When Taylor Woodruff first opened Grit City Grindhouse, a funky skateboard shop in the theater district of Tacoma, he and his business partner had a lot of ideas, but they didn’t know how to organize them.

“It’s myself and my partner Robert, we do everything here,” Woodruff said. “We’re the whole operation. There’s lot of things we wanted to do, but we didn’t initially have time. We had to prioritize ordering product as opposed to looking up demographic information.”

Enter newbie consultants and senior seminar students from University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Lynette Claire, associate professor for the UPS School of Business and Leadership, sent her students out to work with client businesses, clarifying what owners are thinking for their companies and providing outside information and data from which those entrepreneurs could make important decisions.

The boys at Grit City were happy to take the input, and the results, according to Woodruff, were huge.

“They were able to come in and basically organize all of our wishes and wants, and prioritize them for us in terms of most realistic and most beneficial to the company from what they saw,” Woodruff said. “They did research for us on demographics of where kids skate, created population maps that shows where the most skaters were and where to branch out our marketing. … They were great in terms of doing legwork. 

“It really felt like they were working with us, not just fulfilling their own goals.”

This month, Claire is looking for new businesses for her students to consult. She said potential clients would have to work with students every week and need to be transparent about disclosing financials and other business information, though students must sign a confidentiality agreement before the project begins. The spring term for this class begins the last week of January and ends in mid-May. (Interested businesses may contact Claire at 253-879-3576 or lclaire@pugetsound.edu.)

For her students, this class is the culmination of four years of college. 

“I think of this class as a serious bridge class for them. They still have the safety of coursework and mentoring from me, but they’re going out and are working with businesses,” Claire said.

Students put in about 10 hours per week for 15 weeks, eventually building up to presentations in written and oral form. Claire said that many business clients she has talked to have been surprised by how helpful the students are throughout the process. Clients have 10 percent of the grade and, if any potential clients are worried, this class is not an “easy A.”

“My grading criteria is, if you do everything I expect, you get a B,” Claire said. 
“You have to knock my socks off to get an A.”

Claire said that the senior seminar class is an eye-opening experience and often the first time a student gets to connect all of the dots in a business.

“One of the fantastic things about working with small businesses is that the students can actually grasp the whole thing,” Claire said. “Up until this point, most of their coursework has been a marketing class, a finance class, an accounting class, whatever. It isn’t until now that they can see how they all can connect.”

“It really is an incredible experience for students,” she added.