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LSC-Tomball Marketing Students Take on Food Service Project

Lone Star College-Tomball students learned firsthand a key tenet of marketing in a tough economy – offer freebies, and they will come.

Students in Ellen Askey’s Principles of Marketing course were given the hands on task of helping the campus’ food service program by posing as secret shoppers, surveying customers and analyzing data. The students then offered up strategic marketing improvement suggestions based on information they gathered.

The students – who personally interviewed customers and handed out paper surveys – hoped to receive a return of 50 surveys from the LSC-Tomball Coffee Bar (located in the library) and 100 from the Café. The students sweetened the deal by offering a $3 coupon for use in either of the food service establishments and what happened next shocked the students, instructor and the food service department.

“The rate of return was really incredible,” said Askey. “We got nearly all of the surveys back for the coffee bar and got a hundred more than we had anticipated for the café. We finally had to stop accepting them because there were so many.”

Askey said that the rate of return for surveys can be 10 to 50 percent or more, but having nearly 100 percent is unusual.

“The exercise of using a coupon as an incentive to get customer feedback has been an excellent lesson for these students,” she said. And it’s much more than they have been able to do in the past, she added.

Marketing students typically have an imaginary client to apply what they learn about the four P’s of marketing – product, price, place and promotion – but when the food service department indicated a desire to learn from their customers how they could improve their products and service Askey and her class were up for the challenge, she said.

“It was mutually beneficial for our students and for the food service department, but beyond that this project has really allowed our students to get a first hand view of how effective marketing can be and to examine the relationship the customer has with a product and with a service provider,” said Askey. “This is real world experience that can’t be taught in a classroom.”

LSC-Tomball Director of Business & Auxiliary Services Carol Wheelersaid they couldn’t have paid for better information.

“We can’t afford to have professional marketing people come in to assess our food service program so we were open to have this class take on this project,” saidWheeler. “Even if we had hired someone I don’t believe they would have been able to get the same information. This was students talking to students and so they don’t hold back in that situation. In fact, we got some really good suggestions such as having a $1 rack like fast food chains often have and many others. We are really looking forward to seeing through the recommendations from the class on this project.”

LSC-Tomball Marketing student Melvin Wilson said the project has not only helped him in the classroom, but has opened his eyes to everyday marketing around him.

“I find myself analyzing everything when before I never paid much attention to how a product was packaged or anything like that,” said Wilson, who is working on a marketing certificate and is employed by the Transportation Security Administration of the Department of Homeland Security.

Marketing student Lori Ball – who is working on a Human Resources Management degree – said she knows the project has already had a positive impact on the college food service department.

“When we got this assignment I never even knew LSC-Tomball had a coffee bar,” she said. “But now I’ve been there five times already and only once was for the project.”

Lone Star College-Tomball is located at 30555 Tomball Parkway in Tomball.

The Lone Star College System consists of five colleges, including Cy-Fair, Kingwood, Montgomery, North Harris, and Tomball, six centers and Lone Star College-University Center. With 49,250 students, it is the largest college system in the Houston area, and third largest community college district in Texas. To learn more, visit http://www.lonestar.edu/.