Retail Assistance Program Connects Students with Rural Retailers

Opening weekend at Berg's Country Barn

In partnership with University Extension’s Neil Linscheid, Associate Professors Hye-Young Kim, Hyunjoo Im, and Ph.D. students Claire Whang and Sanga Song have developed the Joint Retail Assistance Program, a project designed to forge connections between retail merchandising students and retailers in rural Minnesota.

This November, the researchers put their project into action and invited Amanda Phillips (Retail Merchandising) to act as the lead design student for the first trial run of the program: helping small-business owner Anita Berg reimagine Berg’s Country Barn, a holiday pop-up store in her family’s barn.

“From the moment I was asked to be a part of this project I started doing a lot of exploratory research. I visited Berg’s Country Barn with the faculty to see it first-hand and to talk with Anita about what she could use our help with for the pop-up store. She was very transparent with us about her business, and was able to verbalize the aesthetic of the holiday environment she wanted to create,” said Phillips.

Amanda Phillips consulting with Anita Berg.

Amanda Phillips consults with Anita Berg.

With Berg’s vision in mind, Phillips conducted research on current retailing trends for the holiday shopping season and came up with a design brief to pitch. The brief included four design concepts that Phillips felt her team of students could accomplish within the project’s allotted time.  

“The first concept was to update the business branding on social media by giving them a unified logo. The second concept was to improve the store setting by creating a backdrop for the barn to draw customers’ eyes to the barn walls. The idea was to utilize recycled pallets and create a distressed pallet wall with the new laser cut Berg’s Country Barn Logo across the wall. This is not only an aesthetic choice but also helps with marketing. Concept three was to bring the essence of the holiday to the exterior of the barn. I wanted customers to know this was a holiday shop, not just another barn. The final concept was to add in rustic elements to the barn to create that nostalgic vibe,” explained Phillips.

Amanda Phillips building the pallet wall in Berg's Country Barn.

Amanda Phillips in front of the new pallet wall at Berg’s Country Barn.

To complete all four concepts of her design brief, Phillips called upon her fellow design students for help. “Cathryn Wunrow (Retail Merchandising) helped me ideate this project, Allison Sterneman (Graphic Design) assisted with developing the new Berg’s Country Barn logo, and Natalia Piela (B.D.A., B.F.A ’17, Architecture) sketched the actual logo. I also owe a big thank you to my dad, Gary Phillips, who dropped everything at work to drive from Milwaukee to help me build the pallet wall.” With the help of faculty, student team members, and family all of Phillips’ design concepts were implemented within a month, ensuring that the pop-up was ready for peak holiday shopping season.

“I feel so lucky to have been a part of the Retail Assistance Program team. It was a dream come true to utilize the design skills and business knowledge I’ve gained during my four years at the U. I also feel very blessed to have been partnered with Anita, she’s an example of what I aspire to be one day.”

Amanda Phillips and Anita Berg

Amanda Phillips and Anita Berg show off the new logo for Berg’s Country Barn.

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