Pictured above, from l. to r. – Tech marketing students Lauren Grimes and Shannon Sherman share a laugh with Jamie’s Eats & Sweets owner Jamie Lankford inside her café at 50 W. Broad Street in Cookeville.

Students’ midterms involved completing a marketing analysis of the café

Cookeville – A class of marketing students in Tennessee Tech University’s College of Business has spent the semester cooking up something sweet.

Students in Sherrie Cannon’s retail marketing management course partnered with local café Jamie’s Eats & Sweets (JES)for an immersive learning opportunity that allowed the class to gain hands-on marketing experience while offering valuable assistance to an emerging breakfast, lunch and dessert hotspot on Cookeville’s historic West Side.

The class of 24 students broke into teams and dedicated their semester to working alongside local entrepreneur Jamie Lankford, the owner of JES. Students’ midterms involved completing a marketing analysis of the café, and the final exam called for them to develop five new marketing concepts, as well as promotional packets and proposed changes to the café’s website and social media.

“Experiential learning is high on our priority list as a university right now and Sherrie took it to heart,” said Cheryl Montgomery, director of program development and engagement for Tech’s College of Business. “She decided to focus on our own community and provide an opportunity for our students to engage in a real-world marketing scenario. These students are leaving the class with a body of work they can show a potential employer. It’s something very tangible that gives our Tennessee Tech students a leg up.”

For Cannon, the decision to partner with a local business was a natural fit. While today, she serves as associate director for professional development and an adjunct instructor in the College of Business, Cannon previously spent 25 years as the successful business owner of four retail establishments in the Upper Cumberland.

“I was absolutely thrilled with their final presentations. They put in a lot of time and effort,” said Cannon. “This was not something you could do in 24 hours. It takes the whole semester. In order to provide a great marketing concept, you really have to look at all the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the business and the industry. You’re taking on a client and presenting just as you would if you were in a boardroom.”

Perhaps even more importantly, Lankford was impressed with the students’ ideas for her business, too.

“The students came up with so many great things. I can’t emphasize that enough. They were all so professional,” said Lankford. “We have one marketing concept we’ve already started implementing. It’s going really well for us so far. Another one of the groups went through and created an entire video reel with drone footage and everything. They had an idea for Valentine’s Day we’re probably going to use.”

Shannon Sherman, a senior marketing major from Cookeville, called the course “the most applicable, hands-on experience I’ve had.”

Her team developed a new brand kit for the café, along with ideas for email campaigns and even a selfie mirror where guests could snap a photo and tag the business on social media.

“We presented with Jamie and two of her investors in the room,” said Sherman. “That was super beneficial to us because we could see her reactions in real-time to know what’s working and what’s not.”

“Seeing her excitement helped ease our nerves. She was so personable,” added Sherman.

For Lankford, the students’ ideas solidify her optimism for the future of her small business and Cookeville’s burgeoning West Side.

“The people who shop here are some of the nicest people in the whole world,” said Lankford. “Getting to hang out with the local business owners down here and going through the ups and downs together – it’s a blessing. You get to meet so many new people and it’s fun to see it all keep growing. There are only good things to come!”

Cannon explains that the university will offer the retail marketing management course again in the spring of 2025 and hopes to partner with another small business in the region.

Interested business owners can contact Tech’s College of Business at business@tntech.edu to learn more.

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Tech.

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