merchandising before applying to the program. They must also have a minimum grade point average of 3.0 and have worked at least 300 documented clock hours in retail.
Entering a curriculum-related contest approved by merchandising faculty, like the Student Challenge, and attending industry conferences like the NRF Big Show are two of the requirements of the Merchant Development Program. The students must also complete five elective courses with a grade of B or higher, complete at least three days of job shadowing with an industry executive, and complete a Market Menternship, or internship at the Dallas Market Center/World Trade Center or other merchandise market, among other activities.