After 10 years of competition addressing corporate challenges, you’d think that the event organizers would have seen everything. However, the 11th annual Target Case Competition was anything but ordinary. In light of COVID-19 and the shift to online learning and remote work, the Fox School and the Center for Student Professional Development (CSPD) pivoted quickly to figure out how the Target Case Competition could function virtually.
“It was a very seamless process,” says Andrea Staunton, associate director of corporate relations at CSPD. “Target was on board and wanted the competition to happen.”
Hosted by CSPD and sponsored by Target Corporation, undergraduate students were asked to act as consultants in order to address a corporate issue. In previous years, participants explored the role of gendered toys in merchandising and how the company could increase its competitive advantage in the back-to-college season.
This year, participants focused on an issue that has only peaked in relevance since the case study was sent to students in early 2020—developing a supply chain that keeps the company competitive. A panel of faculty judges judged submissions across a variety of criteria, including creativity, originality and feasibility. The top five presented live on video conferencing for the Target executives in late March 2020.
“The students were fantastic,” says Staunton. “They did not let the change in platform deter them one bit.”
The winning team, comprised of Honors students across a variety of majors and minors, pitched a plan that would help Target develop a sustainable advantage with improvements in supply chain efficiency, inventory accuracy and guest experience. Using blockchain and Bluetooth low energy technologies, their pitch outlined a method to help the organization support online sales growth while maximizing capacity and delivering the on-brand promise of one-stop-shopping.
It was the winning team’s third year participating in the competition, which has undergraduate Fox students competing for prize money. To prepare, the team, led by Fox seniors Liza Fitch and Frank Vitiello, reviewed past performances and planned out their approach. This included scheduling timelines for completing research, strategy and writing their report.
“Then, once we found out that the challenge involved supply chain strategy, we also had to incorporate learning more about supply chain itself,” says Fitch, a marketing major. Vitiello majors in accounting. “Because of our majors, we only had a basic knowledge of supply chain management. We knew we’d have to deepen our understanding to recommend strategies based on current trends.”
In addition to the subject matter, geography was a challenge for Vitiello. In response to the shift to the school going completely online, he traveled home to Las Vegas. For a 9 a.m. presentation on the East Coast, Vitiello had to be up and ready by 6 a.m. his time. Vitiello also explains that giving a presentation online created an opportunity to build new skills.
“You cannot read the body language of the judges as easily and you can’t convey hand gestures or emotions as you could in person,” he says. “To combat this challenge, we incorporated more creative video content we created to engage the Target reps during our presentation so it didn’t feel like one stale virtual lecture.”
“The winning team even added information about COVID-19, which means they went back into their presentation to ensure it was as timely as possible,” says Katie Gerst, associate professor of practice and honors faculty fellow.
When Gerst asked the Target judges what made the winning team stand out, one judge said: “This team was creative and gave great ideas. They were very prepared and worked well together. You could tell this team put a lot of research into their topics by researching both Target and other companies to find out what they believe could help the company.”
Over the course of three years, Vitiello and Fitch experienced various case studies, built new skills and created real-world solutions for Target. Both feel much more confident in their future professional careers following graduation.
“I was really proud of Liza’s and my growth over the four years of working together,” says Vitiello. “It’s very rewarding to work hard and put in a lot of effort into something we were passionate about and to have that effort pay off. Looking forward, I will definitely use our win as a motivation tool when I am presented with challenging tasks that are proving to be difficult.”