With a change in the curriculum, Fall 2011 senior marketing students were the first to have the great opportunity to partake in a marketing capstone course. Dr. Deborah Owens, associate professor of marketing in the College of Business Administration, taught and coordinated the course this year. Each year, the course will give students the chance to work with a local business or non-profit to develop a marketing plan and strategy.
This year’s project was with Norwalk Furniture. In 2008, after 106 years in the custom ordered furniture business, a group of investors purchased many assets from Norwalk Furniture before it went into bankruptcy liquidation. With new leadership and a new business plan, this gave students a great opportunity to provide valuable advice to executives of Norwalk Furniture.
“This was the perfect project for students to create a marketing strategy from the ground up’, stated Dr. Owens. “The main focus was to increase direct-to-customer sales through a redesigned website. Students were able to work with independent designers and boutiques, and speak directly with target customers to help Norwalk Furniture reposition their brand.”
There were seven teams that participated in this project. Each team conducted focus groups, in the state of the art Taylor Institute, to gather information. The two focus groups used in the study were interior designers and women over the age of 35 with income of $75,000 or more (“Target Market”). Students were also able to learn a great deal about website design from a class visit by Rene McCann, Senior Art Director at Hitchcock Fleming and Associates, an Akron based ad agency. McCann is an award winning website designer, who explained to students the characteristics of a customer friendly website.
After gathering all of their information, students presented their repositioning and implementation strategies to a team of five Norwalk Furniture executives. The executives were pleased with the ideas and information presented to them. Dan White, President of Norwalk Furniture, said, “"We often use the term 'Generation Gap' to indicate the younger generation doesn't measure up. It is apparent to me that the University of Akron Business School seniors have got the 4-i's: Intelligent, Ingenious, Industrious and, in short, Incredible! It is we, of the older generation, who need to eat our humble pie."
Students also enjoyed their experience with the project. Cameron Henneman, Sales Management & Marketing Management major, said, “The Capstone Project with Norwalk Furniture was really interactive and exciting, as it taught me how to properly conduct marketing research while keeping an open mind, and professionally presenting our findings to a real life client.”
Katie Duff, International Business, Marketing Management and Spanish major, echoed Henneman’s comments, saying, “The Capstone Project with Norwalk Furniture gave us a chance to work with a client on real world issues. The project and our client really pushed us to use the skills we've been learning for the past four years, and gives us a great idea of what we can expect in the marketing industry.”