Michigan State University (MSU) students and faculty have a new way to shop local this holiday season. The dining team partnered with Michigan State’s Student-Made chapter to sell students’ handmade goods at two of its campus retail locations in East Lansing, Mich.
Founded in 2019, Student-Made is a online marketplace geared toward college entrepreneurs. It has a presence at over 10 college campuses across the country.
When Associate Director of Retail Services and Culinary Services Gina Keilen was approached by Student-Made Michigan State about the idea of working together, she was quickly on board.
“We thought it was a good thing to capitalize on,” she says.
The students’ goods became available for purchase last month at Sparty's Market at 1855 Place and Kellogg Market. Already, sales have exceeded both the dining team’s and Student-Made’s expectations.
Finding the students
A team of five students oversees Student-Made Michigan State along with guidance from Lori Fischer, director of operations for MSU’s Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Sophomore Yuktha Pulavarthi who is also the events and partnership manager for Student-Made Michigan State, has been one of the students heavily involved with the partnership.
When the group first began working with the dining team, Pulavarthi reached out to the approximately 30 student creators who are a part of the program to see if any of them would be interested in participating.
“We ended up getting five [students] for the first month,” she says. “[…] We kind of just opened it up as like a signup for the student creators.”
The products available range from handmade jewelry to apparel. Crocheted items have also been a hot seller, Fischer says.
Other than paying a $60 fee each semester to be a part of Student-Made, the student creators keep all the profits from selling their products in the stores.
Students’ goods are given prime shelf space inside the markets and the students’ photo and bio are also posted nearby. Keilen has noticed that many customers will stop and read about the student creators before heading to check out.
“[Shoppers] like to feel like they know the student when they purchase something and what kind of cause it's going to,” she says. “It's not just a sweatshirt on a shelf type of thing, which I think has made a big difference.”
Trial and Error
Already in the first month, the team has learned a lot that they’ll carry forward as the partnership continues. One thing they are keeping in mind for the future is how much inventory is needed.
“Last month, we only had five creators and there were just smaller products in general, so the shelves kind of looked empty and none of us were expecting them to sell so quickly,” says Pulavarthi.
This month, seven student creators are selling their wares and the team as a whole has a better understanding of how much inventory is required.
The dining team has had few challenges getting the partnership up and running, Keilen says. Most of the heavy lifting has been done by Pulavarthi and her peers.
“We're just holding the space there,” she says. “[The students are] really controlling everything else—how much is there, how much is sold, what it's selling for and all that type of stuff. They've done a really great job with it.”
While the partnership is only in its second month, Pulavarthi, Fischer and Keilen have been blown away by how popular the students' products have been with the Michigan State community.
Pulavarthi and the team have had preliminary discussions about expanding to additional stores on campus.
“We definitely are really open to it,” she says.“There has been some talks with the student senate store inside the Broad Business College, and then I know that the Wharton Center was also interested in their gift shop. Having different areas on campus kind of reaching out to us now as the name grows has been really cool.”