StrategyWorks Students Wow Habitat for Humanity's "ReStore"

November 2012

This semester, Farmer School students in Marketing Professor Dave Rosenthal's StrategyWorks course applied their skills to a non-traditional challenge. Instead of assisting a Fortune 500 Company, these marketing seniors worked on a philanthropic project for Cincinnati ReStore, an organization whose resale stores support Habitat for Humanity.

ReStores sell new and gently-used home improvement goods, furniture, home accessories, building materials and appliances to the public at a fraction of the retail price. The proceeds are used by local Habitat for Humanity affiliates to help build and renovate more homes and communities. Presently, there are 825 Habitat ReStores in the United States and Canada, including four in the Cincinnati area.

"It was more rewarding to apply our business skills to an organization that really needed them instead of other companies that already have specialists in advertising and marketing," said Alison Dehncke. "It was really rewarding to be able to help out that way."

The ReStore "charge" was to offer strategies to increase annual sales at Cincinnati-area ReStores to one million per store - more than double current results. In order to maximize efficiency and focus the analysis, Rosenthal split the class into three teams: one focused on increasing donations, one focused on increasing sales and one focused on cultivating corporate partnerships at a national level. After ten weeks of intensive research and work, the class presented their findings and recommendations to top executives from Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity/ReStore. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

"So much of what we do is on a shoestring," said Carl Bergman, '68, Board President of Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity. "The opportunity to focus and get this kind of input is invaluable. We're all volunteers and there's no chance of getting the sort of in-depth research like this on our own - fresh ideas, fresh eyes."

"I think they knocked it out of the park," said Ed Lee, Executive Director of Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity. "Their ability to think critically was phenomenal."

Jim Lipnickey, '83, Board of Directors member for TriState Habitat for Humanity, said the class presentation made him excited to explore the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. "The presentation, first of all, was very, very good. It provided some challenges for us. The teams pointed out some things we need to make happen. They pointed out some weakness in our process."

The StrategyWorks teams shared statistical data about ReStore buyers, donors, and potential corporate partners and each team provided practical, well-researched suggestions on how to more effectively market ReStore. They identified strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for ReStore Cincinnati that could be leveraged throughout the organization.

The StrategyWorks students were thrilled to make a difference and challenged by the trailblazing this course required. "I think that was something we definitely took away from this, said Alison Dehncke. "…the challenge of going into the situation with pretty much no guidelines and having full responsibility to find a solution."

"Dr. Rosenthal was a great teacher for this project because he gave us responsibility to do it ourselves, but he was a huge motivator and he really kept us creative and focused," said Emily Lawrence.

Those at Cincinnati ReStore are thankful for the assistance and perspective: "This reinforces my notion that this is well within our capabilities," said Bergman. "We have huge, huge opportunities to generate revenue."