Some 26 students from Whitmer High School's DECA club recently tackled one of the biggest troubled spots near downtown Toledo - the Erie Street Market - and won state and national honors for their work.
The students created a marketing research project based on the market on Erie Street, which has struggled through most of its existence since it opened in 1997, fighting to keep tenants, increase customer traffic, and solve management issues. It recently lost the New York Diner, which businessman John Skiadas said he closed for lack of customer traffic.
Bill Hollister, the marketing teacher and DECA advisor - a national association for students and teachers of marketing, management and business - said his students decided to take on the market because of its problems, and try to help out.
Their results? It needs better marketing.
The students suggest an annual calender of events, marketing the market in commercials as more of a family destination, and giving food and non-food vendors their own space.
"Businesses pay thousands of dollars for surveys like this. We're looking at their suggestions very seriously," said Pat Nowak, the market's executive director.
The students interviewed 288 local residents around the Christmas break about their shopping habits at the Erie Street Market facilities, including the Farmer's Market, Civic Center Promenade, Libbey Factory Outlet, Superior Antique Mall, gift and restaurant areas.
"They were able to get a great cross section of people, from youth to senior citizens," Ms. Nowak said.
The project was their Creative Marketing Project for the club, and it impressed not only Ms. Nowak, but state and national DECA judges.
Whitmer students placed fourth in the state career development conference in Columbus against DECA clubs around the state with it.
The showing got the club invited to the International Career Development Conference in Anaheim, Calif., last month.
Whitmer DECA students walked away with an impressive fifth place nationally against programs around the country.
Students had to produce a written document for the project and then present it live in front of judges at the state and national competitions, Mr. Hollister said.
The students performed a skit, which included the popular Erie Street Market advertising jingle "Meet Me at the Market."
Although judges didn't offer much verbal or written feedback, their scores showed they liked how the students exhibited the project.
"We scored very well on our presentations, so we know that went well," Mr. Hollister said.
Even though no real surprises came from the student project, it did drive home many common beliefs, such as that the market
needs to appeal to a younger audience; and there needs to be more events to attract family-oriented audiences, Ms. Nowak said.
It also needs to be tied in to more downtown events, such as Toledo Mud Hens games, she said.
Some of the students' survey results include:
●Women (70 percent) visit the market more than men (46 percent), no matter the age group.
●Women visit the Libbey Glass outlet the most (56 percent) and the Antique Mall and Frog Town Square the least (24 percent).
●Men visit Libbey Glass outlet (49 percent) and the Food Court (48 percent) almost equally, and Frog Towne Square the least (14 percent).
Contact Clyde Hughes at: