Marketing Students Lend Skills to African American Museum

Sep. 17, 2010

School of Management marketing students who worked on a project for the African American Museum in Dallas have come away with a résumé-building achievement that also showcases their community spirit.

African American Museum Logo

The project started when the museum’s president approached Dr. Calvin Jamison, senior vice president and head of the UT Dallas Office of Business Affairs, with a request for ideas about revamping the museum’s marketing efforts. Dr. Jamison turned to the School of Management.

“My goal,” Dr. Jamison says, “was to pull together our management program, marry it with this community need and bring forward a plan that would enhance the African American Museum’s efforts to showcase its specialties.”

Dr. Abhi Biswas

Abhi Biswas directed the initiative for the School of Management.

Abhi Biswas, associate coordinator of SOM’s Marketing area, took the initiative from there. “We needed,” Biswas says, “to come up with a viable business plan for the museum’s gift shop, which was their main source of revenue.”

He recruited five students who, strictly on a volunteer basis through fall semester of last year, developed a no-cost marketing plan to help increase the number of visitors, improve the gift shop, create higher patron involvement and generate significantly higher revenue.

“Keep in mind,” Biswas says, “these were full-time students. My main challenge was how to motivate them to do the project for free and for no credit.”

That turned out not to be a problem.

“I jumped on the opportunity,” says Divya Vasu, a recent MBA graduate. “The experience we gained was awesome.” Other participating students included recent MBA grads Sarah Voges, Jing Yang, Keyur Rao and undergrad Arezou Ghaemmaghami.

Initially, Ms. Vasu says, “we spoke to the museum staff to get their perspective — to get a feel of what was there. We also researched what other museums throughout the country were doing with their gift shops. We personally went to the museum. Their staff was easy to work with.”

The students worked on the project between classes and exams.

Among the questions they tried to answer were: How to increase traffic to the museum? How to get a higher percentage of visitors to walk into the gift shop? How to get people in the shop to make a purchase? And how to get buyers to spend more per transaction?

With data gathered and analyzed, the team came up with specific recommendations, making a formal presentation in March. The recommendations include pricing, merchandising, showcasing local artists and following a chronological revenue model that the team developed.

Among other things, the students discovered that museum-goers and members did not think the gift shop was attractive enough, so improving the ambience was one recommendation. The team also suggested inviting local African-American artists to hold exhibits of their work at the shop. Of the artists’ items that sold, the museum gift shop would receive 10 percent. The exhibits would rotate every few months. In addition, the artists would have the opportunity to sell on consignment.

Looking back, Biswas says, the African American Museum project was a great way to get a low-budget project done and help a good cause while contributing to community development.

In fact “the marketing plan developed by the UTD students was used by the African American Museum as part of a grant application package to secure $25,000 for their retail operations,” said Harry Robinson Jr., the museum's president and CEO.

Biswas’ students also received kudos from Texas State Rep. Helen Giddings, also a supporter of the university and the museum.

Biswas plans to use this group project experience as a template for classroom projects as an integral part of the coursework in his forthcoming marketing courses.

“The University of Texas at Dallas and the African American Museum have worked closely together placing students in the museum’s internship program and have created a lasting partnership,” Giddings said. “Of particular value was the engagement of the marketing students from UT Dallas to assist with ‘re-inventing’ the museum store.”

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Media Contact: Kris Imherr, Naveen Jindal School of Management, (972) 883-4793, imherr@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu
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