Each semester, College of Business (CoB) students enrolled in the Alderson Entrepreneur Program work with Montana businesses and nonprofit organizations to gain practical business experience. The students work with companies to develop business, marketing and financial plans, identify ways to improve sales, suggest solutions to problems, re-brand, compile market and competition analysis, sales analysis, feasibility studies and help with human resources and customer service issues.
One company to take advantage of this opportunity is Merco Products, seller of the RiteTM Bobbin, a high-end tool used for fly tying.
The RiteTM Bobbin was an idea conceived by Bill Merg, a master fly tyer and manufacturing engineer. After perfecting the design, Merg and his wife began Merco Products in Sunnyvale, California in 1993.
Lyle Graff, a retired Northwest Airlines pilot, avid fly fisherman and fly tyer, had been using the bobbin and called the company to mention a problem he had with one of the bobbins. Expecting a “press 1 to speak to” message on the other end, he was surprised to hear a woman’s voice. When he asked for someone from RiteTM Bobbins, he heard, “Bill! It’s for you.” Graff became friends with the Mergs and eventually took over the business, before moving the headquarters to Nye, Montana in 2006.
Over the years, the bobbin has achieved a worldwide reputation and boasts the “Made in Montana” seal. However, sales were not increasing and in a small niche market, something needed to be done.
Originally, Graff’s daughter mentioned the consulting course to him, but he didn’t seriously consider the opportunity until he ran into a couple of CoB students in Ennis. He asked if they had heard anything about the consulting course. They said “Yeah we both took it and it was the best course we had in college.” This motivated Graff to look into the program. He e-mailed Gary Bishop, the instructor for MGMT 463 Entrepreneurial Experience. Graff was worried that the course wouldn’t take on such a small company, but Bishop contacted him to talk about Merco Products and see whether or not the business was a fit.
Michael Henrich and Shawn Menning were paired up with Merco Products through the MGMT 463 course. Graff said the challenge with his business was to raise his profile in an already small business sector with limited funds. Over the course of the semester, the students met face-to-face with Graff and his son, also in the business. Henrich and Menning met with the Graffs, once in Nye and once at the CoB for the final presentation and recommendation. Otherwise, they mainly corresponded with the Graffs over the phone and through e-mail.
After a semester of research and analyzing data, Henrich and Menning presented Graff with a list of suggested changes that would help the business increase sales and gain more exposure in the industry. Low-cost suggestions included creating a Facebook page and utilizing other social media avenues. Merco Products made most of the recommended changes, specifically the suggestion to boost online retail sales by producing a You Tube video, which they launched at the same time as the introduction of their new RiteTM Half Hitch Mag Bobbin. Graff said the students were “right on the money” with these suggestions. Their Facebook page now has had more than 100 fans and their first YouTube video has had more than 5,500 views.
This new bobbin was a concept that was developed with the assistance of a group of young MSU engineering alumni. They helped with the research and development of the product, machining of the parts and, best of all, they were already fly fishing and fly tying enthusiasts.
“The experience was very positive,” Graff said. He really enjoyed working with the CoB students, Gary Bishop and the MSU engineering alumni. “At first we were afraid these suggestions were going to cost a lot and be very time consuming, but the video took 20 minutes and costs were pretty minimal in the scheme of things.” Graff said that the students really exceeded his expectations.
In 2010, the new product, paired with the strategic marketing and promotion of the company and bobbin, has led to the company coming within a few hundred dollars in sales of doubling the best year the original owner ever had. The company has begun 2011 very strong and Graff says “they are working their tails off.”
Merco Products has once again signed on to work with MGMT 463 students this coming fall semester for further consultation. These consulting courses provide win-win opportunities with students gaining real-world experience with a variety of businesses—for profit and nonprofit—and local and state-wide businesses receiving valuable research and recommendations.
For more information regarding the consulting courses at MSU, please contact Gary Bishop, email@example.com or 994-7017.