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Currents: brewing up business

Jack's Coffee Presentation Presentation on Jack's Coffee in Business 325: Consumer Behavior.

Taking Jack's Coffee to Class: Business Students Brew Up Results

Developed by the Harvard Business School in the 1920s, the “case method” uses issues written up from actual companies to teach management students how to analyze and solve business problems. But at Colby-Sawyer, adjunct instructor John Ferries has taken “case method” approach one step further.

Since joining the Colby-Sawyer faculty in January 2006, Ferries has developed business classes that have used real businesses and organizations in the surrounding New London community as laboratories. His students make real presentations to real entrepreneurs and administrators. And their research and ideas have an actual impact in the local community.

The Real World is Your Menu

“I decided from the beginning that I would incorporate 'real world' projects into each course [I developed]” says Ferries, who holds degrees from Dartmouth College and Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business.

“I wanted to get the students out of the classroom, applying the academic concepts they learn into real, practical projects that would benefit local community companies or organizations. I wanted them to experience the challenges, frustrations, and yes - the excitement and personal fulfillment of working on these projects where the rubber hits the road.

“I also wanted them to work as teams on these projects, just as they are likely to do when they enter the 'real world' after Colby-Sawyer.”

Setting the Tables

Jack's Coffee Presentation Students enjoy a lighter moment in the Jack's Coffee presentation.

In the spring semester of 2006, Ferries' Marketing Research class worked on a major research project for the New London Hospital, which had recently changed its management and leadership teams, and on a community awareness study for the Ausbon Sargent Land Preservation Trust, a local nonprofit conservation organization.

This year, Ferries' Consumer Behavior class took on Jack's Coffee, a local business running a coffee bar and restaurant. “I was recently talking with the owner of Jack's [of New London], a young entrepreneur [named Jack Diemar] bursting with ideas about how to build his restaurant/coffee house business on Main Street,” Ferries says.

“[Jack] felt one major source of untapped business was the Colby-Sawyer students. But he didn't know how. The outcome of our discussion was his agreement to have students in my Consumer Behavior class take this on as a project.

“Three student teams were formed. Jack personally briefed them a couple of weeks ago. They then conducted some research among fellow students about their current coffee/food habits (on and off campus), their current perceptions of Jack's (and Dunkin' Donuts, the College Café, and the Mini-Marts), and what they needed. Out of this research came a broad set of initiatives Jack's could take to increase their CSC student business - at Jack's and on the CSC campus.”

Serving Up the Results

On Oct. 12, the three Jack's Coffee teams presented their results to Jack and their classmates in Colgate Hall. Team leaders Carly Rademaker '07, Ashley Grant '08 and Jacob Marquis '07 covered the results of their campus surveys, discussed student perceptions of Jack's coffee and made recommendations for how Jack's could attract more Colby-Sawyer students.

Few students on campus, the surveys revealed, knew much about Jack's---not even enough to say whether or not they liked it. Seniors often had never been to the Jack's, even after four years of college. Student who did know the cafe often felt that prices were above student budgets and that the restaurant catered to an upscale, town-oriented clientele. Marquis' presentation contrasted those perceptions with the competing College Café, owned by a former Colby-Sawyer student, that caters to students with special services and a loyalty program.

The variety and price of both food and coffee were key factors when students chose to eat Marquis said. “Atmosphere, hand in hand with service, feeling at ease when you walk in, are important to students. The College Café caters to that.”

Rademaker's presentation laid out the marketing challenges facing Jack's quest for Colby-Sawyer students. These were aimed at bringing Jack's closer to their interests and wants, including a “time and place for students to 'hang out' at the bar,” one night a week, with extended hours, a limited menu of pub fare like pizza, wings and basic sandwiches, with lower prices than the regular dining hours, and on-campus delivery.

Wrapping Things Up

The concluding presentation, made by Grant for her team, laid out suggestions for promotion and advertising to Colby-Sawyer students, including adding Colby-Sawyer SmartCard accounts as ways to pay, combo meals and other discounts, hiring a CSC student as a campus representative and delivery person, using flyers to promote Jack's free wireless Internet access, distributing menus to residence halls, organizing promotions at outdoor sports games and freshman orientation, adding loyalty programs and advertising in the campus newspaper.

“Having a student or faculty member carrying around a mug on campus would be a great way to promote awareness,” Grant said. “Gift cards and coupons, donating gift cards to campus raffles, other give-aways, are some of the ways you could spread the word.”

Jack Diemar Jack Diemar discusses class presentation on his business.

Ferries concluded by explaining that his Advertising class would transform some of these recommendations into an advertising campaign geared towards students, which will be presented to Jack in late November.

The subsequent class discussion with Jack Diemar centered on issues of price points and awareness of the nature of his business. “We make everything fresh, every single morning,” he said, explaining his price structure. “We try to use locally grown New Hampshire products, which supports the state's agriculture, 80 percent of our produce comes from farms in the state, which obviously costs more. We've always paid above minimum wage. We provide 100 percent health insurance and paid vacations.” All of these information points would make a difference with students, the class said.

Just Desserts

Jack's Coffee Presenters From left to right: Jack Diemar, Carly Rademaker '07, Jacob Marquis '07, Ashley Grant '08.

“I was extremely pleased with the work the class did for Jack's of New London,” Jack Diemar said later. “They had several good ideas that had obviously been carefully researched. They polled many students on campus and were able through their polling to give us some valuable advice. I think this is a great example of business/local community working with a local college.”

For Diemar, the Colby-Sawyer project closed a circle. “I wrote the plan for Jack's as a senior project for an entrepreneurship class at Skidmore College. I was able to work with a local café to build my plan… [W]hat started as a college project with help from a local business is now a local business thriving with help from college students.”

“I enjoyed the Jack's coffee project because it was a real world situation,” said Rademaker. “Our recommendations and information will result in real business strategies and changes. I also really enjoy any chance I have to get involved in the New London community.”

“It was a pleasure to do this presentation,” added Grant, “because there was real community substance behind it. The fact that the class was helping Jack and his business made the exercise more real and beneficial because we were working in cooperation with him towards a goal.

“Professor Ferries does a wonderful job making the class more real life by incorporating the community and local businesses which enhances students' interest in the subject of consumer behavior. He is a truly inspiring teacher with so much to offer every student.”

And what did Ferries think of his students? “I am very proud of all of you,” he said after the presentations were over, “very proud of the team leaders. The presentations looked and felt professional. It was really terrific to see how good you can be. You are a terrific class.”

-Peter Walsh