Learning Retail by Doing Retail

Lauren Beitelspacher

On a cloudy Friday morning on Babson’s Wellesley campus, Lauren Beitelspacher, associate professor of marketing, boards a bus parked outside Trim Dining Hall. “Just wait two minutes, and we’ll go,” she tells the driver.

The bus is full of nearly 40 students enrolled in her Retailing Management course, which doesn’t meet in one of the usual spots in Babson Park. Instead, the class is held in the College’s Boston space, located on High Street in the heart of the Financial District.

As Beitelspacher talks to the students seated on the bus around her, the scene outside the bus windows changes, from the suburbia of Wellesley, to the traffic and tall buildings of Boston.

With the city as a backdrop, Beitelspacher’s class offers an expansive look at retail, covering everything from strategy and consumer behavior to brand management and the creation of sustainable supply chains. Funded by the Dean’s Innovation Fund, the class culminates in April, when students run their own store,  selling artwork for a few days in Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I love all my classes, but this one feels special,” says Beitelspacher. “I feel like I’m creating a special learning experience for students.”

Dany Khoury ’20, one of the students in the class, enjoys coming to Boston. “We’re in the center. Everything is happening,” says Khoury, who wants to pursue a career in merchandising or retail management. “It makes retail more real, this hustle and bustle setting.”

Opening a Store

After Beitelspacher and her students leave the bus, they head up to their classroom on the 12th floor. They soon settle down to work. With only a few weeks until the students’ store opens, there is much left to do.

The students will be selling art from graduates of Raw Art Works, a nonprofit youth arts organization (Bruce Herring ’87, P’19, a Babson trustee, is Raw’s chairman of the board). Beitelspacher’s students will sell the art out of a mobile retail unit provided by Flexetail, founded by Joel Kamm MBA’12. Students will set up in a Flexetail unit in Cambridge’s Galaxy Park on April 22–25 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.

Seemingly a thousand tasks have to be taken care of to make sure the store runs right. With dry-erase marker in hand, Beitelspacher runs down questions big and small: Who will manage an Instagram account? What about fliers? How will students keep track of what they sell? Who wants to curate a playlist for the store?

Beitelspacher eventually fills several boards with notes. She says the hands-on experience of running a shop, taking responsibility for everything from setup to sales, is invaluable. “There is no better way to teach them to do retail than to have them do retail,” Beitelspacher says.

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Do Great Things

Beyond preparing students to run a retail store, Beitelspacher’s class covers a lot of ground through the course of the semester. The class has welcomed guest speakers involved in retail, and students have gone on shopping excursions in Boston, making notes on the assortment and atmosphere of stores and how the in-person shopping experience compares with online.

Students also look at how companies treat their workers and communities. A big topic of conversation is the humanitarian and environmental costs of manufacturing the merchandise found in stores. “It really opened my eyes,” Khoury says. “As a consumer, it makes me want to rethink my buying decisions.”

Beitelspacher hopes all her students look at retail in a new, more informed way. And, for those who ultimately pursue a career in retail, she hopes they never underestimate the impact they can make on their employers’ operations. “I want to inspire them,” Beitelspacher says. “I hope they realize they can do great things.”

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