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published on May 11, 2017 - 11:22 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Fresno State students in Dr. Lizhu Davis’s visual merchandising class had the opportunity to showcase their design talents earlier this week as participants in the first annual Visual Merchandising Mother’s Day Challenge held at Top Drawer, a locally owned retailer in River Park.

The students were divided into five teams, each responsible for designing a different portion of the store, and had 48 hours to transform the look the business in a way that not only demonstrates their creativity, but entices buyers to purchase products.

The whimsical store is known for its locally exclusive collection of Vera Bradley handbags and luggage, as well as stationery and unique gift items, and the students were faced with the challenge of showcasing the wide array of products in differing colors and patterns in a way that would appeal to buyers searching for Mother’s Day gifts.

The students’ designs were judged by a panel, which included Vera Bradley’s Head of Store Development, Harry Cunningham; Katie Dickinson, a product specialists for The TJX Companies (TJ Maxx, Home Goods, and Marshalls); and Aaron Taylor, the marketing director for Odina Surf.

“It wasn’t an easy task to rate them, but we had to judge them just as they had to design the store,” Cunningham said. “It’s always inspiring for me to see student work because I think [students] view things with no blinders on and have an open eye, and it helps me do better at my job to see [their] interpretation.”

While all the students were winners of the unique hands-on experience and get the satisfaction of knowing their hard work will be on display for the next three weeks, it was the R.O.W.ology team, responsible for designing the entire middle section of the store, that impressed judges and social media voters most.

The team R.O.W.ology trio was comprised of juniors Desiree Reyna and Odalys Ortiz and sophomore Joyce Win. All three are fashion merchandising majors. Reyna is also duel majoring in business.

Reyna said the project was not easy and at one point her team had to start all over again on the design of the main table—the first one customers see when they entire the store.

“We were very overwhelmed, as was every other team, with mixing patterns and styles of bags and we had a problem with overloading the tables to the point where everything was just camouflaged and nothing was standing out,” Reyna said. “With a little help from [store owner] Jane Saunders and Dr. Davis, we cleared everything out and started all over again and I think after we cleared everything out, we were able to get back to the original idea and bring the image we wanted to out and tell a story, which is the whole premise of Jane’s store—she wants to tell a story with her fun, quirky, displays and fun springtime designs.”

“Our biggest struggle was the front large ping-pong table and also the bedroom setting, where we wanted to have an emphasis print, but also be able to showcase other patterns, Reyna continued. “It is very hard to showcase two different standout patterns without making them clash so the strategy we used to overcome our challenges were to stick with one main pattern but also include other patterns that compliment each other using complimentary colors and styles.

“By the end of the project we learned a great amount of skills and techniques for visual merchandising, we learned design coordination, selling the merchandise, and most importantly, working as a team to accomplish one goal.”

As the winning team, R.O.W.ology team members will have the opportunity to do a two-week internship at Top Drawer and assist Saunders with her booth display for a Valley Children’s Hospital fundraising event on May 6. The team will also be treated to a special dinner at Campagnia Bistro.

While only one team “won” all the student team said they were thankful for the experience.

“This opportunity served many purposes as we were able to take what we learned in the classroom and apply that knowledge to a hands-on experience,” said Alexa Hanamaikai, a junior fashion merchandising student on team Castle, which designed the exclusive Vera Bradley section of Top Drawer.

“We were able to amplify Top Drawer and hopefully exceed expectations of customers here at River Park and enhance Vera Bradley’s image on the West Coast, but most importantly, through this opportunity, we were able to elevate the fashion merchandising program…It is such an undermined program, but as students it’s our purpose and our drive to make this program work as it is. It is our purpose to drive this program and make sure our talent is showcased.”


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