National Retail Federation Student Challenge winners
National Retail Federation Student Challenge winners

Children are twelve times more distracting than mobile phones. They can also be messy as their Cheerios spill on floors and stuffed toys roll under seats. To solve parental problems of car safety and organization, Mays Business School students developed a proposal for the “Backseat Bib” as part of the National Retail Federation Student Challenge, a national competition to bring a new product to the retail market. The team for four Aggies won against 13 universities and schools, and gained the attention of Babies”R”Us, America’s leading retailer for baby products and safety.

The competition began in September 2013 with the critical step to come up with a big idea that customers will buy. Next, the team created a 90-second video pitch and 10-page business plan demonstrating its understanding of target market, trends, competitors, marketing, finance and retail concepts. Over a dozen retail executive judges from companies like H-E-B, REI, Sur La Table, and others critiqued the business plan and advanced the Aggies to Round II. In November, a different panel of judges grilled through group via a phone Q&A session about their business plan. Two days after exams ended, the team learned they advanced to the final round and would have a lot of work to do over the winter break!

Four M.B. Zale Leadership Scholars, or student ambassadors of Mays retail education program, competed. They included: Christina Tharp ’14, Allie Miller ’14, Diandra Esparza ’15 and Jamie Roy ’15. Last year, Christina and Allie won top presenter awards in the Stanley Marcus Retail Audit competition, though they did not know each other going into this competition. Allie is president of the Student Retailing Association; Diandra and Jamie are officers in the organization and both juniors. All are earning the Certificate in Retailing through the Department of Marketing, and aspire for professional retail careers.

By advancing to the final round, the team netted $10,000 to cover their travel to New York City and participation in the National Retail Federation Big Show, retail’s largest educational and trade show event attracting an international audience of 30,000. On January 10, 2014, the team pitched the Backseat Bib product to executives from STORY, and HSNi. On Sunday, competition sponsor announced that Texas A&M University won first prize in front of a general session audience of 5,000. The top finish earned each student an additional $2,500 in scholarships.

Kelli Hollinger, Associate Director of the Center for Retailing Studies, coached the team and said she was impressed with their creativity, passion, depth of research and competitive spirit. “The Backseat Bib is a truly original product.”

Christina Tharp, who delivered the original video pitch, said, “We all brought different strengths to the table, and learned to work so well as a team.”

The group is not finished. With an invitation from Toys”R”Us to “call us” about the Backseat Bib, the team is reaching out to Aggieland Startup for guidance in applying for a provisional patent. They now also think about retail careers not just as store operations and merchandising, but entrepreneurship. Tharp said, “We fully expect the Backseat Bib to be a must-have baby registry item.”

Additionally, Allie Miller received a $10,000 Next Generation Scholarship through the National Retail Federation. Only five retailing students across America were nominated for this prestigious award.

About Mays Business School

Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,000 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.