From developing marketing strategies to overseeing day-to-day operations, students gain real-world experience
For many years, Ranjan Kini, Indiana University Northwest Professor of Management - Information Systems, hoped to help establish a store that would provide students with firsthand experience in running a small business. That vision finally began to take shape when an Entrepreneur Club was formed on IU Northwest’s campus in the fall of 2018, and Kini became its faculty advisor.
The club’s flagship project: RedHawk Enterprise, a small store located in the Dunes Medical/Professional Building that prides itself on selling products from around the world. The seed capital for this store was provided by local Rotary Clubs, Strack & Van Til, and local philanthropists.
Customers can enjoy brands like Red Bull from Austria, aloe drinks from Taiwan along with Hello Panda and Pocky from Japan.
With a diverse range of 30 different products, including ramen, crunchy snacks, sweet treats and an introduction of a Keurig machine, the store caters to various tastes and preferences.
But the store’s purpose is much greater than helping to curb the campus’ appetite.
“Alongside managing the store, members of the Entrepreneur Club also handle financial statements, inventory tracking, and determining profitability,” Kini explained.
Challenges = opportunities
However — like any new startup — the store has faced its share of challenges. Its most significant hurdle: getting the word out about its existence.
Jen Dejanovich, president of the Entrepreneur Club and a rising IU Northwest senior, acknowledges that its limited physical space on campus made it difficult to create awareness among students. However, thanks to the Marketing Club, guided by Assistant Professor of Marketing Yllka Azemi, help for RedHawk Enterprise was on the way.
With the assistance of the 14-member Marketing Club, its members decided to make developing a marketing strategy for the RedHawk Enterprise one of its first projects.
Splitting into two teams, Marketing Club members developed several marketing strategies that would be tested over time to determine their effectiveness.
Dejanovich, who also happens to be the president of the Marketing Club, said that one of the strategies the club chose involved running a discount through Square, a payment processing platform.
Another tactic: offering new social media followers a 10 percent discount on store purchases. In the end, the discount didn't prove to be the main attraction as nothing in the store costs more than $3.99, so saving 39 cents wasn't a significant factor.
Instead, simple word-of-mouth and fully utilizing Instagram (@redhawk_enterprise) became a powerful draw. Soon the store's account achieved an impressive 50 percent engagement rate, well and above the national average of one percent.
While the store has a Facebook presence, Dejanovich explained, "Instagram was more popular with the campus audience that we serve."
Recent wins, growth
Over the last few months, the growth of RedHawk Enterprise has been remarkable. Sales increased from $500 in the fall 2022 semester to $3,200 in the spring, said Dejanovich.
"More people are hearing about us,” Dejanovich said, “people are getting excited about it."
The profits generated by the store are carefully managed by the Entrepreneur Club. Club members vote on how much to invest in the store and how much to allocate as scholarships.
Future plans include acquiring a new refrigerator and potentially introducing a mobile cart to serve customers across campus.
The collaboration between the Marketing and Entrepreneur Clubs has not only fostered entrepreneurial skills but has also honed students' abilities in team building.
"We give the students complete freedom to manage the store,” Kini said. “They research the products; they create the flyers. This is how they develop confidence. They are developing important skill sets that can’t always be taught in a traditional classroom setting.”
More exciting developments lie ahead as the Marketing Club recently became affiliated with the American Marketing Association (AMA) in May 2023. Proud of this accomplishment, Azemi said that the club has “future plans to attend webinars and invite guest speakers,” including a successful former student who also launched a business using the skills learned in an IU Northwest class.
Looking to the future, Azemi explained that the students will determine whether the Marketing Club will continue to support the store's marketing efforts or if they will entrust this responsibility to the Entrepreneur Club.
But one thing is clear: the mutual collaboration between these clubs has contributed to the RedHawk Enterprise's success and the invaluable experiences gained by its student members.
“We are building entrepreneurship skills with this store," Kini said.