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Students gain vital experience in Target-sponsored case study focused on sustainability
By Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative
(956) 665-2741
Posted: 01/12/2011
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When Target Corporation wanted to seek new ways to incorporate sustainability into the merchandising of some of its product lines, it looked to teams of business students at The University of Texas-Pan American for some fresh ideas and solutions.

Three student teams in the Product & Brand Strategy marketing class of Dr. Justin Gressel recently shared $4,000 in cash prizes provided by a Target campus grant for their winning proposals.


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Pictured with the first place winners of Target's student case study competition held in December 2010 at UTPA are left to right Target employees Ruth Ellen Hudsonpillar, store team leader, and Cynthia Vargas, district facilities team leader; Dr. Justin Gressel, UTPA assistant professor of marketing; David Tamez and Jasmine Garza, members of the first place student team; and Target employees Eddie Castilleja and Daniel Torres, both store team leaders. Target employees mentored students and judged their presentations at the end of the semester-long project that had students focused on ways to better market Target's commitment to sustainability in its products and practices. Not pictured are Michael Mason and Carlos Salas, also members of the first place team.
The case-based, semester long project was taken on in September 2010 by Gressel, an assistant professor of marketing in the College of Business Administration, and his class of 20 students. The project's goal was to focus on ways to make Target more sustainable or environmentally friendly with three product categories — personal care, beauty or home — by suggesting new ideas or changes with how Target deals with vendors, transportation, products, presentation, promotion, signing and other means. With mentoring provided along the way by area store Team Leaders and regional level executives, the project culminated in a written report and presentation by five student teams before a panel of Target representatives in December 2010.

The first place team, which won $2,500, included students Jasmine Garza, Michael Mason, Carlos Salas, and David Tamez. Their case focused on improving Target's current sustainability awareness among the community and within their company, by implementing a marketing campaign named "Target Tips." The Target Tips, intended to address sustainability, would be placed in the corporation's current promotional tools including advertisements and its website, as well as in in-store locations. Their campaign also included a logo incorporating Target's universally-familiar red circle with a silhouette-like image of a tree in the middle to identify sustainable products and information on sustainability benefits.

Garza, a senior majoring in marketing, said conducting the extensive research required to develop a successful campaign was challenging.

"Target has been a very successful company. We wanted to make sure that the campaign fit their 'edginess and uniqueness' and that it could easily be implemented," said Garza, who felt her team's presentation was a winning one because it was realistic and affordable.

Garza also credited her team's success to the useful information gleaned from Target managers who met with them several times and to the knowledge they gained in their marketing classes.

"Classes that seem like just information finally turned into useful tools. It was great to finally get to apply all these long hours of studying into a company," she said.

Members of the second place team, which won $1,000, were Martha Davila, Victoria Garcia, Perla Gonzalez and Stuart Macinnes. The third place team won $500 and included Orlando Davila, Montserrat Frausto, Tiffany Robles, Cesar Vigil and Sarah Weber.

Gressel said the project fit in well with his branding class, which focuses on how to achieve distinctive positioning of a brand.

"Marketing is more than just saying nice things about your brand, it's also making your brand into what you tell people it is. Therefore, the students had to not only come up with the means to communicate Target's sustainability, but they also had to come up with concrete ideas to actually make Target more sustainable," he said. "What I liked about this project in the context of my branding class is that students had to deal with factors like costs and the feasibility of implementing new ideas, as well as potential impact of ideas. Those factors provide greater motivation to carefully construct a realistic, consistent, relevant, and high-impact branding campaign."

Marianella Franklin, UTPA's director of Sustainability Programs, said she appreciated the support Target provided to help the University incorporate sustainability into the curriculum it offers.

"Target's program gave our college of business students the opportunity to practice realistic marketing methods during the course project. This is instrumental as UTPA prepares its students for their professional journey seeking 'green' jobs," she said.

David Tollar, senior field campus recruiter for Target based in Houston, said he is proud of Target's strong partnership with UT Pan Am in the classroom, with faculty and staff and in community programs. He said Target leadership teams met with case study student teams throughout the semester to provide an overview of Target's corporate culture and organization and solicit questions from students but also to encourage the teams to make their own conclusions and solutions to the case. Tollar said Target has incorporated key changes to processes and procedures from students' feedback on case study projects.

"The case study project gives students exposure to actual challenges retailers face in today's competitive marketplace and incorporates classroom learning into real world business challenges that students appreciate and enjoy," he said. "The competition is a great experience for students and allows Target to achieve two major objectives: recruit talented UTPA students to Target and hear some solutions to our business challenges. It's a win-win for us."

For information on ways to support the College of Business Administration or other UTPA programs, please contact the UTPA Development Office at (956) 665-5301.