1. Business Improvement Project

The North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) desires for students participating in the NRHA Retail Management Certification Program to realize a tangible return for their organizations as a result of attending the course. To accomplish this, each student will complete a major Business Improvement Project during the semester. This will introduce students to the concept of project management best practices and provide either a quantitative or qualitative value to the business to offset tuition expenses. To date, students have generated more than $4.5 million in ROI from their Business Improvement Projects. At the end of the course, each student will be required to submit a written management report and a presentation that they will use to present their Business Improvement Project during the final visit to Indianapolis.
To provide additional and ongoing value from the program, each company participating in the NRHA Retail Management Certification Program will receive each student’s Business Improvement Project from both the current, and future classes.

Learning Objectives

The Business Improvement Project assignment is introduced before students attend the first session of the course in the pre-visit one conference call that will include both the student and sponsor. This initial discussion will help students and sponsors identify a valuable project that will improve the business and provide a return on investment. During visit one, a course module will be dedicated to the Business Improvement Project where details of the project will be introduced and the management process fully explained. Students will also have access to a student mentor who will be available to meet with them throughout the course to discuss the Business Improvement Project and answer any questions the student has regarding the assignment.

Project Charter

Shortly after the first visit, students will complete and turn in a project charter that outlines the project in detail.
Elements of the project charter will include:

  • Project Objectives—This answers the questions: What value does this project add to the organization? How does it align with the strategic priorities of the organization? What results are expected and what benefits will be realized?
  • Project Scope—The project scope establishes the boundaries of the project. It identifies the limits and defines the deliverables.
  • Project Milestones—This is a detailed project timeline that specifies when the different elements of the project will be completed and what the deliverables will be at each milestone.
  • Business Impact Statement—This element lists the impact this project may have on existing systems or units.
  • Roles and Responsibilities— This element describes the roles and responsibilities of project team members.
  • Resources— This section identifies the initial funding, personnel and other resources committed to this project by the sponsor.
  • Project Risks— This part identifies the high-level project risks and strategies to mitigate them.
  • Success Measurements— This element identifies metrics and targets the student is trying to meet.

Requirements for the Management Report

The Business Improvement Project Management Report should be written as if it was being submitted to the company’s board of directors or executive management team for funding approval. Faculty will provide written and verbal feedback after the third visit. The report will be judged for its business value, report quality, compliance with the assignment and whether or not it's actionable.

Students should plan to include the following sections in the Management Report:

  • Brief History of the Company: This section should include several paragraphs that provide a situational analysis for the project. What is the context of your company, and why is this project relevant at this point in time?
  • Value to the Company: This section should address the benefits of the project, and what specific dollar value the student expects to achieve in a certain timeframe. 
  • Changes Being Implemented: This section answers the questions: What specifically are you trying to change about the company? How are you going about it? Who is involved? Where are you in the process?  What will look different when you are successful? Students will also need to provide a timeline with execution dates for all project tactics and the date(s) by which they expect the project to deliver tangible value.
  • Risks: Consider what might go wrong, and how significant risks to the company will be addressed to prevent unintended losses.
  • Financials: Detail the total investment spent on the project and the project’s return on investment.
  • Appendix: Students will put any relevant details in an appendices so the main body of the report is easily readable.

Requirements for the Presentation

Students will treat the Business Improvement Project presentation as if they were making a formal presentation to the company’s Board of Directors or Executive Management team and will have just 15 minutes to make their case on why the project should be funded. In doing so, students should:

  • Demonstrate the relevance of the project to the company’s strategic plan
  • Clearly state why the requested investment is a good investment for the owner
  • Show how the owner and key stakeholders will be able to monitor the progress of the investment toward an acceptable return
  • Create the presentation in PowerPoint or a similar program for use with a projector.
  • Prepare to present their project for 15 minutes, and allow for an additional five minutes of questions. The standard speaking guideline is three minutes per slide, so students should aim for including four to six slides in their presentation.

Business Improvement Project Competition

Every student enrolled in the class will participate in the Business Improvement Project competition, which will be held on the final afternoon of the third visit. Each student will submit a written Management Report and a PowerPoint or similar type of presentation to present their Business Improvement Projects. The first round competition will be in groups of five students with judging done by attending sponsors, the NRHA Retail Leadership Institute Advisory Board and program faculty. Winners from each small group in the first round will then present to the entire class, attending sponsors and guests. Each of these students presenting as finalists will receive special recognition.


2. Examples of Student Quick Wins

Raise Margins on Slower-Moving Items in Plumbing Department

We will start by identifying all ‘C’ and ‘D’ items in the plumbing department. Then we will run an average margin for those items. Using the grading system for our store we will change these items in a margin-enhancement strategy. Whereas costs etc., might change for each item that we choose, the margin we want to achieve will stay the same, and we will adjust the retail pricing to reflect our desired margin. Once we have plumbing working we will expand to other areas of the store.
— Dwayne Gibson, Manager, Picton Home Hardware (Student, Summer 2013 Class)

Result: After raising retail margins on ‘C’ and ‘D’ items in the plumbing department from 28.9% to 39.1%, Picton Home Hardware realized an extra $11,000 in gross margin in 2 months.


Other Quick Win Examples

Implement Single Line Checkout

We will measure our average wait time with our current multi-line system and compare that to our average wait time once we have implemented our single line checkout structure.

Paperless Statements

Our in-house charge account customers have been receiving printed statements via US mail for over 20-years. It is time that we move to electronic delivery of these statements which will save us money on postage but will save us in labor (folding, stuffing, printing statements.)

Late Charges for Charge Accounts

We have been pretty lax when it comes to charge account holders paying us late which is costing us money and hurting our cash flow. We plan to implement a reoccurring late charge for customers that do not pay on time and continue to carry a late balance month after month.

Track Sales Effectiveness of Merchandising in Power Aisle and End Caps

By tracking SKUs as “events” when they are placed in a specific area we can track which areas are the most effective for increasing sales.