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UMD program connects marketing, accounting students with businesses
Photo: Paul Wrazidlo has transitioned from retail to wholesale-retail for the family’s meat business in Duluth Heights.
As a business owner, Paul Wrazidlo has been mostly a retail guy. For the past 21 years, at his Duluth Heights store, Wrazidlo’s Old World Meats, he’s carried on a family butcher business tradition that traces back to Germany and his grandfather, who came to America in 1928.
More recently, though, Wrazidlo become a wholesale guy, too, and he’s delighted with the added business-to-business commerce, which he attributes largely to advice he received from the Student to Business Initiative Program (SBI) of UMD’s Labovitz School of Business and Economics (LSBE).
“This (wholesale) idea really lit the fire and re-ignited my business,” says Wrazidlo, who participated in the program in 2012. “There’s been a 180-degree turn in our business,” he adds, though he declined to offer specific sales figures. “We were flat, we had plateaued, and now we’re growing.”
A game changer
Two teams of six students worked with Wrazidlo as part of the SBI program, which is actually a formal course offered in UMD’s LSBE. There are marketing communications and accounting versions of the course.
The students collaborating with Wrazidlo were on the marketing side of things, and, as part of the course, were required to develop an integrated marketing communications plan. It included a number of recommendations for the meat business, such as a logo re-design, social media advice and cosmetic changes such as a shift to black chef coats from traditional white ones.
But the big game-changer for Wrazidlo came when participants suggested he take a look at wholesaling, because “the students felt that, these days, people want to buy local (food) from local people” when they go to a restaurant, Wrazidlo explains. Indeed, the local-food movement is a hot trend nationally. It was a perfect opportunity for him to seize.
“As soon as they presented this idea, I went after it,” Wrazidlo says, referring to the end-of-the-semester, in-person presentation that the student teams are required to do. “I started working on a business plan right away.”
Wrazidlo now sells his products to area firms such as Clyde Iron Works Restaurant and Bar, Tycoon’s Ale House & Eatery, Grandma’s and others. Plus, he sells meat snack sticks in 13 states and ground beef burger patties in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin through a Fargo-based distributor.
Connecting with business
In the language of the academy, the SBI program offers students “experiential learning,” says John Kratz, instructor of marketing in LSBE’s Department of Marketing.
“We have an increasing emphasis on experiential learning because students tell us that’s one of the best learning experiences, the best way to prepare for the workforce and it also, as a business school, connects our students with the business community.”
Kratz arrived on campus as a full-time faculty member in 1999 and breathed new life into the program, which had previously existed in a rough, rudimentary form.
On the accounting side of things, Loren Erickson, instructor in LSBE’s Department of Accounting, leads students through the SBI course that provides financial analysis and budgeting assistance for businesses. Students work on income statements and balance sheets from a company’s last three years of tax returns, which are provided by the business owners.
“So we’re working with good information, blessed by a CPA,” Erickson explains.
“What I like about the program is the growth you see happening among students,” Erickson says. “They start out the semester thinking they don’t know much about accounting, but over the course of the semester, they often find they know more about accounting than a business owner does.”
Over the past 10 academic years, Fall 2003 through Spring 2014, a total of 147 businesses (average of 15 per year) have received assistance through this program, reports Sandi Larson, public engagement coordinator for UMD’s Center for Economic Development (CED), the outreach component of UMD’s LSBE. The designated Small Business Development Center also helps connect businesses with the SBI program. Additionally, in those 10 academic years, 1,056 students have participated in SBI courses.
Though the program focuses these days on marketing communications and accounting projects, Larson says that in previous years, some student groups have worked on other business components, such as human resources projects and financial management information system projects.
Taking a fresh look
One benefit of the program that Wrazidlo and others emphasized is the fresh look that businesses get from the students’ perspective.
“You take somebody who knows nothing about your business and is working in this course to help increase your business, (and) they will give you a fresh look at things,” Wrazidlo says. The addition of a wholesale arm to his business is a case in point.
Meanwhile, students also get a fresh and realistic look at working with businesses.
“It was amazing; it was the most practical and most rewarding marketing course I took because I was working with a real business, working to solve real marketing and business problems and working on a real marketing plan for solutions,” says Ashley Boecker, a 2014 LSBE graduate who was part of an SBI class that worked with Shear Katz, a salon and spa in downtown Duluth.
Over the years, this program has assisted a variety of large and small businesses, and for-profit and non-profit entities, Larson of the CED says. Plus, it has a regional reach.
“Businesses can be anywhere in Northeast Minnesota,” Larson says. For example, participating businesses have included a Duluth auto body shop, a Superior jeweler, an Ely baker, plus businesses from cities such as International Falls, Grand Marais and Grand Rapids.
To sign up for the SBI program, or to receive other business consulting assistance from UMD’s CED, visit this website: https://umdced.wp.d.umn.edu/
Iron Range native Angelo Gentile is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.Previous BusinessNorth Exclusives Articles:
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