Marketing students develop product along with web business

Noah Hausmann

An NMU marketing class has developed and is now selling customized phone pockets with the iconic Great Lakes and Upper Peninsula logos on them.

Students from MKT470: E-commerce and Marketing class have started the company UPockets, a web business project designed to allow students, who are predominantly seniors, to gain real-world experience operating an internet business before entering the job force.

“I hadn’t had that much experience in the field for my major,” said senior public relations major Jalyn Dagenais, who is the project lead for UPocket’s PR team. “But with this, I get to learn hands-on.”

Adjunct assistant professor Derek Hall, who is also the assistant vice president of marketing and communications at NMU, regularly instructs introductory-level courses in the marketing department, but this semester was his first time teaching e-commerce.

re-DerekHallHall said he looked at how the class was taught before, and how the textbook used in the past was about 800 pages and cost $250.

“I thought that [book] was daunting for me, let alone for the students,” Hall added with a grin.

Hall restructured the class. Instead of a textbook he decided his students would be required to choose a product, redesign it and sell it online as an e-commerce business.

From the start of class in January, Hall set April 1, 2017 as the product launch deadline. In a little over 10 weeks the 20 students had to figure out what product they’d sell, create the online business and develop a marketing campaign.

They had a dozen ideas but narrowed it down to the phone pocket because they could buy them cheaply from a local vendor, customize them and they’re easy to ship, Hall
explained. A UPocket is an adhesive sleeve that can hold wallet items, such as debit cards and student IDs, that attaches to the back of a cellphone. There are two different designs to buy—one is with the Upper Peninsula outline in copper on the face of the pocket and the other is of the Great Lakes in blue.

UPockets are sold online-only from the website upockets.com. Customers can buy one pocket for $4.99 or $7.99 for a two-pocket bundle.

From each $4.99 sale, the company nets $2, Hall explained.

Instead of using university funds, Hall himself is the UPockets company’s sole investor, putting in about $400 of his own money for the start-up. Through sales the company has made $825 so far, recouping Hall’s investment and netting the rest as revenue. Sales have been to customers as far away as Florida and Alaska.

The class met for three hours once a week to create their business. The students, whose majors range from business to psychology, split into specialized groups to create a website, social media profile pages, advertising, public relations, a viral video and to design the product.

“All the things they’d talk about before in their marketing classes, they do in class now,” Hall said.

Students used current industry marketing books on e-commerce rather than textbooks, and Hall also brought in guest speakers from the field to give the students advice, including self-proclaimed U.P. ambassador Bugsy Sailor. Sailor also became a local social media influencer to sponsor the product. The day after Sailor posted UPockets on his website was the company’s largest day of sales, Hall said.

“I’ve learned it’s a lot of work to start your own business,”

Dagenais added. “But now I know I have the skills to do so.”