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Data driven: CARS students help Kontoor Brands evaluate retail landscape

Consumer, Apparel, and Retail Studies (CARS) faculty strive to bring the real world of the apparel industry into the classroom every chance they get. During the past year, both Anne Wood and Dr. Elena Karpova have done just that by working on a project with Kontoor Brands in their classes.  Formerly known as VF Jeanswear, Kontoor Brands is a global lifestyle apparel company headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina.

In the spring of 2020, Wood’s class, RCS 355: Retail Consumer Research, had the opportunity to participate in a hands-on project with the Kontoor Brands Category Management team headed by Phillip (Skip) Skipper. The students participated in their Spring 20 Floor Mapping Report at two retailers, Kohl’s and JC Penney, where they examined the men’s bottoms department, and recorded data on product count, garment details including color/wash/trim, capacity, facings, and fixture count. Once all of the data were collected and compiled, the Kontoor team shared the final report with Wood’s class so they could see the results of their hard work, and get first-hand knowledge of how data is used in the industry to glean important information for assessing and forecasting trends.

This fall, Dr. Karpova had her graduate students in CRS 620: Analysis of Apparel and Related Industries work on a similar project with Kontoor Brands. The class conducted a field market research study in the boy’s and men’s bottom categories. This time, due to restrictions brought about by COVID-19, students were asked to collect and compare online data from different major retailers’ websites. Each student was assigned one to two retailers. Stores included mass retailers such as Walmart and Target, classic department stores like JC Penney, and specialty stores like American Eagle and H&M. This detailed data collection included, but was not limited to, size, color, style, fit, price, fabric, and occasion of the available men’s and/or boy’s bottoms. Students used the data collected, along with images, to present their findings.

Each graduate student delivered a two-minute presentation to seven Kontoor partners, Dr. Karpova, and the rest of the class based on the findings gleaned from their specific retailers.

According to Dr. Karpova, “The project allowed students to apply many complex concepts covered in the class to the real-world task. For instance, to analyze the collected data, students had to understand the company’s target market and the value proposition the company is delivering to their consumers, as well as its competitive advantage in comparison with the direct and indirect competitors in the industry.”

Lindsay Flowers, one of the students involved in the project, put together the following visual as part of her presentation:

 

Courtesy of Lindsey Flowers Smith, CRS 620 student

 

The data collected by students was assembled by Kontoor to be compared with previous years to gain a general understanding of trends in the men’s and boy’s bottoms category over the years.  Professionals at Kontoor combined all data for their internal presentations to share with the class so students could understand how this data is used. From the students’ perspective, the effort was worth it.

As Daniel Gaviria Tamayo said, “I am someone that loves to be involved and learn from all of my experiences; getting to collaborate with Kontoor allowed me to gain experience that will be very helpful moving forward in my career.  We were provided a lot of feedback during and after the class project, and when presenting our project, industry executives from Kontoor had lots of questions for us and cared about our insight. As a student, there is great value in being able to have these opportunities to analyze what we can improve. Having guidance from Dr. Karpova, as well as direct access to professionals at Kontoor, helped me gain confidence in my work.  I hope to be able to have these kinds of opportunities more often as it is the best way, in my opinion, to apply what we learn in class.”

Haley Hendershot, a second-year MS in Retail Studies student, echoed some of Daniel’s sentiments.

“The chance to work with Kontoor Brands as a student this semester was exciting,” said Hendershot. “We worked with the Kontoor team learning how they collect product data both online and in-store.  While working on the project we had access to a mentor. I found that I was able to learn so much more from my interactions with my mentor not only about applications in regards to the project but industry insight as well.  The feedback we received from the Kontoor team based on our data collection and presentations was insightful and offered valuable guidance for future interactions with industry professionals. The chance to work with them on a real-world application of topics covered in class was more than an assignment but also an amazing chance to network and put valuable experience under our belts. I cannot thank Kontoor team and Dr. Karpova enough for this wonderful opportunity.”

The projects have also made an impact on our partners at Kontoor Brands.

Phillip Skipper wrote, “The collaboration with the UNCG students has been a benefit to both Kontoor Brands, Inc. and the students, which makes it developmentally rewarding for both parties. The students were exposed to a collection of retail data, online and in-store, which rendered insights to help identify potential market opportunities. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing the retail landscape through the lens of the student’s presentations and discussions throughout the project.”

Thank you to Kontoor Brands for their support of real-world projects for CARS students. We look forward to continuing the partnership!