Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Supporting Student Businesses: Building trust and relat ionships with student ent repreneurs
Year Submitted 2016
Awarded 2nd prize (Open Category)
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name Title
Hosham Alimorad Associate Director, Business Strategy and IS
Steve Alb Director, Western Retail Services
Name of Institution Western University
Office Address UCC Rm 7P, Western Uni vers ity
London, Ontario N6A 3K7
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Telephone: 519-661-3099
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Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Gitta Kulczycki
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Vice-President (Resources & Operations)
Office Address I 151 Richmond Street, Room 2107
London, Ontario N6A 5B8
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Telephone: 519-661-3114
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Abstract

In March 2015 Western Retail Services (WRS) initiated a partnership with Propel Entrepreneurship at Western. Propel is part of the Campus-Linked Accelerator program, an initiative of the Ontario Government and administered through the Ontario Centres of Excellence. Propel provides co-working space, mentorship, seed-funding, events and acts as an advocate for local youth-based start-ups in the community.

WRS approached Propel with the idea of featuring the products and services of these entrepreneurs with the opportunity of expanding the relationship by offering "pitch nights" and a special "student entrepreneurship" section in the main bookstore. The instore display features students' businesses, highlighting the story behind each company and their products. The relationship provides the Book Store access to trendy and student-centric products, leveraging their social media strengths. WRS's role is more than just providing retail space. It includes mentoring the entrepreneurs by providing business advice, as well as support and encouragement, to help them remain focused on what is important for the success of their business. WRS managers help the entrepreneurs hone their abilities and advise them on navigating new challenges in the retail world.

Propel and WRS each bring unique resources to the arrangement, making it a natural fit and value add for both organizations. Propel screens retail-based clients for market readiness, stability and quality of products. WRS provides dedicated space within our three campus locations, allowing local start-up companies to introduce their brands and capture new customers within the Western community.

The idea is to help promote student entrepreneurship, providing them with real-life exposure to the challenges they face taking their products to market. The companies benefit from The Book Store's expertise and knowledge to help them think about the retail ecosystem: product, promotion, pricing, placement, inventory etc.

WRS has the best interests of students in mind but we have challenges telling that story effectively throughout campus. With this strategic partnership we have the opportunity to gain incremental revenue, bring awareness, communicate and demonstrate that our core values are aligned with the student's in a fluid and organic manner.

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.
Transferability

Any campus retail operation can use the idea to connect with students and form a stronger relationship. The opportunity is to help promote student entrepreneurship, providing them with real-life exposure to the challenges they face taking their products to market. The companies benefit from the store's expertise and knowledge to help them think about the retail ecosystem: product, promotion, pricing, placement, inventory etc. Many institutions have received government funding to drive entrepreneurship programs but are struggling with gaining traction and showing tangible results. Our role could be to help guide retail operations on developing a plan through the network of campus stores that exists in Canada.

Quality Impact

The expected outcomes were to strengthen the connection and build trust with students through this partnership (testimonials contained in the supporting documents). The Book Store recogni zed that in order to reach our captive audience it must be supported and endorsed by student entrepreneurs that are directly linked to their peers. Trust building with our customers has increased due to the ongoing favorable press since the inception of this partnership. Our pa11ners have shared their positive experiences through media outlets, social media channe ls and word of mouth. In addition to the positive results, some startups have developed Western-centric product lines sold exclusively through the campus retail channel. Ultimately, the outcome of building trust and strengthening the student relationship will create confidence and drive overall revenues in the operation. Since the launch, The Book Store has exceeded budgeted expectations and seen unprecedented growth in our general merchandise category.

Productivity Impact

The number of start-up companies involved through this partnership year to date is fi ve. Four of which are now permanent vendors after the 90-day consignment agreement. Combined product offering of all companies accounted for 30 SK Us, where total units sold is 120 and total sales of $3,200. The expectation to drive revenue growth in related categories has shown a current year General Merchandise growth of I 1.3 per cent, where the previous I 0 year average growth has been 3.5 per cent. This has translated into the overall financial strength of the operation with projections of exceeding budgeted contribution by 27 per cent.

Innovation

This project gets to the roots of being student-centric by fostering collaboration on campus as opposed to the existing relationship of pushing products and services. It is  differentiated by the level of student involvement to drive the program. Entrepreneurs have a vested interest in the success of the program as it showcases their talents, deepens their connection to the institution and enriches their educational experience. In turn The Book Store gains access to grassroots trendy products, increased reach with combined social media and marketing initiatives and helps build a positive and cooperative relationship with students. These companies have also become ambassadors for The Book Store through their social networks and in depth connection to their peers and fellow students.