Acquiring practical experience is a significant piece to education at the University of Findlay and when a local business can benefit from students’ work, the impact is even greater. Recently, Master of Business Administration students and a small local business joined forces to develop a business plan that benefited everyone involved.
During the fall semester, students in the Business Strategy and Implementation course, one of the final MBA courses students take, were tasked with creating a business plan for Seams Fitting, a local full-service alterations business. This particular client brought a unique challenge to the students: there was no shortage of customers. Seams Fitting had been struggling to keep up because the demand was so high, causing them to turn down new customers.
The class needed to learn everything they could about Seams Fitting and its operations, while getting acclimated to the basics of alterations and sewing needs, something many of the students were not familiar with. They also reviewed blueprints of Seams Fitting’s facilities and visited the shop to observe and identify solutions that would put the business on track to serve more customers.
When MBA student Ranjeet Timilshina visited Seams Fitting, he was reminded of businesses in his home country, Nepal. “It was like looking at a small business in my country because they’re satisfied with what they have and they don’t have a plan to move ahead,” said Timilshina who has been thinking about how to expand his father’s small hotel in Nepal.
According to Timilshina, the owner of Seams Fitting, Karlene Brachle, started sewing as a hobby at home and more people started bringing jobs to her which led to opening her continuously growing business. “She didn’t have much of a business plan,” he explained. “We found out that the customer base she had was all because of her. With the way she handles customers, people went back for her. If Karlene wasn’t there no one would go back.”
While split into teams, the class developed business plans which were later presented to Brachle as suggestions to improve Seams Fitting’s operations. “We studied all aspects of the company, customers and competitors. Our plan was to deliver the most efficient product, with the best price and customer satisfaction,” said MBA student Victor Fernandes.
Fernandes, Timilshina and their classmates identified several areas of improvement such as the layout of the shop for workflow efficiency, implementation of property management software and hiring administrative staff.
“Right now the owner is doing (alteration) work and office work on the same desk,” said Timilshina. “We did not feel like there was a place for customers to be comfortable, and recommended a big layout re-design so that there was a workspace and separate space for customers. She liked that idea.”
The class also recommended using project management software after discovering that all paperwork was still done completely by hand. This would ensure a collection of organized data for the business, and allow the staff to record and easily access the progress of a customer’s order.
“We also suggested hiring more staff, but finding a skilled seamstress in Findlay was tough for her,” said Timilshina. Instead, they suggested hiring administrative part-time staff to answer phone calls, take orders and give customers their completed orders to allow the seamstresses more time to work on alterations without disruption. “Like my dad and mom, she didn’t want anyone else handling the customer relations. She wanted to be everywhere because that’s how she’s been doing it forever,” Timilshina explained.
At the end, presenting the proposals to Seams Fitting had its own set of challenges. Afterall, Brachle was a seamstress first and business owner second. “Translating the business world language to a non-business person was the most challenging part of this project,” Fernandes recalled. However, learning to work with clients from different backgrounds ended up being one of Fernandes’ biggest takeaways. “We were working with clientele I had never imagined I would work with and this project gave me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and learn about different areas and perspectives,” he said.
While not all of the recommendations may be feasible for Seams Fitting, Brachle was pleased with the proposals and as Timilshina had hoped, her perspective changed.
“We were able to convince her with the final presentation that she doesn’t need to be everywhere,” said Timilshina. “We were able to change the perspective of a businesswoman and now she can see the possibilities.”