ORU student, Graham Ford, had hit a wall in his previous job. He found himself in a situation where he could no longer offer help to his company and the company no longer wanted to have the new ideas he had to offer. So when he was offered a new job, he was excited to take it. The job was with the Pioneer Woman herself.
Ann Marie “Ree” Drummond, also known as the Pioneer Woman, is an author, a blogger and a famous television star, who has her own cooking show, which greatly increased her fame. A California girl who found love in a cowboy’s eyes moved to a town just outside of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, where she opened a franchise called the Mercantile. Drummond hoped the Mercantile would revitalize the small town of Pawhuska. Yet between the number of workers she needed and had, there was a gap.
Kim Ford, Ford’s mother, had done previous work with Ree Drummond and heard Drummond was opening a franchise. Ford saw the previous work of the ORU Entrepreneurship class, who helped a franchise of McDonald’s in 2015.
Ford went to Drummond and recommended the students to be her solution to the staffing problem she faced at the Mercantile. Drummond contacted Bruno Teles, an ORU Business professor.
Bruno agreed to have his students visit Pawhuska and they experienced what it was like to be with Ree Drummond for a whole day.
“They just went up on a Saturday and they stayed for lunch. And Ree went up there and gave them a tour while it was still under construction and they were remodeling,” said Ford.
Ford was not able to go with the students to the location, but he was involved in the process which ensued after the trip. Drummond expressed her desire to the students and Teles.
“The Pioneer Woman, herself, explained everything and all the struggles and all the problems she was having,” said Teles. “For example ‘how am I going to get staff for my company here…and for the rest of the semester the students put a plan together and this plan was kind of attacking all the problems that she showed to us.”
Professor Bruno Teles accepted the offer to help and teamed up with Professor Steven Rydin, Professor of Business, to put together a feasible plan for Drummond.
The rest of the semester was spent in preparation to introduce Drummond to a possible solution.
“As we got involved, at first it was supposed to be an Entrepreneurship project and it ended up being three different classes that worked on it, so I think it ended up being 30 people that actually ended up working on it,” said Sarah Young, a member of the staffing team who worked to tackle the problem of transporting workers to Mercantile. “You had the Entrepreneurship class, you had some of International Marketing, and then you had a team from Marketing Management.”
With the deadline set, Teles divided the 30 students involved in the project into five or six groups. Each team focused on one problem and how they could solve it. The groups were Marketing Plan, Events and Grand Opening, Staffing, Online Platform and Ecommerce (online presence) and the Overall Business Strategy. Drummond made it known to the students that one of her biggest concerns was staffing and internships.
Young said the need to transport their workers to the Mercantile could have been a reality since the town of Pawhuska was a small community.
Ford was a part of the online Platform and Ecommerce team who worked to better her online websites, blogs and advertisements and to create an avenue of marketing for her store and business.
“Working with Ree presented a really great opportunity to actually use the knowledge that I gained in the business department,” said Ford. “The possibility that she might want to expand her brand and do more things with it as she goes on [is] really exciting to me.”
In April of 2016, when the teams had finished, they invited Drummond to ORU.
“She came to the Shark Tank for the final presentation, and our students presented it to her. She got so excited. She liked [the final result] so much that she gave a $500 gift card to every single student involved in the project,” said Teles.
Ree Drummond opened the Mercantile in the town of Pawhuska, inviting droves of people to come and see the new franchise.
“In the first time, they opened the Mercantile, they received 35,000 people. So ten times the population of the city,” said Teles.
Ford, a senior, is still an employee of the Mercantile while he is taking classes and studying here at ORU. He says being at the Mercantile is not only fun, but a great place to be.
“They are very open to new ideas and different ways of doing things,” said Ford. “And then Ree, herself, she’s great. One of the sweetest people, I’ve ever met. She really is more than just a TV personality or a writer. She really embodies southern hospitality just within herself. That’s really cool to see.”
ORU was proud of the students’ achievement and the professors who got involved in this project. The Dean of the Business department, Julie Huntley, said the idea of going out and getting involved in another business is what ORU is all about.
“It’s critical to our mission. As far as going into our world, involved with healing, we are involved in bringing business plans, marketing plans, projects, student projects, where students are bringing their skills into that business and into that business environment,” said Huntley.