Written by Miranda Bunnis

Farm to Feet, a North Carolina based sock manufacturer, teamed up with NC State’s Wilson College of Textiles students for their latest project: producing visual displays for the Nester Hosiery-owned brand.

This project began when Dave Petri, vice president of marketing at Nester Hosiery, asked Fashion and Textile Management (Textile Brand Management and Marketing concentration) student and Nester Hosiery intern, Anna Martin, to reach out to Fay Gibson, co-coordinator of the Farm to Feet project and a visual merchandising lecturer at the Wilson College of Textiles, about a merchandising project.

“I think the whole essence of the brand Farm to Feet really resonates with the College of Textile students. Supporting a truly 100 percent American supply chain is something we can all relate to, and it has made the students so excited to work with us,” said Martin.

Fourteen students groups (two visual merchandising classes with seven groups each) were given the task over the spring semester to create three visual merchandising displays: a trade show, point of sale and an in-store retail display. The groups of five to six students were required to source, fund and develop the props and concepts for their displays; all were required to use Farm to Feet branding throughout their displays as well as socks provided by Nester Hosiery for the displays.

“I’d like for them to clearly and concisely show how they would market the product to entice a first time consumer of the brand, not only to purchase the product, but how to invite them into our branding story,” said Gina Ross, executive vice president for product at Nester Hosiery.

To make sure that the challenge was as close to a real industry experience as possible, students had the opportunity prior to the judging to construct their visual displays in existing stores that currently carry Farm to Feet products. This gave students the chance to see how their displays functioned and get feedback from store managers. “Students must ensure their work is valid and feasible,” said Fay.

Farm to Feet logo

On April 26, the projects were judged by Gibson, representatives of Nester plus the COO of Ryan Scott Display, a company producing fixturing and display materials for branded product companies. Each group had to give a presentation about their entry and then make a two minute pitch regarding their in-store retail display.

For students, the challenges and rewards came hand in hand throughout the semester.

“The hardest part was acquiring all the different aspects for the project,” said Amelia Sechrest, one of the visual merchandising students, who spoke about the difficulty of piecing everything together. From choosing colors to determining effective proportions and spacing of the display components, it was the little details that impact a consumer’s point of view.

She continued to explain how her favorite aspect to the project was getting feedback from store managers at Great Outdoor Provision Co., a client of Nester Hosiery and her group’s target retailer, when they put their display up in store. “When the store manager told us that he would do something like what we had created made us feel much more positive about our work,” she said.

While the semester-long project was challenging, the teamwork component proved invaluable and necessary.

“It’s important not only for us to ensure we are getting the best ideas brought forward, but for students to maximize their learning perspective,” Petri said.

The winning group achieved the highest ranking of the following qualities: affordability; creating a display that clearly communicated the brand message, is simple to execute and is scalable; and having configurable ideas.

“I was very pleased with the results of the students’ work,” said Gibson. “Management at Nester requested the IMC plans that the students’ created, management has already used major components of the previous two displays for use in their marketing, and management selected major concepts to develop for future marketing of the brand.”

Ross was happy as well.

“This was the conclusion to a wonderful exercise for our Farm to Feet and marketing classes,” said Ross. “We were pleased with the thoughtful, insightful and creative displays presented. Many presentations certainly surpassed my expectations,” she said.

The collaboration between Nester Hosiery and the Wilson College of Textiles has proven to be a beneficial partnership for all involved.

“NC State is a valuable resource for North Carolina businesses. As a manufacturer in a very competitive market, we see the incredible value this (partnership) offers, especially working with the College. We proudly tell our customers that we work with the Wilson College of Textiles, which adds credibility to our commitment to offer the best in innovation and new ideas,” said Petri.

The partnership has also enabled Nester to get an input from from a younger generation, who showcase a new perspective for the company. “Their generation is our next wave of consumers. Having their insights will only make us a better brand and company,” he said.

There are plenty of takeaways for student participants as well.

“The students will learn the visual merchandising principles through doing. They’ll also have great documentation for portfolios when they are looking for employment or internships,” said Gibson.

First place winners of the semester long competition were the team of Lindsay Bacon, Emily Boyette, Kelsey Corkell, Elizabeth Wenhart and, Bailey Wood. Second place was taken by the team of Morgan Franklin, Kristin Freeman, Molly Gibson, Lierin Monteith and Amelia Sechrest. Third place went to the team of Lauren Carroll, Marla Hux, Miranda Johnson, Kara Justice, Monica Mayer and Caroline Segal. An honorable mention went to the team of Andrea Alvarado, Annie McEntire, Morgan Peek, Wei Ren Soh and Desiree Thomas. The first and second place groups received monetary awards and the third place group received certificates to redeem product.

Learn more about Farm to Feet and Nester Hosiery.