Market potential: How Dal students helped Halifax's Seaport Farmers' Market better manage clients

- August 6, 2014

The team of Dal MBA students who worked on the Seaport Farmers' Market project. (Nick Pearce photo)
The team of Dal MBA students who worked on the Seaport Farmers' Market project. (Nick Pearce photo)

Anyone who’s been to the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market knows it’s a bustling place. The Market has over 260 vendors, and thousands of customers.

It’s also the perfect place for a group of MBA students to try out some of their new skills.

As part of their program, students in their second year of the Corporate Residency MBA Program at Dal take on real-life assignments in the community. These “Make a Difference” – or “MAD” – projects are “designed to provide an applied and integrated learning experience,” explains Jenny Baechler, associate director of the Corporate Residency MBA Program and one of four faculty members from the Rowe School of Business involved with the MAD projects.

“They’re applying theories and skills in strategy formation and implementation along with competencies in other areas of business such as marketing, finance, operations, and organizational behaviour for a live partner in the community.”

Helping develop stronger relationships

Kaleigh Brinkhurst, from the Eastern Shore, and Morley Pendergast, from Cape Breton, worked on a MAD team with four other students this year. They created a client management system, or CRM, to help the Seaport Market develop and strengthen relationships with farmers and fishermen in Nova Scotia.

For Julie Chaisson, executive director of the market, the timing was perfect. “Public consultations told us that our customers wanted more farmers and fishermen in the market — it was our most pressing need.”

The student team developed a strategy and created a list of potential vendors. The province was divided into three territories: Truro and Tatamagouche region, Annapolis Valley, and Eastern and South Shores. “We’d reach out, record our conversations and outcomes, and then Morley developed the CRM to keep track of everything,” explains Kaleigh.

“The ultimate goal is to give the Seaport Market a package of contact information to establish the connections they could make,” adds Morley. “I created a database they could easily work with.” At the end of the project, the database was handed over to Seaport Market staff along with a customized training video.

“The students approached us and were enthusiastic, asked great questions, and it was a very, very positive experience,” says Julie. “They went out to different farmers and fishermen and gave accurate and up-to-date information about the market. They sourced the contacts, made the calls and wrote the emails. It generated a lot of phone calls to me. Ten new farms contacted us and wanted to be part of the market!”

The result? Everyone wins – students, faculty, the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, and its vendors.

A rewarding experience

Kaleigh is now working in commercial agriculture with Scotiabank in Calgary, and says the experience of building relationships with farmers really helped her understand their needs. Morley now works in marketing at Acadian Seaplants, an international position involved with all divisions of the company. Both graduated in the spring, and both are eager to point out that it took the whole team of six students to make the project happen.

Jenny Baechler emphasizes that a broad range of faculty members are involved in making MAD projects happen, and that it’s an important exercise in planning and teaching.

The realness of the project is what really hits home for everyone involved. “The best part of the experience for me came afterwards, hearing about the Seaport gaining new vendors from our work,” says Morley. “It was something we did – a real project, not just another paper.”

It’s the distinction between learning theory in the classroom and applying it to real-world problems, according to Jenny. “They made a difference and made something happen for an organization that does important work.”

The Seaport Market’s Julie Chaisson says it best: “We love them! I can’t say enough good things about them. We’re thrilled!” she laughs. “Any time we can work with students, and provide teaching and learning opportunities, it’s a great experience.”

Interested in working with Rowe School of Business students on class-based consulting projects? Learn more about this open opportunity for Nova Scotia organizations.


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