Team of IU students wins the first ‘Kohl’s Invitational’ with idea to improve digital strategy

Guest post courtesy of IU Newsroom intern Emily Davis:

Wholesome smiles spread across the faces of the students when asked to describe the feeling of winning the first Kohl’s Invitational case competition.

Winners Abby Rekeweg, Monica Ball, Alexa Hankins, and Alexandra Larson celebrated their first place win at the Kohl's Invivational.

IU won first place at the inaugural Kohl’s Invitational. From left, Abby Rekeweg, Monica Ball, Alexa Hankins and Alexandra Larson made up the IU team.

“It was crazy. We’d been on this crazy roller coaster and all of a sudden it just stopped,” said Alexandra Larson, a junior majoring in apparel merchandising and one of the four winners.

Last week, students from 12 universities competed at the company’s headquarters in Milwaukee, Wis., sharing their vision of how to better integrate digital concepts in stores to attract millennial-generation consumers.

Indiana University students Larson, Monica Ball, Alexa Hankins and Abby Rekeweg took home first place and a $5,000 prize.

“Our presentation is really what set our group apart,” said Ball, a senior majoring in marketing. “We had a good mix of professionalism and personality.”

In the final round of the competition, the team was up against students from Penn State and Texas State University in front of three judges from the Kohl’s senior leadership team and an audience of more than 100 students and employees.

“It was intimidating presenting in front of senior leadership,” said Hankins, a junior apparel merchandising major.

“The CEO came in and gave introductions and we were all like ‘oh my gosh,'” Larson added.

The winning idea was a three-part system they called Kohl’s Connect. It included an updated version of the in-store kiosk, an updated version of the mobile application to reflect the kiosk and interactive floorboards for games and advertisements.

Team building

The competition was developed to give students the chance to work on a real-world retail challenge and to attract top talent to Kohl’s. Competing universities were hand-picked, based on the strength of their retailing programs and their existing relationships with the company.

After Kohl’s came to IU with the idea, the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design notified students and several teams submitted applications.

IU’s winning team came together through a web of mutual friendships. Rekeweg, a senior majoring in apparel merchandising and marketing, heard about the competition and approached Larson about forming a team. Larson reached out to Hankins, Rekeweg reached out to Ball and their team was complete.

“They showed that they were interested and they showed that they knew what the industry was about,” said Mary Embry, senior lecturer in the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design.

Brainstorming and beyond

Once they were selected to represent IU, the team had four weeks to complete the case, which included creating a teaser video and an in-depth business plan. Knowing that one of the four weeks was spring break, the team hit the ground running. The day the prompt was released, they spent hours brainstorming and narrowing down ideas.

teaser video

The IU team had to submit a teaser video in addition to an in-depth business plan.

In the end, their unified team dynamic and perseverance paid off. The two other finalists presented the same idea, one the IU students said they had considered before digging deeper to come up with something more innovative.

“They were very professionally prepared to present. They were confident in their ideas and those ideas were things that I think retailers could see happening today,” Embry said. “They had thought about cost, the rollout of the technology and how it might engage a millennial consumer. And it wasn’t a long list of vague ideas, it was a deep consideration of these three very solid ideas.”

One of the group members, Hankins, will return to Milwaukee this summer as an intern for Kohl’s.

“After the competition we got so much encouragement from Kohl’s associates. They made us feel really proud of ourselves,” Hankins said.

As a final step, the group will present their winning idea to faculty and freshman students in order to share their success and promote future involvement in the competition.

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