During the last days of June, five graduating MBA students from Sacred Heart University’s Jack Welch College of Business met with Town of Fairfield members to present their capstone project: a retail market assessment of downtown Fairfield. The purpose of the study was to understand key market drivers, to help the existing retail base and to identify opportunities for recruitment of complimentary retail businesses.
Valerie Christian, assistant professor of management at SHU, taught the graduate capstone course that lets students hone their management skills and make presentations to business practitioners and non-profit executives. Christian was joined by Gus Serra from the Center for Non-Profit Organizations, Pete Penczer and Donald Peterson from the Fairfield Economic Development Commission, Beverly Balaz from the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce and Mark Barnhart, Fairfield director of Community and Economic Development, for the presentation at the Frank and Marisa Martire Business & Communications Center. Students Pooja Brahmania, Vanessa Freitas, Swati Deshpande, Patrick McHale and Martha Miranda collaborated with Barnhart to identify gaps in consumer behavior when shopping in downtown Fairfield. Through interviews with shoppers and store owners, their goal was to find out why people come downtown to shop and what can be done to increase foot traffic in the area.
First Selectman of Fairfield Mike Tetreau assisted students by posting their qualitative survey on the town’s Facebook page and website. The purpose of the survey was to assess the strength of the local retail market, to identify opportunities for new retail development and to develop strategies for business retention, recruitment and investment. “This a great opportunity for the public to tell us what they think in terms of their shopping experiences downtown and what types of stores they would most like to see,” Tetreau said.
As part of the project, the students were asked to develop a consumer profile based on the defined trade market area, identify gaps and opportunities and conduct a survey to gauge impressions of Fairfield as a shopping destination and to assess consumer demand. Their final recommendations included ways to improve advertising awareness, adding more affordable stores for children and men and ideas on how to address the lack of parking, something many shoppers take issue with. A location with a preponderance of women’s apparel stores, the study found that many shoppers do not come to the area because they either cannot find parking or cannot find the stores they want. As a result, the students recommended increasing the variety of offerings to encompass a larger consumer demographic.
Student Patrick McHale ’15 says, “The capstone project was incredibly eye opening. By acting as a consultant in a real-life business situation, it gave us some of the tools we’ll need to succeed throughout our careers. We accomplished working together as a team, hitting deadlines, delivering on the client’s expectations and making recommendations for the future that could have a true impact on their business.”