Southern Niche is a student–operated, retail store-laboratory dedicated to selling merchandise produced by small-scale entrepreneurs and hobbyists. The store-laboratory was started by a USDA/ NIFA Capacity Building Grant received by Dr. Doze Y Butler, Apparel Merchandising and Textiles (AMTX) Professor and Program Leader, in 2010. The original objectives were three-fold:
· To establish a university-housed, student-operated, retail store laboratory to provide experiential learning for students
· To increase human capital by training students for leadership positions in retail merchandising and related fields
· To enhance economic development by strengthening the University's linkages with small-scale entrepreneurs and other producers in the State of Louisiana
Since the store initially opened, the objectives have expanded to include vendors from outside of the State of Louisiana.
Senior-level students complete their internships in Southern Niche and receive university credit (3.0 credits). The boutique is located on the first floor of Pinkie Thrift Hall in Room 155. It is open in Spring semesters. Southern Niche also hosts pop-up shops during Fall semesters. The store sells various types of apparel, accessories and gift items. This semester, the biggest sellers were bath and body products, as well as candles. Other items offered for sale this semester included sorority and fraternity items, Afrocentric merchandise, jewelry, books, men’s ties, wall art, tees and hoodies, among others.
Every aspect of Southern Niche was arranged by the students. When Dr Butler first received the grant, students met to determine the name of boutique. They narrowed the names down to three; then, a committee comprised of faculty, staff and students voted. The result was Southern Niche.
To ascertain what to sell in Southern Niche, students conduct a needs assessment or market scan. The results reveal where the voids are in merchandise desired by the University community. Whereas the boutique sells to a full range of customers, traditional college-age students are the target. Once the assessment has been completed, the students solicit vendors to sell their merchandise in Southern Niche. Because the AMTX students are so talented, they often sell their own creations in the boutique.
Plans for the future of Southern Niche include global sourcing and online sales.