Dec. 8, 2014Vol. 45, Issue 3

Breaking through Boundaries

Students partner with local business to reach new markets

Students toured AMain.com’s Chico warehouse Oct. 30 to learn about the company and the products they’d be researching for their Intro to Entrepreneurship class, including the E-GO Cruiser electric skateboard. From left: Brandon Dell, Lee Litvin, Stephanie Erickson, Megan Faugh, Patrick Olney, Alan Rich, and Jordan Kurtz. 

Radio-controlled skateboards and multimodal drones are the kind of expensive, high-tech gadgets many university students only dream of owning someday.

But for the lucky students in Professor Colleen Robb’s Intro to Entrepreneurship (MGMT 450) class, part of their course assignment was to become intimately acquainted with these products.

This semester, the class partnered with local hobby retailer AMain.com Performance Sports & Hobbies to research methods for getting the electric skateboard and the drone into new markets and expanding sales for each. A distributor of radio-controlled devices and bicycles, AMain was founded in 2004 by Kendall Bennett and his wife, alum Kelly Bennett (Political Science, ’95), and has grown into a $40 million-per-year business with both online and brick-and-mortar presences.

In late October, Robb’s students toured the company’s 70,000-square-foot south Chico warehouse, tested the products in question, and heard from Chief Operating Officer Tim Allen about the kinds of insights his company was hoping to gain.

“You and your peers are one of our target markets, so we’re eager to hear your ideas about what might motivate you or your friends to purchase these items,” Allen told the class during the tour. “But we’re also hoping you can come up with some new markets we hadn’t yet thought of.”

Lee Litvin, left, and Tyler Swope examine the DJI Phantom 2 drone at AMain Oct. 30.

Lee Litvin, left, and Tyler Swope examine the DJI Phantom 2 drone at AMain Oct. 30.

Their task was clear: to conduct an in-depth analysis of the DJI Phantom 2 (V2.0) Quadcopter, a multimodal drone popular for its ability to hold a small video camera, or the Yuneec Technology E-GO Cruiser, a radio-controlled electric skateboard capable of reaching speeds up to 12.5 miles per hour. While sales of both products have been strong in recent months, pressure from competing companies and the products’ higher price-point—they each retail for about $700—has AMain looking at ways to reach more and different consumers, Allen said.

Soon after the tour, the students broke into teams and got to work performing a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) and conducting market research on either the drone or the skateboard. Teams interviewed members of their target markets, conducted online research, wrote marketing copy, estimated advertising costs, and extrapolated profits. The teams presented their final marketing plans, brought to life with student-made videos and slides, to Allen and Robb and their classmates Dec. 2 and 4.

The variety in the teams’ findings and recommendations was impressive and demonstrated initiative and out-of-the-box thinking by the students. Among the three teams which researched opportunities for the drone, for example, target market suggestions included amateur videographers, coaches and parents of athletes (dubbed by the students “quadcopter parents”), hunters, and hikers.

At the suggestion that AMain target athletics teams and parents, Allen nodded vehemently.

“I really like that idea—I’ve never connected the dots on the parents of athletes before,” he said during presentation feedback. “I have an app to get all of my son’s game footage, so that’s a huge market. And the drone is really starting to take off with hunters."

Allen said he planned to incorporate the students' ideas into the company's 2015 marketing plans.

Sarah Langford, Public Affairs and Publications

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