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SMC students sell popcorn for class

Jill Barwick | Tuesday, November 1, 2011

While selling gourmet popcorn may sound like an easy task to accomplish, the students of the Sales Management and Professional Selling course at Saint Mary’s College learned differently in a national collegiate competition held during fall break.

Robert Williams, assistant professor of Business and Economics at Saint Mary’s, said he wanted to gear the coursework for this semester toward real life experiences of professional selling, especially after he learned about this competition.

“When I started preparing for this course, I looked around online to see if there was anything interesting ways to professionally sell,” Williams said. “I came across the National Team Selling Competition, which is held at Indiana University in Bloomington, and decided that, even though it was short notice, the course would be designed toward competing in this competition.”

Williams said he knew the biggest challenge would be preparing in a short amount of time, because the competition took place over fall break. His class would also be competing against schools that have entire divisions on selling.

“Even though I knew it was a short period of time to prepare, being close to where the competition was being held definitely helped me decide to have my class participate,” Williams said.

Kate Kellogg, a junior at Saint Mary’s and member of the team, knew that this would be a great learning experience for herself as an individual, as well as a good team building experience.

“It was hectic at times, trying to prepare material about a real-life selling situation, but it was definitely a great learning experience,” Kellogg said.

Students were given the first part of the contest a week before the competition was to be held, which included the case material the team needed to start planning how they would sell their product. This is when they learned that their goal was to introduce a private-label popcorn line into their mock stores.

“After receiving the case material, our class broke down into groups based on their individual strengths using approaches to sampling, packaging and social media plans for the product,” Kellogg said.

Once at the competition, the teams met with mock buyers. The students then had to align their presentations to fit their buyers’ needs.

Having about four hours to complete this task, the teams then presented their ideas for selling the private-label popcorn and were judged by sales executives from Altria Group Distribution Company.

“I think, considering the time frame we had, it was a very rewarding experience for my students to have participated in this competition,” Williams said. “They were emphatic about my classes participating in next year’s competition.”

Williams said after competing this year, he and his students now know they must pick out the more important information given rather than what they think the judges will want to see.

Though they did not place in the winners of the competition, some students said they look forward to next year.

“I would definitely like to participate again next year in the competition,” Kellogg said. “Since it is mostly seniors in the class, it will be a good opportunity for next year’s class to know what happens at the competition from a past participant.”