“This team was so strong because its members complemented each other”

Masters students carry out US market research for Van de Velde lingerie

Hannah Carlier graduated with a master's in Communication Sciences, Eva Minnebo trained as a commercial engineer and Kaat Van der Goten obtained a master's in Applied Economics. A shared passion for fashion brought these three students from different backgrounds together during their Masters in Marketing Management. It was a passion that led them to work together on their in-company project (ICP) at Van de Velde. And successfully, too. “I'm a very happy customer”, beams International Retail Director Yan Aerts.

Eva Minnebo - Kaat Van der Goten - Hannah Carlier (in-company project at Van de Velde)
From left to right: Eva Minnebo, Kaat Van der Goten and Hannah Carlier at the Vlerick campus in Brussels

Attracting and retaining more customers

Van de Velde designs, produces and markets luxury lingerie and swimwear under its own brand names. Originally a Belgian family company, it is now listed and sells its products all over the world through some 5000 specialist stores and its own retail chain. All its core activities are controlled from Belgium. Its head office is in Schellebelle, near Ghent.

The ICP built on market research carried out by external consultants. “This study charted the situation of our business in the US”, says Yan. “However, we wanted to expand and refine some of the conclusions and recommendations even further. So we asked the students the question: how can we attract and retain more customers in the US? All on the basis of an omnichannel approach, seamlessly merging online and offline channels.”

Finger on the pulse

In order to gain better insight into the existing customers – who they are, why and how they buy lingerie, what they consider important – the students drew up a detailed questionnaire which examined various demographic, socio-cultural and economic aspects. These questions formed the basis of a survey conducted in the various Van de Velde stores in the US, on the basis of which the customers were divided into segments. Then the students investigated the best approach to each of these segments.

Yan kept his finger on the pulse every week to check whether the project was still heading in the right direction: “I wanted to make sure that their analyses would generate usable results – recommendations which we could really apply in practice.” Day-to-day supervision was provided by Inne Leman, Retail Process Manager, and Pieterjan Lauwers, Retail Business Process Engineer.

Inne Leman - Yan Aerts - Pieterjan Lauwers (Van de Velde)
From left to right: Inne Leman (Retail Process Manager), Yan Aerts (International Retail Director) and Pieterjan Lauwers (Retail Business process Engineer) at Van de Velde head office

Seamless cooperation

“They were highly motivated and enthusiastic women: it was great to work with them,” remembers Pieterjan. “We were in frequent contact during the first month to help them on their way, but after that they pretty much focused on the analyses by themselves. They really were three complementary characters who took each other’s work to a higher level.”

Inne confirms this: “Right. I expected them to need more supervision, but actually it wasn't necessary. They came to us if they had any questions. We were able to respond quickly, and they also responded extremely quickly to any questions we had. Working with them went really smoothly.”

“This team was so strong”, says Yan, “because its members complemented each other. They were well aware of each other's strengths and built on them.”

Real-life experience

The students were also unanimously positive about their experience. For all three of them, it was a good lesson in teamwork and self-awareness. They also had nothing but praise for their supervisors: “Every meeting with Yan, Inne and Pieterjan was a creative boost. At the end of each meeting we would know exactly how to proceed”, says Kaat enthusiastically.

“A Masters at Vlerick is a very practical programme”, says Hannah, “and this ICP was the icing on the cake. It teaches you how to work in a very result-focused way and to constantly check what the client wants and how to respond accordingly.”

“During the programme, there was no need to worry about budgets and other limitations in projects and case studies. The sky's the limit”, smiles Kaat. “But this kind of ICP teaches you to take these conditions into account, so you try to take a creative approach to finding alternatives.”

Eva nods: “Our project really was the kind of commission you might get if you were starting out as a consultant. I am now working for The House of Marketing, a strategic marketing consultancy and interim management company, and I have often thought: this could be an ICP too, but one that you have to finish in less than three months.”

The right choice

Just like Eva, Kaat and Hannah have also stayed in the marketing sector where their ICP has come in handy.

“This project really taught me to appreciate the added value of market research”, explains Kaat. “I often felt that our project would contribute to Van de Velde's success. This sense of having an impact and the satisfaction which you get from trying to fathom out the behaviour, needs and expectations of consumers convinced me to stay in the field of market research. I am now working as a market research consultant for Haystack.”

Hannah: “For me, my time at Van de Velde confirmed that fashion really is the right choice… It's also where I learned the art of multitasking: reading, interviews, data analysis, everything merged into everything else. You had to be able to switch between these different areas really quickly, which comes in very handy now that I'm a sales management trainee at Esprit.”

Enjoyable chaos

It didn't take them long to come up with the anecdotes they will always remember.

“All those analyses that we sometimes had to restart three times because we wanted to change this or improve that. Sometimes it would have been better to stick with the original approach”, sighs Eva. “Believe me: sometimes you have to plant a flag and never look back!

“Do you know what I will never forget?” Hannah laughs when she looks back on it: “Twice a year, there is a stock sale for the staff and we were also invited to the June sale. We couldn't believe our eyes: so many women speeding from rack to rack, looking for their size. Hilarious!” Eva grins: “Then there was the lingerie set which we were given at the end of our ICP. It was such a nice gesture and totally unexpected!”

Show your company in a positive light

Kaat had a feeling their project would have an impact, and so it did: “It was an instructive project for them which provided very good output for us”, says Yan. “On the basis of their recommendations, we are now reassessing our loyalty programme in the US. Inne and the American team are focusing on this right now.”

Incidentally, this wasn't the first ICP for Van de Velde. The firm has been convinced of the usefulness and benefits of the scheme for several years now. “I can highly recommend it to any organisation which is looking for young talent. And projects like this show your company in a really positive light”, says Inne. Yan nods in agreement and adds: “We have recently taken on a brand-new Vlerick alumnus!”

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