A project with a purpose

September 1, 2017
Sofa with recycle mark.

What marketing class project could be better than one that helps a real client assist local families-in-need while also reducing waste?

That’s what Alison Jing Xu, assistant professor at the U of M’s Carlson School, offered her MBA students in spring 2017 when she asked them to develop marketing solutions for ReStore—Habitat for Humanity’s Twin Cities home improvement store that sells donated merchandise.

The students’ challenge was to attract more first-time shoppers to the store. It was, as Whitney Delaney ’19 puts it, “a real problem in real time,” giving students the freedom and responsibility to explore fresh ideas.

“[The students] identified very creative approaches,” says Xu, who worked with her marketing department colleague Mark Bergen to devise the project.

Some student teams examined ReStore’s digital presence, from search engine optimization to social media strategy. Others looked at ways to improve word-of-mouth awareness through connections with realtors, contractors, and remodeling professionals.

Sarah Werbalowsky ’17 says her group “looked at how a donor would make a decision to donate. What barriers would be in their mind?”

Edward Blevins ’18 was in a group that benchmarked ReStore against nonprofit powerhouse Goodwill, looking for digital ways to attract students from local universities. “College students move with some frequency, and they’re trying to get rid of and get new furniture,” he says.

The project was a big success, for the students and for ReStore.

“We were blessed with not just getting a presentation, but eight total solutions,” says Pete O’Keefe, ReStore’s senior operations manager. “That’s of huge benefit to us because we can now approach the problem a few different ways.”

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