UW–Madison students cook up marketing ideas for campus’ Bucky’s Varsity Meats store

Caroline Schneider
UW–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Bucky’s Varsity Meats retail store at the Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery Building at UW–Madison in Madison, Wis.

Mitch Monson knows that Bucky’s Varsity Meats has a lot to offer. As manager of the retail store in the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery (MSABD) building, Monson butchers the choice cuts of meat that are offered at competitive prices. He and undergraduates passionate about meat science interact with customers.

Sales from the store even help fund education and research in the MSABD program. But there is something that Monson is the first to admit the store needs help with – bringing in more customers.

“There’s so much potential with this space,” says Monson. “I’ve been kind of on my own with [marketing] planning for the last few years, and there’s no script for how this unfolds. How to market our products and reach more people has been in my head, and I really want to get this right.”

Mitch Monson, retail operations manager at Bucky’s Varsity Meats, listens to graduate students in business provide branding and marketing advice for the store during class presentations in Grainger Hall at UW–Madison in Madison, Wis.

In an effort to gather more – and more varied – ideas, Monson took the advice of Heidi Zoerb, associate dean of external relations and advancement in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The two reached out to Mike Judge, an instructor in the Wisconsin School of Business, to partner with his fall 2021 Brand Strategy class in UW–Madison’s Master of Business Administration program.

“I know Mike and that he used to work at Oscar Mayer, so I knew he had an understanding of the meat industry,” explains Zoerb. “I thought asking his class to focus on Bucky’s Varsity Meats would be beneficial for the store and also an ideal project for the second-year MBA students.”

Judge agreed. In mid-October, Monson and Zoerb attended his class and introduced students to Bucky’s Varsity Meats. The students, divided into 10 teams, were asked to analyze the store and its marketing potential and share their ideas during final presentations at the end of the semester.

“The objective was to grow the store’s revenue to $1 million by year five,” explains Judge. “They were asked to complete three things for the client: a brand analysis, a brand brief and marketing ideas.”

Graduate students in business Charlie Scott, right, and Devon Smith, left, present branding and marketing advice for Bucky’s Varsity Meats during class presentations in Grainger Hall at UW–Madison in Madison, Wis., Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.

In their final presentations, the students made it clear that the product and student-driven service that Bucky’s Varsity Meats provides sets it ahead of other meat shops. They also felt that these advantages outweighed the challenges the store faces such as location and parking availability.

“We think the essence of the store is UW–Madison quality meets UW–Madison accessibility,” said Katie Arnold from Team 8 during their presentation. “We really want to highlight the feelings and associations that Bucky’s Varsity Meats has: high quality products, accessible staff who can educate customers and a welcoming environment.”

To draw more customers into that environment, the student groups had several ideas, including offering prepared foods, a loyalty program, meal boxes and cooking classes. Many groups also mentioned the diversity of campus and how impactful it would be to offer products for international communities, such as Korean short ribs or Brazilian cuts of meat. Several groups also mentioned delivery services.

Joseline Nyinawabera presents branding and marketing advice for Bucky’s Varsity Meats with teammates Masuma Zulfakar, center, and Livia Xie, far right background, during class presentations in Grainger Hall at UW–Madison in Madison, Wis.

“We looked at graduate students, faculty and staff as our customer base,” Karlotta Galten from Team 1 explained. “We assume that, after work, they're going to be in a rush to get home. A delivery program could be ideal for these customers. They could place orders in the morning and then in the afternoon, orders would be delivered to their academic building on campus.”

Monson was thrilled with the ideas generated.

“The presentations were exceptional. They put so much work into them,” says Monson. “Plus, I got two perspectives – the professional business student and a younger person on campus who would be a typical customer for us. They were able to tell me what they’d be looking for.”

In addition to the ideas from the Brand Strategy class, Monson also had another source of inspiration last semester. He was able to work with a retail marketing class in the School of Human Ecology, where a group of six undergraduates was assigned to Bucky’s Varsity Meats.

“They gave me another take on the marketing, and their plan focused on Christmas sales,” explains Monson. “December is really critical for us, so I liked having another idea to focus on that time of year.”

With all this information in hand, Monson is now focused on breaking up the tactics into small chunks and trying them out as he’s able. He first wants to get a food service up and running that would provide ready-to-eat foods to students and other on-campus customers. Beyond that, he hopes to slowly implement the ideas students from both programs provided, such as cooking classes, loyalty programs, meal kits, recipe cards and gameday boxes.

“It’s going to take me awhile to unpack all the great ideas,” says Monson. “The possibilities are overwhelming, so I’m just going to work day-by-day to get where we want to be. And I’d love to work with students again. It’s amazing what we can come up with when everyone is harnessing their talents in the same direction.”