It’s a Whole New World for Small Businesses Trying to Adapt to the Post-pandemic Marketplace
Centenary University’s student consultants assist local businesses to reinvent themselves amidst marketplace change accelerated by the pandemic.
HACKETTSTOWN, N.J., July 30, 2021—The business forecast is bright for ARTstitution, a small Hackettstown storefront that once thrived on in-person paint and sip parties. Shutting her doors during the pandemic, owner Kerri Howard has seen business grow after transitioning to virtual events and sales. The inspiration for this new model: A consulting partnership with a team of Centenary University students.
Increasingly, area business owners like Howard are turning to Centenary for a fresh take on reinventing themselves amidst marketplace change accelerated by the pandemic. The relationship is a two-way street. Business owners benefit from guidance on tactics like targeted social media campaigns, while Centenary students get to test their skills in the real world. It’s a central part of the University’s broader educational philosophy, which places equal emphasis on theory and practice.
“These consulting partnerships are just one way Centenary fosters a strong connection between college, career, and community,” explained Linda Poisseroux, Ph.D., assistant professor of business and director of Enactus, the University’s nationally recognized competitive business team. With Enactus currently applying for grant funding to expand the number of consulting teams to accommodate a growing client base, Poisseroux added, “I’m excited to see how Centenary University and our students are becoming a valuable resource for our local business community.”
Through several Enactus small business consulting teams, Centenary students are putting their skills to good use at area businesses like ARTstitution. They have also partnered with four area microbreweries on a sustainability initiative to recycle malt containers into stylish bags available for purchase. Working closely with business owners, the Centenary students are refining a host of marketable skills, from sales and marketing, to data analysis, problem solving, teamwork, and leadership.
At ARTstitution, the student consultants have refreshed the company’s website and social media, significantly expanding its reach on Facebook and Instagram in just a few months. In addition to promoting Howard’s virtual paint and sips, the students have connected her with Patreon, a subscriber service where she can generate extra revenue posting painting tutorials. The team has also launched a new Etsy site, where the artist now showcases and sells her own original work. The e-commerce campaign generated $1,900 during the first 10 days.
“As soon as COVID hit, all of my events were canceled,” Howard recalled. “I literally went from booking three months in advance to nothing booked, and it happened overnight. Centenary’s business consultation team helped build my confidence and made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this. The platforms they presented are much stronger than my current platform. The team showed me alternate ways I could stay in business—and even grow my business. I am forever in their debt.”
Project manager Jenna Glinko ’23 explained that the consulting team sought to expand Howard’s client base beyond Hackettstown: “Our goal has been to bring in different revenue streams for her, especially during the pandemic, whether it’s through local sales in the Hackettstown community, nationally, or even worldwide. It’s about bringing her and her business to their fullest potential.”
Glinko is one of many students who have found themselves immersed in the career world soon after enrolling at Centenary. Participating on the ARTstitution consulting team has led to a paid social media internship there for Christine Manser ’22. In addition, fellow Enactus member Sanjay Eugene ’24 is a freshman leading another consulting team that assisted a small Hackettstown eatery that closed for in-person sales during the pandemic. First, the team studied the establishment’s current clientele, which skews older, as well as competition in the local market. Next, they developed an e-commerce package with a strong social media presence that emphasizes third party delivery services like Uber Eats and DoorDash. The goal: Build on the eatery’s existing client base, while adding younger customers who value great food, delivered fast. Now, the small business is using the tools the Centenary team has provided to consider next steps.
“Social media and e-commerce are very important for this client,” Eugene explained. “So far, we’ve created a step-by-step guide on how to post on social media to increase their reach and developed a proposal for third-party delivery. We taught them about all of these new tools, but at the same time, we were learning with them.”
Beyond building career skills, Centenary’s partnerships with local businesses are forging stronger relationships with the Hackettstown-area community. Sara Schaarschmidt ‘20/21 was the project manager for a team working with four local microbreweries—Jersey Girl Brewing, Man Skirt Brewing, Angry Erik Brewing, and Czig Meister Brewing Company—to recycle malt bags into stylish shopping bags, bookbags, growler totes, and messenger bags to sell at the microbreweries. The project is funded through a $25,000 grant from the Ford Community Challenge.
“This sustainability initiative makes their businesses look good, and it also saves them money,” Schaarschmidt said. “All sides win—small business owners receive help and make sure they’re keeping up with the times, and Centenary students get to experience what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.”
Glinko agreed: “It is so rewarding to see the different businesses and people we’re helping, and what we’re putting out into the world. You don’t realize how much you know and how much you’re learning in college until you actually use it out in the real world.”
ABOUT CENTENARY UNIVERSITY
Founded in 1867 by the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church, Centenary University’s academic program integrates a solid liberal arts foundation with a strong career orientation. This mix provides an educational experience that prepares students to succeed in the increasingly global and interdependent world. The University’s main campus is located in Hackettstown, N.J., with its equestrian facility in Washington Township. The Centenary University School of Professional Studies offers degree programs in Parsippany, as well as online and at corporate sites throughout New Jersey.