News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 12, 2013

ISU students provide detailed grocery analysis

Austin Arceo
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — As the National Cooperative Grocers Association makes business decisions in the coming years, the organization likely will take into account an analysis of some of its competitors – about 4,000 of them.

Indiana State University business students in the Sycamore Business Advisors course provided a detailed data analysis for the organization as part of their senior capstone project. In the class, students gathered data from cities throughout the country, including locations of natural and organic food stores, and performed an analysis to determine which markets may be the strongest for potential expansion. They analyzed data from the thousands of locations to get the best ideas possible for NCGA.

“The results were excellent,” said C. E. Pugh, chief operating officer of the association, who worked closely with the students. “They definitely gave us a perspective that we did not have in terms of a competitive landscape, not only in the market where our member co-ops operate, but in many markets where they do not.”

The project came about after Art Sherwood, associate professor of management in the ISU Scott College of Business who teaches the course, discussed the capstone class with Pugh. They then discussed potential projects before determining the competitor market analysis effort.

“There’s a lot of competition across the nation,” said Sherwood, who also works as a consultant for organic food co-ops. “I was impressed that the students were able to identify them and then pull out various types of information from numerous sources.”

The project took several weeks just for the students to acquire the wealth of data, which would have been expensive for a business consultant, Sherwood said. The SyBA students then organized the information based on markets and stores, before ranking the top 200 markets for potential expansion for NCGA member co-ops.

“I never would have imagined that we would have collected all that different information for all those different stores,” said Emily Ross, senior business administration major from West Terre Haute, who worked on the project, “and then being able to make a recommendation at the end, that was impressive.”

The effort with NGCA was different than many other class projects because the organization is going to use the information when making future decisions, Ross said.

“For this one, they actually wanted to do something with our work,” she said, “so it was more like we were working for them than them helping us out.”

Based on the information NCGA desired, the students found that Philadelphia, Brooklyn and New York City, in general, were the top three locations with markets ripe for expansion.

“All of the cities are not necessarily that large,” said Jordan Borders, a senior marketing major from Jasonville who was project leader. “But it’s not uncommon to see larger cities as being the top potential markets, just because larger populations of people live there.”

SyBA team members talked with Pugh several times throughout the semester. Since NCGA is based in Iowa City, Iowa, the ISU students discussed the project with him on telephone and internet conferences, which was just a new experience for several students on the project, Borders said.

“The marketing research would be more than anything what I took out of it. We ended up finding information for over 4,000 stores, and so that took a lot of time, a lot of effort,” Pugh said.

NGCA will take all of the data and analyze it more over the summer months and, likely, will also make it available to the organization’s members, Pugh said.

“It was a great fun, very enjoyable, and I think it can be very useful to us,” he added. “It came out very well.”