Isenberg Student Team Aces Kohl’s Invitational Competition
May 05, 2017
On April 5 four sophomores—Emma Townsend, Kyle Pandiscio, Kylie Patterson, and Rachel Sanderson—emerged as first-place winners in Kohl’s Invitational Case Competition. The Isenberg team—The Kohl Kids—won the contest’s $5,000 grand prize, prevailing over 222 teams in the national competition. The team’s Instagram, @TheKohlKids, also placed first in the competition’s social media challenge. For the main event’s semifinals and finals, Kohl’s flew twelve teams to its headquarters in Milwaukee, where they proposed practical solutions to senior management. In the finals, Isenberg’s Kohl Kids and two other teams presented their proposals to an audience of over 500 industry professionals.
With more shopping moving online, the competition’s case challenged contestants to devise a strategy to drive foot traffic into stores: “. . . what do you believe is the next innovative idea that can get customers to step away from their computers and mobile devices and into Kohl’s stores?” The Isenberg team’s winning solution was “Kohl’s Explore,” a Pokémon Go-like app enhancement that adds a digital layer on top of a store’s layout. The mashup incentivizes customers to explore a store, discover product offerings, and save money by rewarding them with Explore Points and associated coupons for their time spent shopping in Kohl’s stores.
“All of the finalists’ presentations were terrific, but the Isenberg team clearly stood out.”“All of the finalists’ presentations were terrific, but the Isenberg team clearly stood out,” recalls Isenberg marketing department chair Bruce Weinberg, the team’s advisor. The big differentiators, he emphasized, were the proposal’s comprehensiveness, its ease of implementation, and its potential to quickly generate incremental revenue on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars. “We were the only team that offered a readily executable strategy,” he continued. “The team thought it all through, putting themselves in the retailer’s shoes, allowing Kohl’s to implement the proposal quickly.”
“I believe we also stood out professionally,” recalls Emma Townsend. “Unlike some of the other teams, our members,” she observes, “dressed appropriately for the occasion, shook hands with the judges, and carried ourselves professionally. We were never forced or self-consciousness.” “Isenberg [through its Chase Career Center and other resources] makes you take those things seriously,” adds Rachel Sanderson. “Kohl’s corporate setting absolutely put us in our element,” Kylie Patterson affirmed.
The Joy of Teams
The team brought other assets to the table. “We were extremely proactive; we never procrastinated,” remarks Kyle Pandiscio. The team, he adds, also made the most of its members’ diverse disciplinary perspectives. Kyle and Emma are marketing majors, with polished presentation and social media skills. Rachel, an accounting major, is adept with numbers and financial projections. And Kylie, also an accounting major, willingly took on more than her share of the writing. But, emphasizes Professor Weinberg, “They were all analytical and highly capable presenters; they all understood the concept.”
The Isenberg quartet was well practiced as a team. Last November, it took first place in a field of eleven in UMass Amherst’s version of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Challenge case competition. The team members are all good friends and members of both Isenberg and Commonwealth Honors College.
It’s unusual for a team of the same four students to move from competition to competition, they agree. But the quartet is already searching for future challenges. “Now that Isenberg has a high profile with Kohl’s, we also want to recruit another team from the school to compete,” remarks Rachel. “We would love to mentor them.” Like this year’s winners, she says, they will embark on a fantastic learning experience. Or in Kylie’s words: “In the competition, I learned more about how the different parts of business interact than in many of my courses.”