On Sept. 20, the smell of pizza, 63 pizzas from seven Salem area pizzerias, filled the Manna Conference Room and students’ noses.
However, before they could dive in, the consumer behavior students in the Hoff School of Business had a job to do. Each were participants in a blind taste test study conducted by Jennifer Young, Director of Marketing at Salem, Ore.-based Figaro’s Italian Pizza Inc.
The taste test was part of a larger collaboration between Assistant Professor of Business and Marketing Kelli Gassman and Young. The partnership is helping Corban’s business students learn and practice consulting and marketing skills they will use in the real world. Young said Figaro’s would have had to pay more than $5,000 for the same research through a firm.
“It seemed like a great opportunity for us,” Young said. “Figaro’s is a small company and we don’t have a large budget for marketing research.” For Gassman, the partnership gives her students and academic and professional challenge.
“It gives them theory and they are applying it,” Gassman said about her students,” They take it past the actuality of school and put it on their resume when applying for jobs.”
The company franchises more than 100 pizza restaurants nationally and in the United Arab Emirates under three brand names including Pizza Schmizza and Nick-N-Willy’s Pizza. Although most people enjoy various types of pizza, Young said her goal to use Corban students to help narrow down the chain’s target audience for advertising.
“Everybody loves pizza, but we want to make every dollar count in our advertising,” she said.
Gassman has prepared her students to conduct several research phases throughout the fall semester. The first phase required students to design a survey for Figaro’s online customers. In phase two, student teams will also conduct face-to-face surveys at a variety of Figaro’s locations in the Willamette Valley. Lastly, the students will survey their own friends and family members to see what their pizza preferences are.
The students will use the information they compile to identify customer demographics and reach. Each team will make formal presentations and marketing recommendations to Young and company executives, who will consider them for future Figaro’s marketing efforts.
As a mid-semester bonus, Young arranged for the students to participate in the taste test. The results will be used to help Figaro’s Pizza compete with area pizzerias.
Collaborations like this are something Gassman has worked to build into each of her classes.
“There is so much our students learn through partnerships like this,” Gassman said. “I know the value of hands-on education because I spent so much of my career in the business world.”
Young agreed the partnership is beneficial for both Corban business students and Figaro’s.
“This is a great opportunity for us to partner with a school that shares a lot of Figaro’s values,” Young said. “College and business collaborations like this make it a win-win for everyone involved.”