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Innovation In Retailing Centre Opens At Sobey School Of Business

Innovation in retailing centre opens at Sobey School of Business

The dramatic retreat by Target Canada, the demise of several name-brand chains and the low-flying loonie have shaken up the Canadian retail landscape in recent months.

Amid the turbulence, one business school sees an opportunity to shape the future of retail management.

This month, the David Sobey Centre for Innovation in Retailing and Services opened at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax with ambitions to be a “leading source” of expertise on retail and service management. David Sobey contributed $3-million toward the centre, according to the university.

“We looked at the importance of the sector, what our strengths are and where we might be able to contribute,” says centre director Ramesh Venkat, a professor of marketing at Saint Mary’s. “We thought there was a natural fit there.”

He says he expects the new centre in Halifax will complement established retail programs at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management and the University of Alberta School of Business. “We share some of the same goals and we are in different regions [of the country] so we are not directly competing for each other’s students,” he says.

Prof. Venkat says the Sobey centre aims to produce industry-relevant research (in addition to work published in academic journals), with eight faculty projects so far on topics ranging from the customer check-out experience to small-business staff recruitment.

Under a memorandum of agreement signed with the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission, one of the largest retailers in the province, the centre’s researchers will conduct studies in the agency’s retail outlets.

For students, the centre recently held an inaugural live case competition that challenged teams of fourth-year undergraduates to solve real problems posed by three local retailers. As well, a new undergraduate specialization in retail management is under development, possibly for September, 2016.

Prof. Venkat is eager for the centre to make its mark.

“The hope is that our research would improve outcomes for the sector as a whole, improve business practices and help them [retailers] innovate and improve what they are doing, so they have better outcomes and a strong future for Canadian retailing,” he says. “If we can make a small contribution towards that, we would have achieved our goals.”