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Harbert students from the Department of Supply Chain Management won the 2023 NGA Foundation
student case competition held in Las Vegas in March 2023. Members of the team are
(left to right) Jarrett Prizel, Braeden Stewart, Lilly Shuhda and Jack Hixson,
A team of four supply chain management undergraduates–Jack Hixson, Jarrett Prizel, Lilly Shuhda and Braeden Stewart—recently won the 2023 National Grocers Association (NGA) Foundation-sponsored Student Case Study Competition, prevailing over 10 other schools while helping a retail grocer find solutions to real-world challenges.
This year’s competition addressed employee recruitment and retention issues faced by many independent grocery retailers nationwide following the pandemic-induced labor market upheaval. Dierbergs Markets, a fourth-generation family grocery retailer with 4,000 associates in 25 stores across the St. Louis metropolitan area, was the case competition partner, providing proprietary business and employment statistics for the student teams.
“They encountered the same problems that grocers across the nation had with the Great Resignation,” said Stewart. “People just wanted more out of their work, and they wouldn’t stay even if you paid them more.”
According to Stewart, the Auburn team focused its retention solution on achievement, empowerment, and recognition.
Specifically, they proposed several novel initiatives, including creating a mentorship program to connect more experienced employees with younger workers, enhancing Dierbergs’ training platform for more dynamic employee training, introducing an employee scheduling app known as 7shifts, and offering employees financial flexibility through DailyPay, an app that allows employees to access wages before pay day.
“We also proposed having associates earn certifications that they can add to their resume,” said Stewart, who along with his teammates split a $4,000 cash prize. “We pitched a bachelor’s scholarship program, where high-level associates could earn a degree. And we proposed a corporate retreat for the top 150 [employees] that you want to celebrate.”
To prepare for the competition, Department of Supply Chain Management (SCM) faculty Tony Roath and Tyler Morgan offered the students a one-credit-hour course, where guest lecturers introduced key concepts that would help them develop a solution for the case.
“We wanted to be a well-rounded team, so we invited other disciplines into the class to teach the students,” said Roath, noting that the Auburn students were the only SCM team in the competition.
The guest lecturers included Auburn alumnus Rick Varacalle, who provided guidance on overall case strategy; Franklin Littleton, lecturer and managing director of Auburn’s Center for Supply Chain Innovation; Colin Gabler, associate professor of marketing; and Jeff Long, assistant dean for finance and administration.
These guest speakers helped the team excel, Stewart said, and Professor Long’s finance-focused session helped the team tie costs to each of its proposed solutions for Dierbergs Markets.
“That helped us stand out among the teams,” said Stewart. “The other [teams] didn’t have as robust financials. [Dierbergs] knew if they wanted to take our playbook and implement it next week, they could have that capability and know the costs.”
Roath also acknowledged the financial support the team has received from Auburn business alumnus Jimmy Lee III, which enables them to compete in case competitions. Lee is chairman of the board and owner of Buffalo Rock Company, the largest privately-held, single-family-owned Pepsi-Cola franchise in the United States with distribution centers in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
While the win is nice, the real value of this type of competition, according to Roath, is getting the SCM students out of their comfort zone and expanding their horizons.
“The biggest thing is the interdisciplinary approach,” said Roath. “[Our students] get to see what other disciplines are doing. Supply chain students need to understand all the moving parts, which influences your ability to move a product. The more interdisciplinary we are and the more we get our students involved, the better.”