Memorial students to compete at DECA international meet
Manchester Memorial juniors Kayla Chaloge, from left, Emily Brady and Keara Smith will attend the DECA international conference in California with their state championship winning project. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
The trio of 17-year-old juniors - Keara Smith, Kayla Chaloge and Emily Brady - are among Memorial's 31 state winners who will compete for a share of $300,000 in college scholarships at the International Career Development Conference in Anaheim, Calif., April 24-27.
"We're all wicked into fashion," said Smith, so a bridal shop website was a good fit.
The project called for an in-depth analysis of the website to determine its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Then the trio - who are still trying to raise funds to pay for their trip - made business recommendations and provided a budget proposal.
Creating a winning entry took more than enthusiasm and a good idea. It took marketing teachers who inspire and who push.
Citing marketing teacher Judy Johnson, Smith said: "She definitely pushes us. She knows that we can do it."
Smith said the Marketing II class started the year with about 30 students and is now about half that size. She's in it for the long term.
"It changes your whole outlook on life," she said. "It's inspiring. It's really cool."
The team approached Bedford's Modern Bride & Formal Shop owner Brian Fortin for their project, and he agreed. Fortin said the contacts were done by email, a "modern" way of communicating.
"It was very impressive," he said. They had a detailed and specific list of information needed. "They were very precise. . They knew what they wanted to know."
Fortin was familiar with DECA. His daughter, now studying marketing in college, was in it for two years in high school, and his son is involved now. Both children chose projects connected to the family business.
One of his daughter's projects was to design an event at the store to promote its prom business. His son's project is designed to increase the store's prom tuxedo business.
"He's the one who came up with the idea," Fortin said.
He's already put some of his daughter's website ideas into practice and is open to learning from the latest team's analysis and recommendations. To be successful, he said, businesses need to be open to change.
"These kids have great ideas," he said, and he is always open to finding ways to attract customers who will spread the word about his business and come back themselves. That's critical for a specialty business like his, he said.
Fortin said the prom business is about 20 percent of his total business, but word spreads quickly about a good or bad experience. And the odds are that if the experience is a good one, those customers, as well as their friends, will return when they are in the market for bridal party clothing.
Smith and her teammates are excited about their win at the state level, but it is just one step toward the scholarship prize. "We are trying not to be cocky. Just to be self-confident," she said.
Smith said the team's plan calls for more website changes. She said the team has yet to share its proposal, but said it is an eight-step plan to revise the website.
"One of the steps is to update all website information, which would include testimonials," she said, since the current site's latest are from 2008.
Other steps are to update/create social media, make directions simple by adding Google maps, changing header links and adding contact information to the title, she said.
DECA's mission statement says it prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management at the high school and college levels.
Smith is hooked. "It changes your whole outlook on life," she said. "I am going to be in business and marketing at UNH," she said, adding that she plans to then get a master's degree at a Boston school.
As for her teammates, Smith said: "Emily's dream is to have her own bridal boutique." Smith said Chaloge hasn't made a final decision yet, but the choice is between nursing and marketing.
The team doesn't know how many competitors it had in its category at the state competition, or how many it will face in California.
"After the judge has read the 30-page proposal, we go into a room and propose our plan," Smith said.
But the team isn't taking any chances. "We have a chance to revamp the project," she said, before submitting it for the international competition.
Marketing teacher Johnson is pleased with the victory of Smith, Chaloge and Brady, but she's proud of all 61 students who competed in the state competition.
"We had our best year ever," she said.
Seventeen of the Memorial students won first place in their category, and 30 of them placed high enough to be going to the international competition.
The Manchester students will be among more than 12,000 marketing students from North America, China, Puerto Rico and Guam competing for scholarships.
Events range from industry specific competency-based categories where students complete a 100-question exam and conduct role-play scenarios with corporate business professionals to writing 30-page papers in marketing research, public relations, advertising campaigns or community service.
Johnson said the participants must also prepare a 15-minute presentation explaining their project results.
Johnson said the usual source of funding for the trip has nearly dried up.
The DECA members run a store at the school, but recent restrictions on what can be sold - the latest a ban on diet soda - means that students must raise virtually all the $1,200 trip cost themselves.
She wrote a letter students can use in soliciting donations from businesses, medical providers, family members and friends. She said many businesses allocate a certain amount for tax-deductible donations to nonprofits, and this California trip is one.
Because donations to the DECA program are tax-deductible, the letter makes it easy to do by including DECA's nonprofit tax ID number.
Checks can be made out to Memorial High School DECA, 1 Crusader Way, Manchester, NH 03103.
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