A new partnership between Shepherd students and the Harpers Ferry Bolivar Merchants Association is giving the merchants new and fresh ideas and students real-world experience in business, tourism, and marketing. Two Shepherd classes, one from the College of Business and one from the Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Sport, worked this past semester with the merchants association and some of its members.
Students in the Business Strategy and Policy capstone class taught by Dr. Michael Lynch, assistant professor of business administration, divided into six teams. Two teams created reports on opportunities and challenges in a new era and enhancing the visitor experience. Other teams created a branding initiative for the association and created strategic plans for the annual Olde Tyme Christmas celebration, attracting millennials to Harpers Ferry, and tourism transformation.
“The idea was to give students a real-world experience and something they can put on their résumé,” Lynch said. “Some of these businesses are very small. Some people started a business because they love the area, but they don’t have a lot of experience in business. The students provide fresh eyes—they can look at something from the visitor’s point of view.”
Each group made a presentation of its findings to association members on December 11. One group pointed out Harpers Ferry and Bolivar have strengths such as scenic beauty, interesting histories, and appeal to a diverse customer demographic. Weaknesses listed included social media, town hours, parking awareness, and discontinuity between Bolivar and Harpers Ferry. The students demonstrated a website and Instagram page they set up for the merchants association. They recommended the merchants offer more consistent business hours, more activities later in the day and in the evening, host more events, use Instagram to promote the town, and maintain the website as a way to allow visitors to plan trips.
“One area where the students can dramatically help is use of social media because they grew up with it,” Lynch said. “They understand what’s hot and how to use it. I see a real benefit to both groups.”
Patrick Quigley, business administration major, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, participated in the group that planned Olde Tyme Christmas. The group helped with marketing and staffing and created a manual for others to use in the future.
“I learned how to work on real-life situations with people on something that’s important to the town, meet deadlines, and handle stressful situations,” Quigley said.
Madison Bryant, economics and business major, Thurmont, Maryland, also helped with Old Tyme Christmas. Bryant, who hopes to eventually work as a data analyst, said she learned a lot from the experience.
“As an economist, I don’t work with people much, so I learned how to work on a team and try to make things happen,” she said. “My team was trying to get a younger crowd and more people to come to Old Tyme Christmas. I think it’s interesting to see what a small town can do to expand business.”
Victoria Manuel, business major, Charles Town, who was in a group that compared two other towns to Harpers Ferry, said she learned quite a bit about the area she grew up in.
“I’m seeing that we’re really an outdoorsy, hiking, kayaking, whitewater rafting area,” Manuel said. “We get a lot of our income from those recreational activities. I never knew how much it brought in.”
During the spring semester, the Business Strategy and Policy class will continue working with Harpers Ferry, tackling other issues, working with individual merchants, and exploring how the town can capitalize on regional attractions.
Meanwhile, students in the Introduction to Tourism class participated in a pilot project that matched students with individual merchants to help plan and promote specific events. The class was co-taught by Dr. Stacey Kendig, chair, Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Sport, and Dr. Greg Finch, adjunct professor and Harpers Ferry Bolivar Merchants Association president. The merchants selected special projects for the students to plan, and each had to complete a minimum of 10 hours working in Harpers Ferry.
“Some of them far exceeded those hours because they had wonderful experiences with all of the merchants,” Kendig said. “It just provided the students a really good learning experience.”
Students helped The Vintage Lady, Harpers Ferry Park Association, Rations Café, and The Barn of Harpers Ferry. Emmy Strauss, an undeclared major from Williamstown, helped Cindi Dunn, owner of The Vintage Lady, plan an event.
“It was wonderful,” Dunn said. “We have had a few events in the past and Emmy jumped onboard and planned this one. It was a great success and we donated all the profits to Good Shepherd Interfaith Caregivers.”
“Cindi gave me some insight into what it is like to run a business in a tourist town,” Strauss said. “It was a nice experience.”
Jim Ramey, recreation and sport studies major, Winchester, Virginia, enjoyed working with the Harpers Ferry Park Association, helping to plan two events.
“We did an event about the town’s reaction to John Brown’s raid by the U.S. Marines and we had a military style barbeque,” Ramey said. “The experience was fun and I learned a lot. It made me realize how much tourism impacts the area.”
Two students helped Anne Strotz, event and marketing manager for The Barn of Harpers Ferry, plan a Veterans Day chili cookoff event.
“I think they gained a greater un derstanding of how to run events and network within a community,” Strotz said. “Working in tourism, you learn it’s not just about your business and how much money you are bringing in the door, but what you can do to benefit others in your community. We’re all working toward the same goal, which is creating an environment where people want to visit.”
Finch and Curt McGee, vice president, Harpers Ferry Bolivar Merchants Association, said working with both classes benefitted everyone involved.
“This was the inaugural year for HPERS to explore what it was like to do field placement with tourism,” Finch said. “The students’ lives, from what we understand, have been enriched. In some cases, it’s shaped their major. The merchants themselves, in all of my conversations with them, have been touched phenomenally by the learning process with the students. It’s been a marvelous pilot program and we look forward to it growing.”
“Working in partnership with the capstone business students has been a remarkable collaboration,” McGee added. “The faculty, leadership, vision, and training at Shepherd delivered far beyond our expectations. The strategic plans that the students developed will impact our ability to grow and steward Harpers Ferry into a world-class destination and will equip our business leaders for decades to come, while providing the students with portfolio projects that exhibit first-class business, strategic planning, marketing, and communication skills vital to their career success.”
McGee said the merchants association plans to build on this inaugural year and actively work with the College of Business to develop new opportunities for the Harpers Ferry merchants and the students.