Walton College to open retail lab at Harmon Garage in spring semester

The business retail lab will be located in the high-traffic area of the Harmon Parking Garage. (Photo by Cindy Zavaleta)

The business retail lab will be located in the high-traffic area of the Harmon Parking Garage. (Photo by Cindy Zavaleta)

By Cindy Zavaleta

The Razorback Reporter

Laboratories, especially those on college campuses, bring to mind images of microscopes, beakers, Bunsen burners and – in this high-tech age – computers. The Walton College of Business is about to take the next step into the future.

Students learning the retail business are scheduled next semester to open the Walton College of Business Retail Operations Lab, which will feature actual store displays, but not items available for purchase. The business lab will allow students to display merchandise that has sensors attached. Students, who visit the lab store at the site of the former Razorback shop in Harmon Parking Garage, will be able to swipe their ID cards, allowing them to give product feedback, which in turn awards points for students to spend. The system for redeeming points has not yet been decided.

Meanwhile, the lab will help students visualize store displays and the methods and reasoning behind each setup. If successful, Walton faculty hopes to involve other campus groups with creating the Harmon space.

The store will be open to all for a look at products. Products displayed will be those created by students who want to test their work and get feedback.

“This environment is for people who have ideas, products or questions about whether the millennial, students, Gen X, Gen Ys and Gen Zs have any interest in that before they go on Shark Tank or in debt,“ said Sue Sedberry, managing director of the lab.

Harmon Parking Garage space that will soon become a business retail lab.  (Photo by Cindy Zavaleta)

Harmon Parking Garage space that will soon become a business retail lab. (Photo by Cindy Zavaleta)

Students can vote as to whether the products should be commercialized.

“It’s almost like a museum of experiments,” Sedberry said.

The store décor, products, lighting and flooring will change every 4-6 weeks.

Groups, including industrial engineering and the Fay Jones School, will help with the design and setup of the vignettes and lab. Students from those programs will help with lighting and security features, and wall colors and interior design, among other aspects.

The store will have a retail experiment environment that will focus on space management and visual merchandising. This will give business students a better sense of what goes into setting up stores and placing products on shelves.

Space management and visual merchandising is the piece of retail where managers identify what goes on the shelf, what items they want to have, or no longer want to carry while taking into consideration what other items are surrounding.

“It’s actually an art and a science to deciding if you only have 4-foot of shelf, which items should go on there because you have to turn it really fast and you have to make a profit for every item that’s on there,” Sedberry said.

One of the questions they hope to gather information on is whether some arrangements create more consumer incentive to purchase products because of environmental factors such as lighting and other visuals.

Retail Excellence students and those taking independent study courses will be responsible for setting up the vignettes (or displays).

Students can expect to see this retail lab up and running the week after Spring Break, Sedberry said.