Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ball State Libraries Collaborate with Business Students on Vera Bradley Project

Students at Ball State are taking advantage of an exciting immersive learning experience with Vera Bradley Designs, Inc., an internationally-known company based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In two 300-level classes at the Miller College of Business, Dr. Rod Davis and Dr. Jennifer Bott are instructing a cohort of 15 students to work with Vera Bradley Designs representatives to design roll-out plans for a signature store grand opening in three new markets including Glendale, Wisconsin, Germantown, Tennessee, and Natick, Massachusetts.

Faculty at the Miller College of Business concluded that working with Vera Bradley Designs would be a great immersive learning experience for their students. They had heard Patricia Miller, co-founder of the firm with Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, speak on campus to entrepreneurship students at an earlier date.

The class is working in three groups of five students. Each team will focus on a particular city and will determine the best way to identify information about competitors and cities.

The assignment requires the students to create a city report, company report, team report, and a presentation, among other outcomes. Students will research the company and the market, and perform a strategic planning analysis, known as a Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis. During an in-class presentation, Stephen K. Duecker, Information Services Librarian, identified the following five databases that the students would find useful in their research, such as Reference USA, Lexis Nexis Academic and Regional Business News.

Angela S. Gibson, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist, also gave a brief presentation to the class regarding the capabilities of GIS and how incorporating demographic GIS data and maps into their research would greatly benefit their project.

Dr. Davis and Angela met to decide on the best way to use GIS for both the students’ self-learning and achieving the project goals. A portion of the project’s grant money was set aside to buy trial licenses of ESRI’s Business Analyst Online, a software package which combines GIS technology with demographic, consumer, and business data to deliver on-demand analysis, graphic reports, and maps over the Web. This map below shows the average driving time from residential areas to a major shopping center.

The newly released Business Analyst Online product helps users understand the lifestyle and buying behaviors of the households in their market and answer questions such as:
· Where to find optimal sites for new store locations
· How to market effectively to specific customer segments
· How to profile their best customers and find more like them
Students from this class are also visiting the University Libraries’ Geospatial Resources and Map Collection to map potential business competitors. To do this, Angela is using a feature called geocoding in the ArcGIS software.

Bradley Designs expressed interest in having the students help them design a roll-out plan for stores in three new markets. According to the class syllabus, students will determine and design pre-opening publicity, the grand opening party, media kits, and after-opening publicity. Teams are responsible for incorporating the Vera Bradley branding image into all materials and are encouraged to be creative in the development of this public relations project.
In order to fund this innovative project, the Miller College applied for a grant with Discovery, a women’s collaborative philanthropic group. They received approximately $25,000 to cover the cost of materials, multiple student trips to Vera Bradley and other costs. These funds will be used for projects over a two-semester period.

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