University of Richmond E. Claiborne Robins School of Business students are reaching outside the "Richmond bubble” to help local businesses solve problems and create marketing solutions, which strengthens these businesses and builds lasting student-employer relationships.

Market Research and Analysis is a required class for anyone with a marketing concentration in the Robins School of Business. The class includes a semester-long project conducting research and analysis for a real company.

Marketing Department Chair Monika Kukar-Kinney started the project 14 years ago when she came to the university.

The intent of the project is for students to go out into the local community and find a small business for which they will conduct custom market research, professor Jeff Carlson, who teaches the class this semester, said.

Each class is made up of two to three groups of around four students who choose a business in the community, conduct an interview with the owner, identify a problem or opportunity and set out to solve that problem with certain marketing techniques. Students begin the project by starting a relationship with their selected business, after which comes the interview and explaining to the business owner why it would be worthwhile to work with them.

The research and analysis process is taught in steps in the class. The professors will review each topic in class and the students will follow it up with real-time experience in that area.

The first step is exploratory research. This includes a client interview with the owner, secondary research from online databases and qualitative research through focus groups for customer perspective. The students are able to identify a problem or opportunity to explore, from which they create research objectives, Kukar-Kinney said.

The students then conduct a survey and collect data from a sample of 100 people using qualtrics online software. They use SPSS statistical software to analyze the data once it is collected.

“We give best practices, advantages and disadvantages of different practices, but for the most part, students conduct all of the research themselves,” Carlson said.

Businesses are generally willing to participate in the project. Some, such as Christian’s Pizza, have even worked with the students multiple times.

Many students will work with businesses close to campus or companies that would gain a lot from having a college-age client base.

One group is currently working with Ginger Juice, a cold-pressed juice company in the Village on Three Chopt Road, a short drive from the Richmond campus.

They are researching how to get college students to Ginger Juice. They have found that students don’t want to pay money for it, many people don’t know where it is and that the owner doesn’t do any promotional marketing.

Cameron Barnett, RC '17, a member of the group, said one of the suggestions they had made was to promote a “hangover Sunday,” during which students could get juices half off. 

“I really think students would go to something like that,” he said.

But the owner isn’t interested in promotional offerings and doesn’t want to target Richmond students, Barnett said. The owner is interested in researching marketing opportunities downtown, where she plans to open another location and target an older market.

Laura Rokop, WC '18, another member of the group, said that it had been hard to do the research the owner wanted based on the resources they had available at the university. Since the students are required to conduct surveys and focus groups, it is hard to focus on target markets outside of the university.

The results of the project vary. Many companies have implemented student suggestions, and some have even benefitted from them, but others don’t use them at all.

George Pelose, RC '17, took the class during his sophomore year and worked with Jersey Mike’s Subs. His group recommended loyalty programs and event catering at the university to increase Jersey Mike's presence on campus, and to work with a third-party delivery service to reach more students. Pelose said the manager had been open to their ideas and to implementing them.

Red Eye Cookies, Christian’s Pizza and Going Bananas are just a few of the other companies that Richmond marketing students have worked with. Internal “companies” such as the University Museums, SpiderBytes and the Heilman Dining Center have also been involved in the student-run projects.

The project is beneficial for not only local businesses but students as well, because the students are able to do real market research rather than just learning about it. This is an experience that can be attractive to employers.

"The class does a really good job of providing tangible things that coincide with what you’re doing in marketing,” Barnett said. “[Carlson] does a really solid job with, like, ‘Okay this is how you do a survey, but this is where it’s actually useful.’”

It also helps develop critical thinking and analytical skills, as well as skills working in a team, Kukar-Kinney said.

Through working with businesses outside the university, students are also able to create a better relationship with the community. Pelose said that he believed there was value in the project and that the university should offer more opportunities to work with local businesses in different ways. 

Contact contributor Maggie Pope at maggie.pope@richmond.edu.

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