If it seems hard to imagine a group of college kids creating a business plan for an international company, then you’ve probably never met a college kid from JWU.
A group of JWU students have just completed a new business plan for Rhode Island-based Taco Comfort Solutions, a company that produces heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) products and systems. The consultation was part of a Directed Educational Experience (DEE) for the fall term, and required students to research and develop a detailed plan to help Taco integrate their new European companies into their original company to create a cohesive global brand.
Fourteen students applied for 12 positions, and were chosen by faculty members based on their oral and written communication skills. The students were then split into three focused groups: Research, Communications and Branding. Each team was led by a faculty member whose expertise matched the group’s focus.
You wouldn’t be able to get this kind of experience in the classroom alone.”
The consultation kicked off at the beginning of the fall term with a hard-hat tour of the Taco factory in Cranston, RI that gave the students their first opportunity to see what the company was really about. “It was great to meet Ben White, one of the company’s owners, and see how he interacted with the employees,” said Jessica Chapman ’18. “He knew every employee by name, and asked each one about their families and things going on in their life. It was such a beautiful thing to see, and that really showed us what Taco was actually like as a company.”
“You wouldn’t be able to get this kind of experience in the classroom alone,” said Manal Jakhar ’19. “Going to the factory and seeing how they operate and how they talk about themselves was so helpful to our work. This was one of the best one-on-one client experiences I’ve ever had.”
After the tour, Taco’s leadership met with students again to discuss the biggest problems and needs of the company. From there, the teams were formed and the students set to work creating solutions.
Led by Anthony Fruzzetti, professor and department chair of marketing, the Research group was tasked with conducting a global competitive analysis of hydronic markets to help Taco determine the best path forward for their new acquisitions.
Hydronic systems are an HVAC system that heats or cools water and moves it through sealed pipes to radiators throughout a building/home. There's a lot of science and technology involved, and the Research team felt a bit overwhelmed at first.
“When we were first introduced to the project, we were a little concerned that it wasn’t about anything we’d ever worked with before,” said Jessica Chapman ’18, one of the Research team members. “But Taco was nice enough to show us the ins and outs of hydronics and what they actually produce. Even though hydronics is a niche industry and there’s not a lot of information out there about it, we really enjoyed diving in and getting a full look at what’s going on both domestically and internationally to provide that insight for Taco.”
It can be challenging to implement a cohesive brand image for a company with so many different assets, especially when that company thinks their brand doesn’t need any changes. “They felt their branding was all set and they didn’t need any help with it,” said Ariana Iacovelli ’18, one of the Branding team members. “So, the challenge was to present our suggestions in a way that shows we respect the current brand, but we can still improve it and make it more relevant."
Their suggestions included a brand style guide that would unify all of Taco’s companies with consistent logo compositions, typefaces and color palettes. The group also discussed the importance of having a “brand story," and a consistent voice and tone that reflects that brand story in all of the content they put out.
Peter Bortolotti, associate professor of marketing, led the team with a strong emphasis on working together. “Collaboration can be messy, and it doesn’t happen by itself — which they’ve learned through this,” he said. “It’s about relationships with colleagues and teammates, communication and struggling with an issue until you solve it. But it really brings the students together.”
These days, a brand is nothing without a good social media presence, and the Communications team had a lot of suggestions for this traditional company.
“We’re just trying to make sure Taco stays modern in their positioning and their brand identity,” said Elizabeth Carey, associate professor of marketing and leader of the Communications team. “Some of their senior management are married to the look and feel of their current brand, so we’ll have to really make them understand that we aren’t abandoning their brand equity, we’re just modernizing it.”
In their presentation, the team looked at the social media accounts of Honeywell International, one of Taco’s largest competitors, as an example of how Taco could be running its social media. They suggested more frequency in posting, more interaction with followers who tag them and a calendar to organize when and what they should post.
“We had to really think about how to apply social media to a company like Taco, who sells their products to other businesses rather than the average consumer,” said Manal Jakhar ’19, a Communications team member. “That audience is different than what I’m used to working with, so it gave me the chance to see another side of the industry and gain more experience in that area.”
KEN WATSON, TACO'S VICE PRESIDENT OF CORPORATE MARKETING, SAT FRONT ROW FOR THE PRESENTATION.
After the presentation, both parties seemed to come away feeling confident about the suggested plans. “We were impressed with their research, professionalism and fresh insights,” said Ken Watson, vice president of corporate marketing for Taco. “The students delivered meaningful and actionable recommendations.” Watson also described the students as talented and hardworking, a sentiment that faculty team leaders agreed with.
“As we all saw, the students rose to the occasion, creating and presenting a first-class deliverable,” said Fruzzetti. “This type of Directed Educational Experience is at the heart of the JWU brand, and also represents our commitment to engaging with our community partners. We’re pleased to be continuing with this good work in the winter term.”
A new group of students will build on the work and continue improving and implementing the plan throughout the winter term. “This winter will be about more research, more messaging development and implementation,” said Carey. “We’d like to get to the point where we have a branding intern and a social media intern at Taco. Our students are already getting certified in platform management, so it would be a perfect match for both JWU and Taco."
You just can’t beat this. This is what I call truly authentic learning.”
Though there was a lot of talk about future plans, there was also a great sense of accomplishment for the work that had already been done. After the presentation, the students sat in groups talking excitedly about the success of the day. “I mean — just look at this!” Bortolotti gestured to them with a smile. “You just can’t beat this. This is what I call truly authentic learning.”