Two of Plymouth State University’s (PSU) Innovation and Entrepreneurship Cluster courses are teaming up to provide professional consulting services to the Peppercorn Farm Market, a popular country store in Plymouth, New Hampshire.
On Monday, February 20, 2023 the 17 students enrolled in the Marketing and Design Agency course, where students function as members of a marketing firm called Plymouth Creative, presented some preliminary branding recommendations to Peppercorn owner Hal Covert. Last semester, 10 students in the Feasibility and Consulting course studied the business for eight weeks and presented Covert with recommendations for alternative business plans to improve the Peppercorn’s revenue and address staffing challenges.
Professor Jonathan Dapra, DBA, MBA, who teaches Feasibility and Consulting, said the students identified ways to maximize profits and efficiency by shifting its product focus to upscale dry goods and premade meals and offered tips on how to hire a retail manager, a health and wellness manager and baker. They also recommended an in-depth evaluation of the store’s brand and target markets.
“This is a perfect learning opportunity for students and a great example of PSU’s unique Cluster Learning Model, which takes an interdisciplinary approach with real-world experience,” Dapra said. “These students, who hail from various majors, often worked eight to 10 hours a week over and above their required coursework, without anyone telling them to, and they assembled a professional feasibility report that would have cost about $10,000 to $15,000 if [the client] had hired a private firm for the project.”
This is the first time a client business continued working with PSU students from one semester to the next, with both the Feasibility and Consulting course and the Marketing and Design Agency course.
Denise Hutchins, MA, Director of Students, School of Business, co-teaches the Marketing and Design Agency course along with Associate Professor of Marketing George Pettinico, Ph.D., MBA, and Associate Professor of Graphic Design Pamela Anneser, MFA.
Hutchins said having the flexibility afforded by the Cluster Learning Model to pair invaluable student experience with helping local businesses to be more successful is a win-win for everyone.
“Our students are excited for the opportunity to work with clients and create effective strategies to overcome their business challenges,” Hutchins said. “There is a real sense of pride and accomplishment when our students pitch their ideas and then bring them to fruition.”
In addition to logo designs, the students are developing recommendations for website design, signage, store decor, marketing collateral and social media content planning, according to Hutchins. The students will also implement any tactics Covert approves and they are planning a grand re-opening event on Saturday, April 1.
The Peppercorn was founded as a homeopathy and whole foods store about 30 years ago by different owners. Covert, the owner of Peaked Moon Farm in Piermont, New Hampshire, purchased the store in April 2020, incorporated his farm products and added a commercial bakery. But the COVID-19 pandemic, and a protracted relocation and renovation from 43 Main Street to 57 Main Street, caused the business to suffer.
“The report that the students prepared last fall was unbelievable. It covered every single aspect of the business,” Covert said. “They even went through recipes for the baked goods to find potential profit margins. The final marketing report I think is going to be even more beneficial. There are still some local folks who don’t even know we’re here in Plymouth.”
Covert said he is no longer operating the bakery until he can hire someone to manage it, and is focusing on building upon the more profitable market and farm components.
Starting in the fall 2023 semester, Feasibility and Consulting will become a yearlong course, according to Dapra. It started as a semester-long pilot in 2018 and has since helped local companies such as the inventors of a portable bottling machine, dog trainers, a high-end cleaning business and a Lakes Region non-profit grow their businesses, raise funds for special projects or redraw business models.
Dapra recently published a book for small business owners looking to grow, called 50 to 500, which he co-authored with his late father, Richard Dapra, and Swedish entrepreneur and developer Jonas Akerman.