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Students develop promotion strategies for 125-year-old Oark store

December 15, 2014
By cnp
Posted in Business Administration

Several business students at University Ozarks recently got the unique experience of developing a marketing plan for one of the oldest businesses in Arkansas.

Students in Deborah Sisson’s Promotion Strategies class spent the Fall Semester developing a marketing strategy for the Oark General Store, a restaurant located in northern Johnson County, about 20 miles northwest of the U of O campus. The Oark General Store was established in 1890, making it the oldest continuously operating store in the state. Owners Brian and Reagan Eisele purchased the store in May of 2012 and operate the restaurant, which is known for its Southern-styled specials, burgers and homemade pies.

The students, in four teams of four, pitched their marketing plans to Brian Eisele last week in Sisson’s class. The Forward Progress team of Bishop Bass, Emily Black, Linda Ollivier and Fernando Valenzuela was chosen by Eisele for having the best marketing strategy and pitch. The winning strategy also came with a $100 cash prize for each team member.

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The Forward Progress marketing team of (from left) Bishop Bass, Emily Black, Linda Ollivier and Fernando Valenzuela, took the top prize in the Promotion Strategies class competition of developing a marketing campaign for the Oark General Store.

"All of the presentations and ideas were very good and we’re probably going to be able to use something from all of the teams," said Eisele. "My wife and I are so busy running the restaurant seven days a week that we don’t have much time to really think and strategize about a marketing plan. That’s why it’s so valuable to hear some of these ideas that we know the students put a lot of time, effort and expertise into. There were a lot of great ideas and things we hadn’t thought of."

The team of Forward Progress emphasized the general store’s 125-year history and its remote location in its marketing campaign. Using the slogan, "On Your Way to Nowhere…Visit Somewhere," the team developed logos, social media campaigns, a billboard, a website and even a customized radio advertisement jingle.

"Knowing we were developing a marketing plan for a real business and for a family whose livelihood depends on the business, made it much more exciting and motivated us," said Valenzuela, a senior business administration major from Panama. "We wanted to do a good job, not only for the grade, but to truly help the business. That was a big motivation."

Eisele was particularly impressed with the website that Ollivier developed for the general store.

"I’d like to add that website today," Eisele said. "I was very impressed with the look and navigation of their website. It’s a big improvement over what we currently have."

Sisson, the Baum assistant professor of marketing at Ozarks, said the idea of helping a local business seemed like a perfect project for the upper-level promotions class.

The Oark General Store, located in northern Johnson County, was established in 1890, making it the oldest continuously operating store in the state.

"It’s a way for the University and the business program to give back to the community and assist local businesses that don’t have the resources to put into a marketing campaign," Sisson said. "The students also benefitted because they were working for a real business and a real client. They were facing the same types of challenges and issues that they are going to face when they’re in the business world. They’re not just sitting in a classroom reading from a book."

The students got an opportunity to eat at the restaurant and visit with the owners early in the semester before delving into the semester-long project. In their final pitches to Eisele, the marketing teams used a variety of different slogans, logos, visual images and target audiences. The team of Marcom Solutions, made up of Fernando Salazar, Gaby Pena, Patrick Shoulders and Andrea Villafranca, proposed special patches and stickers to appeal to the biker and outdoors enthusiasts clientele.

"The remote location of the store presented some challenges, but we decided we could make it a positive by promoting the area and trying to appeal to the types of people who would appreciate the remote location," said Pena. "It was neat to start the project from the very beginning, when we didn’t know anything about the store, analyze the specific situation, take some of the concepts and theories we’ve learned in class, and then create a marketing plan."

Some of the students said they got deeply immersed in the project.

"It seems like we were thinking about ideas and solutions non-stop," said Salazar, a business administration major from Mexico. "I was so focused on the campaign that even dreamt one night that I was lost and ended up at the Oark General Store. It was a project that we all really got involved in."

Black, a senior marketing major from Clarksville, said it was especially satisfying knowing that her work will be utilized by a local business.

"As we graduate and leave Ozarks, in a small way we’re leaving our mark on this community," Black said. "We might come back in six months or a year from now and see a logo or a billboard that we helped create. That’s pretty neat."

The other two marketing teams were Bliss Advertising, comprised of Brianny Pupo, Mynor Pineda, Bryant Ford and Anne Sterba; and RAFY Enterprises, made up of Andrea Chamorro, Yeraldine Thomas, Foster Albrecht and Ryan Smith.

Eisele said he is excited about implementing some of the marketing ideas he heard.

"These students definitely changed the way I think about promoting and marketing the business," Eisele said. "I can’t afford a team of consultants, so to get an outside perspective from a group of business students is a tremendous opportunity for us. I definitely want to take advantage of it and hope to start implementing some of these things soon."