Out of the class, into the
trenches (The Keene Sentinel, April 25, 2009)
Jason C. Little, associate professor of marketing at Franklin Pierce
University, works with FPU’s Small Business Advisory Group. Students in
the group gain real-world experience working with area businesses, and
those businesses gain from the students’ unique perspectives and
Experience a win-win for businesses, students
By Anika Clark
Published: Saturday, April 25, 2009
RINDGE — The get-your-feet-wet benefits of student teaching is hardly a new
concept. However, college small business advisory groups have taken this model
and turned it on its head. Instead of leading a classroom full of juice-box
toting 5-year-olds, the charges of student consultants are seasoned business
Jason C. Little, associate professor of marketing at Franklin Pierce University,
calls this “reverse mentoring” and says it can prove a valuable asset to
students and companies alike.
“You’re looking at a team of consultants,” he said of his students, while
describing the real-world experience they gain. “Just the value in that,
compared to just a classroom setting, is just really much more striking.”
Little works with Franklin Pierce’s Small Business Advisory Group program, which
he said colleague Benjamin Gardiner started more than a decade ago.
Through the one-credit course, students lend the skills they’ve learned on
campus to the real world.
Past clients have included the town of Marlow, Jaffrey’s Park Theatre and
Keene’s New Hampshire Dance Institute.
More recently, Little’s students worked with Nancy M. Petrillo and Charles R.
Criss, co-owners of Lindy’s Diner in Keene.
Like other former clients interviewed, Petrillo said she learned about the
Franklin Pierce University group through the Keene branch of the N.H. Small
Business Development Center.
While the iconic diner that boasts the slogan “Hot, Fast, & Cheap” is no secret
to locals, the Franklin Pierce student group spent a year targeting ways to help
increase the diner’s exposure.
A team of students designed Lindy’s first Web site, which features a link to a
slide presentation on the video-sharing Web site You Tube.
“In this day and age, I think that you need to have a Web site if you want to be
in business,” said Petrillo, while saying she doubted the undertaking was
something she had the talent or patience to accomplish on her own.
Senior Timothy J. Anson-Pritchard approached a Keene State College resident
adviser about the possibility of advertising in campus dormitories.
Students also researched the cost of advertising in the student newspapers at
Franklin Pierce and Keene State College.
They priced promotional products ranging from coffee mugs to umbrellas. And they
suggested various ways to revamp the restaurant’s menus.
“They did ... a great presentation and they treated us like a client,” Petrillo
said. “It was just like the real world.”
About two years ago, a Franklin Pierce small business advisory group also lent
its services to Swanzey firm M.C. Wheel Repair & Powder Coating.
In addition to making a sample promotional flier and advertising the business on
the Franklin Pierce radio station, the students helped address what owner Noah
Sax described as his greatest business hurdle — making the public understand
what his company’s all about.
“My biggest challenge is people even knowing that this can be done,” he said of
his firm’s motorcycle and car wheel restoration work. “Most people just wind up
throwing away their wheels and just buying new ones.”
Sax said the students schooled him on using meta tags to improve his ranking on
search engine returns and to reach out to what he calls his “bread and butter”
business — customers from all over the country who send him their busted wheels
Before working with the Franklin Pierce students, Sax said his company
consistently popped up within the top 10 results of Internet searches of
Now, he said, he finds himself more regularly in the top 5.
A Google search Thursday, using the phrase “motorcycle wheel repair,” placed M.C.
Wheel Repair at the beginning of 290,000 hits.
It is in this realm — technology — that Little said his students can provide
some of their most valuable assistance to their clients.
Franklin Pierce students demonstrated their tech savvy a couple of years ago
when they worked with the Peterborough beauty product company Le FP Green Body
During that semester, students created a short film that owner Josee Dupont said
she had posted on her Web site until recently.
In the video, which Dupont called “icing” for her site, she spoke about her
best-selling “Anti-Monster” immune-boosting sprays.
“If I had (the video) done professionally, it would have cost me an arm and a
leg,” she said.
Leaving business clients with the best possible “deliverables” — or concrete
marketing tools — is a primary goal Little says he has for the program.
But several business people said one of the greatest values of the students’
work is a little less concrete.
Deborah B. Buxton, who co-owns New England Forest Products Inc. in Greenfield
with her husband, David, said when the Franklin Pierce students worked with her
company, they brought with them a “good, young energy.”
“They’re my kids’ ages, so it was a different lens that we could see our
business through,” she said.
Petrillo, of Lindy’s, echoed her.
“They looked at the diner with fresh eyes, saying, ‘It’s a little too crowded.’
... It was really nice to have someone come in and tell me that,” she said.
Petrillo said she hasn’t yet determined what printing the colored take-out menus
the students designed would cost. But, she said she is taking their advice about
using an extra page to de-clutter her in-house menu.
“I think that we will take a lot of their suggestions,” she said.
As Sax, of M.C. Wheels, continues to work toward increasing the public’s
understanding of his business, he said meeting with the Franklin Pierce students
showed him how well he’s accomplished this.
“It’s always good to get a fresh perspective ... to see how other people see the
things that we do,” he said. “I’ve been doing it so long that it’s hard for me
to even imagine.”
Of course, the students also get something out of the deal.
“I think just being able to work with a client — actually communicate with them
— that’s the main thing that I took out of it,” senior Trisha A. Slowinski said.
“And it wasn’t learned in an actual classroom.”
Little and the students who worked on Lindy’s Web site described that certain
“je ne sais quoi” of dealing with unexpected technology failures and a looming
And senior Josh M. Lupinek learned that better communication with clients from
the get-go saves time redoing work later.
Meanwhile, the students are emerging from the class with their own
“deliverables” to help market themselves — an electronic copy of the group’s
work and testimonial letters from the small business development center and
And the fact that they can boast in-the-trenches experience might also make them
more attractive to employers, according to Susan B. Newcomer, workforce
development coordinator for the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber of commerce called on Franklin Pierce students several years ago to
do a survey about the level of retail customer service skills in Keene.
“Any time a student can get outside of the campus and work,” she said, “They
make the contacts, but they can also add something to their resume which
distinguishes them from others.”
Deborah Buxton of New England Forest Products similarly seemed to recognize her
role in helping bring up tomorrow’s workforce.
Buxton described her and her husband’s work at New England Forest Products as
rooted in concepts of sustainability.
On this front, she said new workers will need to resume where her generation
“This next generation of college students, they need to pick up the gauntlet,”
Anika Clark can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1432, or