A little over one year after launch, the founders of the booming Pace Mart talk about their success, the obstacles they faced to get there, and the invaluable lessons they learned along the way.
In early 2014, Professor Kathryn Winsted, PhD, pitched a unique business proposition to her marketing students: gain practical experience by founding and running a café in the Mortola Library. As an existing adviser to the successful student-run Pace Perk Café, Winsted saw an opportunity for another successful venture, and a handful of students took her up on the challenge—including Kristina Vukaj ’15, Donald Dudley ’15, Shanna Saravia ’16, and Benedetta DiBartolo ’15, who made up the 2014–2015 senior management staff. Under Winsted’s guidance, they put together a business proposal for Pace Mart, which has since become a fixture on the Westchester Campus in Pleasantville and is part of the Center for Student Enterprise, which initiates and coordinates student-run businesses in PLV including the Pace Perk and Pace Connect, a student-run research and call center that began in 2012.
Pace Mart launched in April of 2014 and was run out of a corner of the library by the reference stacks. Employees wheeled goods in and out of a storage closet. They had a cash register that was donated by the University, large loans, twelve employees, and little else. One year in, business is booming. The number of employees has grown, foot traffic has shot up to the tune of 150 customers daily, business is profitable, and they’ve expanded to offer hot coffee, refrigerated goods, microwaveable goods (with a microwave on hand), and a variety of convenience items for students who can’t drive off campus. The Mart is now operating out of a newly-renovated room in the same corner where they started. There is now a permanent Pace Mart store and staff no longer has to wheel goods in and out of a closet.
Things weren’t always so rosy for the Pace Mart. Its founders had two distinct challenges before the business could even get off the ground. One was convincing a group of skeptical librarians that Pace Mart was a good idea; the other was pitching it to the University’s administration. Both were difficult, and a little nerve-wracking. But after making solid presentations to both parties, the team succeeded. They got the funding they needed, as well as permission to use an underutilized space in the library. They were also able to bundle in the construction of the current Pace Mart store with existing repairs and electrical renovations in the library that the University had planned.
Their successes found them face-to-face with a new challenge: getting accepted to the meal plan. With some canny thinking and a persuasive presentation on the part of the cofounders, they were able to get the Pace Mart on the voluntary meal plan and accept Flex Dollars. “It has increased foot traffic tremendously,” said Saravia, “because students are also willing to use meal plan money to buy the convenience goods we have in the store—like toilet paper, lighters, toothbrushes, and socks.”
The next step was to raise awareness on campus about the new shop. Winsted’s marketing students, particularly DiBartolo, the marketing manager for Pace Mart, came up with a solid two-pronged game plan for gaining attention. The approach was simple. They would raise awareness via social media using hashtags and promotions for free coffee, provide quality local goods and great coffee from Double Barrel Roasters and Enrico’s Bakery, and then offer loyalty card incentives and secret phrases to keep customers coming back. DiBartolo also designed a logo and created the slogan “You want it, we’ve got it” for the new store.
With the installation of a new freezer and a microwave, the ingredients for success fell into place for Pace Mart.
Tackling these challenges and bringing Pace Mart to profitability has benefitted the students beyond just their resume. It’s given them impressive real-life experience to bring up in interviews. Vukaj explains “When I was interviewing with JP Morgan, they asked me a hypothetical question: ‘If you were running a small business, and you weren’t generating revenue, what would you look at first?’ And at the time, we were experiencing just that and handling it well. I told him how we approached getting our business out of the red, and he said, ‘You’re already doing exactly what businesses want you to do. That’s exactly the skill set we need at firms like this.’”
The other cofounders and senior managers have found equally impressive success. Dudley secured a full-time position with Hudson Financial, and Saravia netted herself a summer internship with Deloitte. DiBartolo is currently interning at an event-planning company, where she manages their social media following. “They were impressed by the way I grew a following alone and helped Pace Mart succeed,” DiBartolo says.
As several of the cofounders graduate and Saravia rises to the position of general manager from CFO, they look ahead to the future of Pace Mart. They’re recruiting heavily with a particular focus on candidates and senior managers with passion for the success of the business. Saravia doesn’t expect new employees to function like a well-oiled machine right away, but she does have some strong expectations: “I expect them to be as good as they can be and learn as much as they can. I hope they can gain as much experience as we all have.”
The departing cofounders agreed on one thing: they hope that the new managers continue their legacy and build Pace Mart into an even greater campus success story.
Want to learn more about Pace Mart, the Pace Perk, and Pace Connect? Watch this video about the Center for Student Enterprise.
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