KNOXVILLE—Retail students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will be among the best-prepared in the nation to enter the work world, thanks to the creation of a minor in retail technology and UT’s unique access to one of the major software systems used in the industry.
“Our goal is to be the leading university for this field. When someone—whether it’s a student, another university, or a company looking for employees—thinks of retail technology, we want them to think of UT Knoxville,” said Rod Runyan, assistant professor of retail and consumer science.
The retail technology minor—one of the first of its kind in the country—will allow students to take specialized computer-based courses that will help them walk into jobs ready to use the technology that’s been transforming the industry in recent years. UT students also will be exposed to many other industry technologies in the new Lab for Analytics, Shopper Insights and Retailing, a joint venture of Retailing and Consumer Sciences in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences and the Department of Marketing and Logistics and Department of Statistics, Operations, and Management Science in the College of Business Administration.
The minor will be offered for the first time in the fall of 2011.
In addition, Runyan and his colleagues have partnered with JDA® Software Group Inc., known as “The Supply Chain Company,” to use a server-based version of the company’s proprietary software in UT retail classes. JDA provides software to more than 6,000 companies worldwide to help them with their merchandise planning, space planning, and allocation systems. Among the companies that use JDA software are Brooks Brothers, Casual Male Retail Group, Charlotte Russe, Chico’s, Fred Meyer, Tractor Supply, Ahold USA, and Frito Lay.
Runyan said UT and other universities have used “plug and play” versions of the software to simulate the experience for students, but UT is the first university to use the full-scale, server-based version of the software.
“We’d been getting positive feedback from retailers who were very pleased that students had taken a class using the demonstration software,” Runyan said, adding that he was convinced UT should go to the next level, offering a minor and trying to get the OK to use the proprietary version of the software.
It took about one and a half years to work out the arrangement with JDA and secure the funding needed to obtain and run the software. Students began using JDA software in the fall of 2010.
“This will provide our students with a more robust experience,” Runyan said.
Wayne Usie, JDA senior vice president, retail, said using JDA software is built “on an in-depth understanding of today’s most pressing business challenges and feature configurable, best-practice processes and workflows developed in conjunction with leading retailers.
“With JDA solutions, companies can transform their merchandising and supply chain operations with solutions that help them sense and respond to real-time consumer demand across every channel,” he said.
Sean Brobston, who oversees the space and store planning team at Tractor Supply Corp., said students read and learn from textbooks but also need the chance to experience the business world.
“Tractor Supply’s partnership with UT and the new retail technology minor will give students just that: real insight into retail’s space planning practices,” he said.
Wendy Maclay, senior director of merchandising services for Ahold USA, echoed these thoughts.
“It is difficult to find job candidates with any real experience in space management and current business processes in conjunction with an understanding of today’s customer,” she said. “UT is preparing students to have this experience and preferred placement in the retail business world.”
Runyan said the retail field has evolved in recent years. Before, students aspiring to be buyers could start as an assistant buyer and work their way up. Today, most companies have replaced assistant buyers with planning and allocation specialists, jobs that require knowledge of merchandise but also software systems which help plan space usage and product allocation.
As word spreads that UT will be using the software to teach students, companies are already responding favorably.
“We’re already seeing the positive reaction of retailers,” Runyan said. “For instance, executives from several large national retailers came to campus to recruit for the first time this past academic year.”
There are more than one hundred students majoring in retail and consumer sciences, and the college expects about twenty-five to thirty students each year to pursue the new minor in retail technology.
To find out more about the Retailing and Consumer Sciences major, and the Retail Technology minor at UT, see http://rhtm.utk.edu/.
Amy Blakely, (865-974-5034, firstname.lastname@example.org)