Retail Therapy

Undergraduate capstone class helps local apparel store better understand its business
Students help with the Bobbles & Lace retail truck
Students help out as the Bobbles & Lace mobile store sets up shop outside the Walgreens just steps from the Suffolk campus.

Bobbles & Lace is a local boutique chain for women's apparel and accessories. With locations in Boston, Wellesley, Marblehead, and three other towns around New England, it's prospering in a very competitive market.

Despite its success since it was founded in 2008, Bobbles & Lace wanted to figure out new ways to keep growing and expand the business. So, in the fall of 2019, it asked Management & Entrepreneurship Professor Jodi Detjen and her senior capstone course to help. The management team at Bobbles & Lace sought to: understand the competition; figure out how to motivate its sales team; research a new storefront location; and dial up the presence of its mobile retail truck.

“We’re so deep into the retail business and see this stuff every single day,” says Sarah Fischer, marketing and events director at Bobbles & Lace. “So to get a true outside perspective made sense. We wanted someone who’s not referencing equations or best practices, but is really looking at our business as a blank slate.”

For many students, this was their first experience with the business of retail. Andrew Thomas, Class of 2020, majors in management and worked on the team that researched where Bobbles & Lace could open a new bricks-and-mortar location.

“A lot of the things I thought were true about retail just weren’t. I always thought that the more competitors you have in an area is a bad thing,” says Thomas. “Like having a Starbucks across from a Dunkin’ Donuts. But Bobbles & Lace loves to be near other fashion stores. That’s because those stores have done their research. They’re in that location for a reason.”

Thomas and his team even talked to a real estate agent about potential sites for a new storefront, something that impressed the Bobbles & Lace management team.

“Talking to a realtor? That’s above and beyond,” says Fischer. “I thought that was impressive.”

On the Go

Another team helped Bobbles & Lace figure out ways to maximize its custom-made retail trailer, which functions as a mobile shopping experience throughout the year.

“We tried to help the team understand how to maximize the mobile experience,” says Jackie Arakelian, BSBA ’19. “Does that mean more trucks? Going to specific events? Finding better places to park? What are the best ways to create the experience of bringing a store to the customer?”

The mobile team even got their own hands-on experience. On a beautiful afternoon in mid-October, the students helped Bobbles & Lace staffers while the shop was parked in a high-pedestrian location near the Suffolk campus. Curious passersby paused to look at the unfamiliar presence; many went inside and bought some of the various clothes and accessories for sale. The goal? Mirror the bricks-and-mortar experience as much as possible.

“Being in the middle of the city with all walks of life was interesting,” says Fischer. “People who wouldn’t be our normal customers were checking it out because it was so different.”

Tailored Solutions

As cold weather settles into the Boston area, the truck moves to warmer climes for the winter (Scottsdale, Arizona, in fact). But the Bobbles & Lace team is still tapping into the insights the capstone class presented at the end of the fall semester. One example came from the team that researched how to motivate employees.

“Insights that came out of that presentation resulted in us hiring a consultant for a few weeks to observe our employees in the stores,” says Fischer. “From the class survey we learned that incentives for employees maybe aren’t the way to go. They’re looking more for recognition. That was really interesting.”

For many of the students, the class was a perfect way to apply coursework from their four years in the Sawyer Business School.

“The capstone is cool because it combines all the skills we’ve learned and takes bits and pieces from every class along the way,” says Arakelian, who completed her degree just weeks after the truck event. “It’s the final piece of the puzzle.”


Greg Gatlin
Office of Public Affairs

Ben Hall
Office of Public Affairs