Students in Strategic Marketing Management this spring are consulting for two central Virginia companies, Upper Shirley Vineyards, an estate, winery, and event venue, and Alton Lane, a custom luxury-clothing brand for men.

The course, specifically for seniors concentrating in marketing, integrates learning from prior courses through hands-on application. The class emphasizes the importance of analysis, planning, and implementation in successful execution of marketing strategies by working with real-world clients.

Laura Madeira, ’19, is working with Upper Shirley Vineyards.

“I am very interested in strategic marketing because, like most marketing majors, I learn best when I apply things that I learn into real life situations,” Madeira said. “Last semester I took Strategic Management and I think that class pairs nicely with what I’m learning and doing in class this semester.”

Madeira and the other students on her team met with Tayloe Dameron, owner of Upper Shirley Vineyards, at the beginning of the semester. He hopes to expand his customer base as well as become more competitive with other vineyards in the state.

“By working with a company, we are able to see how the concepts we learned throughout our marketing classes play out in day to day operations of an organization,” Madeira said. “I’m excited to see how we can help this amazing company increase recognition and expand their business.”

Dameron decided to work with the students to help him understand a new customer base.

“There is no better way to tune into the millennial mind than to have 12 smart, eager seniors pour over our challenges,” Dameron said. “Wineries tend to skew to an older customer. I'd love to appeal to a younger crowd in our restaurant and wine bar. The biggest opportunity however, is in our wedding business, reaching the potential brides that fit our niche. I think several of the solutions will fall in the digital media sphere in which the students have already displayed their savvy.”

As Upper Shirley is only in its third year of operations, Dameron says he looks forward to the students’ help navigating a steep learning curve.

“They have skills that I do not have on staff,” Dameron said. “Our initial guesses are now giving way to some real data. Sorting the trends from the noise should be exciting.”

Similarly, Jack Dunne, ’19, is working with Alton Lane. He says after reviewing the requests with Colin Hunter, CEO, it opened his eyes to the complexities of starting your own business.

“Working with Alton Lane has enlightened me to the challenges of high growth companies. There are a plethora of avenues for expansion as the firm reaches new markets,” Dunne said. “Deciding where their capital would be best deployed, and who they should target moving forward has been difficult. We realize that misreading the current landscape and suggesting a poor addition to their product mix, or attempting to target the wrong segment, could set the company back months or even years. That’s why it is so advantageous for us to work with real companies, because it creates real outcomes.” 

Hunter agrees with Dameron, and says students help his brand stay current.

“I really enjoy getting the different perspective that students bring to the table,” Hunter said. “Our society is changing so quickly as technology and our use of it adapts, and as a result, how students engage with the world today is very different than it was 10 years ago when we first launched our brand.”

He also says he’s happy to contribute to students’ educational experience by giving them everyday data to analyze.

“I love the enthusiasm that students bring to a project, and I know it is valuable for them to be able to apply their learning to real-world challenges,” Hunter said.

Giving students specific scenarios to work with is why Joel Mier, lecturer in marketing, loves teaching the course. 

“It’s so critical to have a balanced perspective of the theory and the practice, and many courses do a wonderful job allowing students to engage with external or internal clients, and apply the theories that we’ve covered in class,” Mier said. “It allows them to actually try out what they’ve been taught.”

He also says the stakes are much higher when students are interacting with real clients.

“By engaging with a real client with a real need, they’re able to see how the application of what they’ve been taught applies or doesn’t apply based on the context,” Mier said.

The students will continue to work with Alton Lane and Upper Shirley Vineyards throughout the semester, creating marketing plans for expansion and growth. Click here for more information about the Robins School marketing program.