Business is about to get a little bit sweeter for the Nestlé Toll House Café in Highland Village thanks to help from University of North Texas students.
Students taking the Digital Retailing Strategies course are creating budget-friendly plans to help with online search results, website and mobile presence, digital communications to customers and consumers’ online experience. Each semester, course lecturer Linda Mihalick selects a local business for the class to help, tasking students with analyzing all digital aspects through the eyes of the target consumer.
“A lot of people struggle with how they can express their brand online without it being just another ad,” said junior Taylar Gomez, a digital retailing and merchandising double major. “We looked at her competitors, target market, SEO and social media to find small things she could do right away without hiring outside help.”
The store’s new owner, Amanda Lucas, and her husband Luke, formerly of Lantana, bought the franchise less than a year ago with a goal of turning a love of sweet treats into a profitable business.
“I jokingly told my husband we should buy one because we give them so much business,” said Lucas, a UNT alumna. The joke turned into reality after the previous owner sold the shop. But owning a franchise doesn’t guarantee success.
“It was so much harder than I ever thought,” said Lucas. The Lucases remodeled and added new, non-cookie items like coffee, ice cream and breakfast. Still, there are obstacles – especially with the digitally connected consumer.
“It is no longer optional for businesses that want to succeed to ignore their online user experience,” Mihalick said. “This class project engages students to act as consultants to a real, operating business and provide simple digital strategies that can produce huge revenue benefits.”
That’s where the UNT students come in. Teams are identifying ways to improve the café’s retail results. They’re also taking on other challenges, like how to inform past customers that the store has reopened, how to attract new consumers that may not know Nestlé Toll House Café even exists, and how to create a café community for customers to relax, study or hang out.
Merchandising junior Michael Impiccini said it’s about building brand awareness and “expanding on the touch points she already has.”
“You’re selling an experience, not just a cookie. If you can get your consumers to do the work for you, they’re your best advocates,” said Impiccini.
The top four teams presented their proposals in April to Lucas, who’ll have the final say on what to implement.
“This is a blessing because, not to sound cheap, this is free to my business and my family,” said Lucas. “Even though I’m young, I’m stuck in the Facebook age, so I’m really excited to have people who understand digital.”