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Graduate students team up with UGG

Dave Gruver,

UGG Australia is best known for its classic sheepskin boots, and is well known in retail outlets like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's. While UGG is made to appeal to a variety of audiences from cradle to grave, a team of WVU full-time MBA students has been given the task of helping the brand connect with one very specific audience: college students. 

Dave Gruver, National Sales Director for UGG Australia, is not a WVU alumnus, but his family connections with WVU have made him a lifelong Mountaineer fan. He met Director of Graduate Programs Dr. Elizabeth Vitullo at a game watch in New York City a few years back and has long been excited to collaborate with WVU – and it's now coming to fruition.

"We're excited to launch a pilot program with WVU to do a first-time project for us in exploring the viability of having the UGG Australia brand sold in a college environment," said Gruver.

The project is part of a collaboration that the MBA program has started with the BrickStreet Center of Innovation & Entrepreneurship to infuse more experiential learning opportunities within graduate coursework.

"This whole class will be like a consulting project," Vitullo said. "These students will be working with companies and creating professional deliverables."

Various groups in the class are working with different clients. The four students selected for the UGG project were chosen for their positions through an interview process that included Gruver's input. This ensured that the team had cross-functional skillsets, including financial, strategic, communications and marketing.

Gruver flew in from the west coast for a kick-off meeting with students Andria Alvarez, Christina Aiello, Alex Feier and Lord Walker, as well as members of the B&E faculty and WVU legal counsel, to replicate a client presentation just like he would give at Nordstrom's.

In addition to showing the product line, he outlined goals to accomplish over the next six months and the importance of brand strategy and consumer demographics. He provided them a "Quick Guide to Opening a Retail Space," full of background information to help them as they make decisions.

"The current students will be responsible for the planning and strategy of this project, getting it off the ground," Vitullo said. "They will put together a business plan, a marketing plan and select store locations. They have to put together budgets and plans for creating buzz and awareness."

The project will cover at least two classes of MBA students. Three of the four current students will graduate in August 2014 and then a new student team will take the reins and be responsible for the execution and maintenance of the goals and objectives.

"That's part of the learning, the transferring of a project and maintaining consistency," Vitullo said. "This is an amazing experience for the students and an incredible opportunity for WVU."

While Gruver knows from his market research that the company's end consumer is certainly located on college campuses, he is interested to learn the characteristics that are different in a college environment as opposed to the traditional retail space.

"Our biggest expectation (is) to learn from this and then look at how we can scale it to take those learnings to make this a bigger and better program for the future," Gruver said. "We really think it has the potential to be extremely successful in the college environment."