From Retail to e-Tail: Jenkins MBA Students Dig into a Timely Case Study, Discussion with Key Players

MBA students can expect to analyze and discuss in depth several business cases in the course of their studies. Not all, though, will have the chance to discuss the case with members of the management team at the company being analyzed and the author of the case study.

That, however, was the situation for two groups of Jenkins MBA students at the NC State University Poole College of Management this fall. One of their cases, “Audio Advice: From Retail to E-Tail,” was written by Michael Stanko, associate professor of marketing at Poole College. It focused on the strategic analysis and planning that went into the October 2016 launch of the high performance audio equipment retailer’s e-commerce website, audioadvice.com. The web project itself was led by Jonathan Stephens, general manager for Audio Advice Online and a 2012 NC State Jenkins MBA graduate.

Scott Newnam, president and CEO of Audio Advice (seated, right) listened to students' discussing the Audio Advice case during the Jenkins MBA Oct. 16 evening class session at the program's RTP site.
Scott Newnam, president and CEO of Audio Advice (seated, right) first listened and then joined in the students’ discussion the Audio Advice case during the Jenkins MBA Oct. 16 evening class session at the program’s RTP site.

On October 16 and 17, Stephens and Scott Newnam, president and chief executive officer of the company, joined the Jenkins MBA students for their discussions of the case, with Newnam attending the Jenkins MBA program’s classroom location in Research Triangle Park and Stephens attending the session held at Nelson Hall on the NC State campus.

Coming back to campus and “being on the other side of the case” was an interesting experience, Stephens said. “I had Mike’s course in 2010 – in the same classroom – when I was introduced to his case study methodology and framework,” he said, adding that he has used both when working on his own startup and for presentations with senior leadership when working at Bandwidth and now at Audio Advice. Stanko’s course, he said, “was influential in my career, and I would attribute my successes in my career to that framework.”

Stephens has maintained contact with his former professor and brought Stanko in for discussions with the Audio Advice team as the company began the strategic analysis that led to its new online presence. Stanko summarized that process into what Stephens called “a very relevant and current case study … that addressed branding and positioning for a 40-year-old brick and mortar company within today’s shifting retail dynamics.”

“I’m passionate about case teaching,” Stanko said when asked about the Audio Advice case. “To me, it is a great way to apply course knowledge and build an understanding of the decision-making process. I heard about some of the decisions that Audio Advice was making and thought it would be a great case. Their team has been very supportive while I was writing the case and throughout the publication process, so big thanks to them.”

When asked why he invited the management team to the classroom discussions, Stanko said he had several reasons. “First, I think it makes the case more real; the students can relate to the pressures that the decision makers were under. Second, I think students can relate to Jonathan, as an alumnus of the program, and perhaps that can help broaden the students’ perspective on what their own career path might bring.”

Stephens joined the Audio Advice team in 2015, to lead the transformation of the high end audio equipment store with showroom locations in Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C., into a national e-commerce brand. In addition to his work with Stanko, Stephens said he worked closely with Lewis Sheats, Poole College professor of the practice in entrepreneurship and director of the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic, as well as with a team of clinic students and other Triangle-area partners throughout the process of developing audioadvice.com.

Cody Shipman, a third-year student in the NC State Jenkins MBA Online Program, shared his key takeaways from this case study and discussion with Newnam.

  • ”Marketing strategies are complex and even seemingly simple decisions are worth careful consideration. It would appear that any strategy could have been used in this case but digging deeper through the details, it really does make more sense to not split away from the original brand.
  • “Marketing channels are an asset to a company that are not developed overnight. Important supplier relationships take time, and these meaningful relationships are critical to a company’s long-term success. Also, chasing sales markets based solely on numbers is dangerous. Other factors such as long-term sustainability of the sales model and maintaining quality supplier relationships of the business are something that cannot be ignored.
  • “Talking with the company president and CEO was a great opportunity to delve even deeper into the case study. Scott’s perspective as part of the decision-making team in the case was great to have and made the case more relatable. It was a valuable learning experience to ask him directly about Audio Advice’s marketing strategies, strategic thinking and advertising ideas.
  • “For me, the concepts of marketing were definitely easier to understand and truly learn in a case study environment. Dr. Stanko did a great job facilitating those conversations in class and adding Scott to the case discussion was a neat idea. Learning from both of them was fun.

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