Squeezed for time, business owner taps into students’ ingenuity to streamline processes
Owning and operating a small business can be a challenge even for a high-energy go-getter. From creating a product line and managing inventory to hiring staff and handling marketing, every aspect of the business rests on the owner’s shoulders.
Now imagine that everything your business sells is made from scratch.
One will find few shortcuts at The Juice Jar in Erie, where owner Holly McMaster uses fresh ingredients for the made-from-scratch items on her cafe’s menu. Offering high-quality products and top-notch customer service are McMaster’s priorities, so she wanted to find ways to streamline other time-consuming business tasks.
McMaster reached out to the Black School of Business, which formed an Innovation Through Collaboration (ITC) project to address her business challenges. ITC projects pair corporate partners with a team consisting of a faculty expert and two to three students.
For fifteen weeks this summer, Kyle Chalupczynski, lecturer in Management Information Systems, oversaw a group of students majoring in various disciplines who worked to enhance aspects of McMaster’s business operations.
McMaster said Chalupczynski’s guidance was vital. “Hats off to Kyle,” she said. “He asked clarifying questions that helped the students determine what was essential to meeting their goals.”
The student team—Jonas Bruno, a sophomore majoring in Finance and Accounting; Brad Dalton, a senior majoring in Management Information Systems (MIS) and Project and Supply Chain Management; and Michael Paul, a senior majoring in MIS and Finance— had several objectives to meet.
“We divvied up the work based on our respective majors and specialties and then set goals,” Paul said. “Weekly team meetings helped us stay connected and cognizant of the big picture, while working independently on our own aspects of the project.”
They weren’t required to stay in their lanes, however. Bruno, who began overseeing the business’ financial platforms, ended up diving into social media with Dalton. They presented McMaster with an AI-enhanced social media process, accompanied by intuitive guides and industry-standard practices.
“That will really help lighten my load,” McMaster said, adding that the team also walked her through social media best practices. “There were features in the social media platforms that they suggested I turn off and others to turn on for cybersecurity reasons.”
By the end of the fifteen weeks, the team had accomplished all of the project objectives, and then some. McMaster has implemented most of the suggestions and said the digitized customer loyalty program has been a tremendous hit with her customers.
“I was very happy with the work they did,” McMaster said. “They met their goals on time and were responsive to feedback and any tweaking that needed to be done. I could tell that they really enjoyed what they were doing and were excited to help.”
The students said that they gained not only professional experience working with a real client but confidence in their own skills and abilities.
“This experience challenged me to be a problem-solver and independent thinker working on tasks that didn’t always have a clear path to a solution,” Dalton said. “Also, it required strong communication and collaboration with other group members, as well as the client, which is good practice for the future.”
“This project proved to me that I have the ability to be a mature, diligent team member,” Bruno said. “It helped to quell the fear and anxiety that I think many students suffer from as we grow closer to self-sufficiency and wonder, ‘Will I succeed in the workplace?’ I’d encourage any student to get involved in an ITC project.”
Paul said the project was gratifying as well. “I didn’t know that we could have such an impact,” he said. “It was rewarding to see our suggestions implemented and to know that we were able to help the client save time and money.”
The Juice Jar ITC Project Objectives
- Enhance the online ordering system, including digitizing the customer loyalty program, optimizing mobile ordering, and optimizing the menu and inventory management.
- Implement automation options to improve the accuracy and speed of order processing.
- Strengthen the company’s social media campaign.
- Leverage QuickBooks for business insights.
- Explore the use of advanced web tools such as ChatGPT.