UBC Sauder trio takes top spot in North American case competition

Posted 2018-02-28

Kella Chan, Trixie Hernandez and Tessa Yin secured first place in 2018 UniGame, a business case competition for undergraduate and graduate level students organized by fast moving consumer goods giant, Unilever.

The North American finals held in New York on February 9 saw UBC Sauder edge out 10 teams, including: John Hopkins Carey School of Business at Johns Hopkins University, Stern School of Business at New York University and the Schulich School of Business at York University. The trio walked away with a $7,000 cash prize, invaluable networking opportunities and an all-expenses paid trip to London, where they will compete on April 20th in the global competition alongside universities from 29 countries.

Grooming a successful business case

The global market for men’s grooming products is close to a staggering $50 billion USD and is growing at a rapid pace according to Euromonitor International, an independent market research company. But this lucrative market also conflicts with sensitive topics dealing with masculinity and beauty standards.

This juxtaposition was the inspiration behind "Groomed," the digital-first solution presented by the UBC Sauder students at 2018 UniGame.

‘Groomed’ is conceptualized as an online platform that assigns men a personalized set of grooming products. Once users provide details of their skin type and product usage habits, an automated algorithm will ensure a grooming box with various Unilever products is shipped to the customer once a month.

"An insight that surfaced during our research is that men rarely switch loyalties when they're comfortable with a product on first use. This makes them an ideal audience for a subscription-based model," said Yin, who is in her fifth year of studies and is focusing on marketing and sustainability.

She added: "But our approach to the UniGame case challenge wasn't only about capitalizing on this business opportunity. Our solution also tackled social taboos around masculinity, challenging stereotypes and promoting men's well-being."

The UBC Sauder team's multi-faceted approach fared well with the judging panel, which was comprised of senior Unilever executives from sustainability practice, brand communications, customer engagement and human resources. The team's business and distribution model relied on a scalable e-commerce infrastructure, while on the sustainability front — a critical element of Unilever's global operations — the team illustrated that Groomed would significantly curtail use of plastic by promoting refillable deodorant cans.

Faculty-inspired practical solutions

Building this holistic model involved critical feedback and real-world expertise from UBC Sauder’s faculty. Senior instructor Tim Silk and lecturer Ann Stone from the school’s Marketing and Behavioural Science division helped the team translate concepts into tangible solutions that would click with retailers and distributors. The logistical, operational and sustainability aspects were reviewed by Greg Werker, a lecturer in the Operations and Logistics division.

According to Hernandez, a fifth-year student, "We wanted to ensure our ideas could be implemented in a real-world scenario. We developed Groomed as a project that would get the approval of all board members if they were presented with the idea. Faculty helped us refine our project down to the finest details. For instance, our solution couldn’t just depend on Amazon or another e-commerce platform. It had to be thoroughly planned, weighing all the costs and benefits involved in this unique project."

UBC Sauder's influence carried over into the final hours of the presentation in New York. The mentor who helped the Groomed team to refine the focus of their presentation was Karlee Sommerfeld, brand manager for Unilever's mayonnaise brand Hellman’s and UBC Sauder alumna.

Going into the global finals in London, the team is prepared to double down on the strengths that helped them edge past their competition in the North American finals. The winning team will get an all-expense paid trip to a conference in Costa Rica scheduled for later this year.

"What set us apart from other competent teams in New York was our sound understanding of comprehensive business strategies," said Hernandez. Yin added: "That's the preparation you can expect from us for any case challenge at the global finals — a well-rounded and pragmatic business solution that resonates with all departments, and not just a single marketing activity."