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Hauling Mass: Ross Class Creates "Cool" Carts for Now People

11/16/2007 --

Cast your ballot for best urban shopping cart.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Transporting bulky, heavy objects over long distances presents a vexing challenge for urban dwellers and college students, many of whom travel by foot or mass transit. Bulging backpacks, overstuffed shoulder bags and rolling totes can be awkward, unwieldy and even hazardous. But new alternatives are on the horizon.

In a competition titled "The Urban Shopping Cart," students at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, College of Engineering and School of Art & Design have 14 weeks to create, manufacture and market a functional and collapsible cart to meet urban dwellers' needs. And while it sounds straightforward on paper, it's a task that comes with a daunting twist, says William Lovejoy, the Raymond T. Perring Family Professor of Business at the Ross School.

"The cart has a stigma. It's just not cool," Lovejoy says. "Look around campus and you'll see that no one uses a cart. People will carry a five-ton backpack or shoulder bag that can do physical harm, just for the sake of fashion. So the challenge is two-fold: to make something both usable and aesthetically pleasing."

Students engaged in the annual challenge are enrolled in the Integrated Product Development (IPD) class, taught by Lovejoy and Shaun Jackson, associate professor at the School of Art & Design and the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning. The Tauber Institute for Global Operations sponsors the course, which brings together students from design, engineering and business backgrounds. Teammates quickly discover that building consensus across disciplines can be as challenging as producing a working prototype on deadline, Lovejoy says.

"The team dynamic is one of the greatest takeaways from the course, and the students have a great appreciation for one another's process and expertise," he says, "which usually lasts until the first major disagreement."

Fortunately, creativity tends to trump conflict and teams find a way to coalesce around a common goal. "The students in aggregate are far more imaginative than the faculty," says Lovejoy. "We anticipate a certain range of solutions at the onset of the competition. And we are always surprised and delighted to see how far they exceed our expectations."

The IPD students devise a manufacturing process, estimate the fixed and variable costs of production, set a price for retail and produce a fully functional prototype for demonstration at an on-campus trade show that caps the course. They also create Web pages to market their products online.

The urban shopping carts created for the 2007 competition must accommodate the equivalent of two large paper grocery bags in both volume and weight (about 30 pounds and 1.65 cubic feet). The carts must be manageable for carrying a full load up stairs or bus steps, and must collapse when not in use. Finally, the carts cannot rely on the use of paper or plastic bags.

The public is invited to review and vote online for their favorite urban shopping carts, starting at 8 a.m. on Nov. 21 and ending at 5 p.m. on Nov. 27. Students will use the results from the online voting to re-evaluate their inventories and perfect their sales pitches for the on-campus trade show, also open to the public. The trade show runs 6-8 p.m. on Nov. 28 at the Gallery in the Duderstadt Center on North Campus. Here, potential consumers will test and rank the various carts, and the market response will determine both the competition winner and the students' final grades.

Lovejoy and two colleagues from marketing and engineering at Stanford University launched the IPD course nearly 17 years ago. It recently made BusinessWeek's list of top design schools for the second year in a row and also has been featured on CNN and in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Written by Deborah Holdship

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847