Old School: Students provide counsel to vintage clothing business

April 28, 2011

Indiana State University senior Amber Dicus enjoys vintage T-shirts of rock bands. She has even traveled to Indianapolis to get some apparel, unaware that a storefront just down the street from her college campus sells some of those same items.

It was an interesting lesson to learn when she signed up for a class project.

Dicus is the leader of a group of seven seniors in the Sycamore Business Advisors class helping Thriftstore Cowboy Vintage, a store in downtown Terre Haute that sells old, yet still popular, clothing. The group from ISU's Scott College of Business is creating a five-year growth plan to help the store, which has been in its current location for almost 18 months, generate more business.

"If I had known, I could've gone there instead of going to Indy for some things," Dicus said of Thriftstore Cowboy Vintage. "I feel like there is a market there, but (the owners) just really have to try to tap into it."

Sycamore Business Advisors is one of the 400-level courses that business majors are required to take. The advisors perform professional-level consulting work for not-for-profits and small businesses, such as Thriftstore Cowboy Vintage.

The store's location in downtown Terre Haute is just a couple blocks from ISU's campus. Still, despite the store's proximity to several thousand potential customers, most of the company's business is generated by internet sales, said Patrick Feild. He and his wife, Mary, own the store.

They hope the advising work will improve in-store sales to equal with the company's online revenue so that the store not only pays for itself, but generates most of their income, Patrick Feild said.

"I just started doing this, and it got bigger and bigger, and I made adjustments and everything," he added. "To have somebody who is used to working with businesses and in a business environment, and with industry standard fundamentals and principles, I'm willing to take input" from them.

The store primarily serves people between the ages of 18 and 35, he said.

"It's kind of like working with our market directly," Feild added, referencing working with the ISU students.

Feild considers items to be vintage once they've aged 15 years. People begin feeling nostalgic about their adolescence after about a decade and a half has passed, he added.

The group of ISU advisors met with Feild several times through the semester to develop the plan.

"These are recommendations that we are making, and we have outlined costs in terms of money and hours spent for the next five years," said Dicus, a senior finance major from Jasonville, Ind.

Seniors Abby Smith, a marketing major from Brazil, Ind.; Taryn Tooley, a marketing major from Papineua, Ill.; Nick Nichols, a management major from Casey, Ill.; Stephanie Gardner, a finance major from Shelbyville, Ind., Ian Littlejohn, a finance major from Casey, Ill., and Andrew Fields, a finance major from Terre Haute are working with Dicus on the vintage store project.

The origins of Thriftstore Cowboy Vintage can be traced to one of Feild's first sales on the internet. He is interested in the culture and music from the 1960s and 1970s, and he helped create his collection with items that his uncle would buy at yard sales and flea markets. Feild sold some music memorabilia on an online auction site, and he realized that it had potential.

"So I figured if I could start doing that on a regular basis I could come up with enough stuff to resell on a regular basis," Feild said, "and from there it just kind of grew and grew and grew."

Mary and Patrick Feild began thrift shopping together to build up the store's inventory once they began selling items online. The store sells items through its website at www.thriftstorecowboyvintage.com.

The ISU group suggested promotional opportunities that could lead to more people learning about the store. They advised the store to team up with a local bar to have bands performing there to wear clothes from the store in exchange for the promotion.

Two different classes of advisors are consulting with five different organizations this semester. The initiative was first created in 2002, and business students have been involved every semester since.

"I'm very proud of the way it's developed, and its staying power," said Arthur Sherwood, ISU business professor who created the program. He and professor David Robinson are teaching the business advisors courses this semester.

Since Sherwood created the program, he hoped that more companies would be interested in working with the students than what a semester's workload would allow. Currently, about 10 companies are waiting to work with the business advisors in the future, he said.

"This isn't freshman or sophomore-level material," Sherwood said. "This is the culmination of four years of experience in the Scott College."

Dicus stressed out over the vintage clothing store project at first, she said, as group members needed to resolve issues on the case without much help from professors.

"They want you to figure it out," Dicus added, "so I think I have better leadership skills and better problem solving skills now just because I've had to figure things out instead of a teacher pointing things out on a chalkboard."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/SyBA-presentation/i-kfmZjhv/0/L/04_26_11_syba_presentation-9497-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)
Indiana State University senior Amber Dicus talks about her Sycamore Business Advisor group's project with Thriftstore Cowboy Vintage during a presentation on April 26. The group worked with store owners Patrick Feild and his wife, Mary, to create a five-year plan to help the store grow and develop.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/1259292020_pzGKsXn-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)
Patrick Feild and his wife, Mary, in their store, Thriftstore Cowboy Vintage, in downtown Terre Haute. They are working with a group of Indiana State University students in the Sycamore Business Advisors class, who are creating a five-year plan to help the store develop and grow.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/1259360211_T29qQ35-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)
The inside of Thriftstore Cowboy Vintage, a downtown Terre Haute store that sells vintage apparel. Owners Patrick Feild and his wife, Mary, are working with Indiana State University business students in the Sycamore Business Advisors class. The Feilds hope to make the store a larger part of their business, which also includes selling apparel over the internet.

Contact: Maria Greninger, director of external relations, Scott College of Business, Indiana State University, 812- 237-4357 or maria.greninger@indstate.edu.

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu.