The first-ever capstone class in fashion studies and retail merchandising at South Dakota State University has already helped the University Bookstore gain more media interaction and customer engagement.
Nine students were tasked with developing a merchandising plan for fall 2021 for the bookstore and, despite the pandemic barring them from in-person client meetings, got the opportunity for firsthand experience in business operations. Students were able to project sales, perform individual site visits and suggest changes in displays and visual merchandising practices.
“I was very impressed,” said Sam Tutt ’15, the University Bookstore’s retail operations manager and a graduate from the program. “We had nothing hands-on like this. I’d have preferred to do something like this because every company you’ll work in after graduation will be so different from the textbook. I would have loved to work with someone in the industry when I was a student.”
Tutt added the University Bookstore also learned from the class and implemented some of the ideas that the students had suggested. This included moving various displays and starting a more strategic online and social media presence. And the bookstore did just that.
“We have noticed a significant increase in followers, likes and customer interactions on all of our social media platforms. We plan to keep coming up with new and innovative promotions that keep our customers involved and continue to keep visiting our store,” she said.
The University Bookstore started a Feature Fan Friday campaign that encourages followers to submit photos of the families or pets decked in Jackrabbits gear for the chance to be featured on social media and win a gift and discount code. The bookstore has also taken the students’ advice of moved the SDSU gift section to the very front of the store. The response has been that the smaller gift items are gaining a lot more attention from customers.
On top of making recommendations, the students also learned a few of their ideas had been attempted or were not allowed due to regulations such as fire codes.
Regardless, it was a beneficial venture.
“The project helped me gather all materials that I have learned over the past few years. When you don't use those course materials daily, it is easy to forget. Therefore, it was good that the capstone project reminded me of what I have learned and how to apply it,” said Anna Nguyen, who attended classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in spring 2020 and then stayed in New York for fall 2020.
According to Bonnie Junker, the class instructor, and Tutt, the students took the class above and beyond the level they had hoped to see from graduating seniors.
“I still think the most memorable moment was the time I received a late-night text asking ‘I know this was not directly asked of us, but we had some ideas we think would be really good for the bookstore and we would like to pursue. We were wondering if it is OK if we also …’” Junker said. “I still remember that moment. They had made the transition—they had taken full ownership of the project. That is the level of initiative, engagement, creativity, problem-solving and professionalism that we are looking for in our graduates.”
The students came away from the hands-on experience with not only a different perspective of the University Bookstore but also of themselves and their previous classes.
“I realized how much I had actually learned from all of the classes I have taken so far throughout my college career. I don’t think you realize how much you learn when you are taking the course until it is all said and done, and you eventually have to work with all of that information at once,” said Andi Seibel, who is from Volga. “I feel as if I used so much information from previous classes that I kind of forgot I even had to complete the capstone project.”
“This project was a semester-long undertaking and it all pieced together nicely in the end,” said Paige Foote, a student from Coon Rapids, Minnesota. “It was the hands-on work I think we all were waiting for as seniors. At the end of the project, I could tell we were all so proud of not only ourselves but each other.”