New research center brings energy to UMN retail merchandising program

The Center for Retail Design and Innovation aims to bring in about 10 to 14 industry partners for students to work with.

Sarah Mai

Sarah Mai

Jiang Li

The University of Minnesota welcomed a new research center earlier this month, giving hands-on experience to retail merchandising students.  

Located on the second floor of McNeal Hall, the Center for Retail Design and Innovation, also known as CRDI, will partner with various retail brands to give University students a real-world experience in the retail industry. Part of the College of Design’s Retail Merchandising Program, the center aims to bring in 10 to 14 industry partners for students to work with.

“The space is the start,” said Peggy Lord, the assistant director of CRDI. “Our goal is to make this space usable by students to host industry partners to talk about the program. A lot of people want to get involved but they just don’t know how, so now we get a space for people to do it.”

Macy’s Inc., an American department store chain founded in 1858, is one of the center’s first industry partners. Macy’s is currently working with University students in a class case study to better market the brand and engage with customers.

“The reason that Macy’s was the first table partner with the CRDI is that they have things exciting happening,” said Jaye Thompson, a lecturer in the Retail Merchandising Program. 

The class is involved in one of Macy’s new initiatives —  #macysstylecrew. The hashtag was created by a community of Macy’s colleagues who are passionate about sharing fashion and style online. 

Thompson said for students, the goal is to figure out how Macy’s can take their marketing tool, #macysstylecrew, on social media “to the next level.”

“We all know how fast the retail keeps changing,” Thompson said. “So, this gives us a great chance to modernize our textbooks … [and] prepare students for what they are going to encounter in the real world.” 

Students within the class are actively working on this case study, and the best four groups will present in front of the Macy’s executive team, Thompson said. 

In the last two years, the retail merchandising industry advisory board of the College of Design has been building the program. 

Sarah Nystuen, a student in the Macy’s case study class, said she thinks it is an excellent opportunity for them to think critically about what retail looks like from a business standpoint instead of from an educational perspective.

“It’s a great opportunity for my students to take with what they are studying [in] theory and apply it in actual practice. So, my students are getting real-world experience and … [are] benefiting a company that they are interested in and know about,” Thompson said. “So, it’s a win-win.”