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For nearly 40 years, the Center for Retailing Studies (CRS) at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School has furthered the field of retail by preparing the next generation of commercial leaders. From Walmart and Neiman Marcus to food and fine jewelry, CRS students experience a range of retail environments to build skills and develop ethical values that advance the world’s prosperity.

Retail supports 52 million American jobs and contributes $3.9 trillion to the GDP annually, according to the National Retail Federation. While digital disruption had already begun to remake retail before 2020, the global pandemic increased the speed of industry evolution and innovation. Today’s CRS students have a front-row seat to a pivotal moment in retail as the world rebounds from crisis and creates a brighter future.

Now Open: Retail in Aggieland

On-the-job training was once the key to career success in retail, but as the marketplace grew in complexity, a college education became essential. Donald Zale ’55, former chairman and CEO of the Zale Corporation, experienced a talent shortage in the 1970s as the leader of what was then the world’s largest jewelry brand. He decided to change that.

He provided three years’ funding for three Texas universities with the instruction: “Do something in retail.” Texas A&M’s business school used his gift to hire Dr. Leonard L. Berry and create the Center for Retailing Studies.

From the days of brick-and-mortar retail—such as the first Zales store—to the advent of e-commerce, the Center for Retailing Studies has evolved its programs and resources to best prepare students.

As the center’s first director, Berry worked with Zale to build a retailing curriculum, grow the center’s reputation and recruit retail partners. Today, Berry has an extraordinary list of accomplishments and titles, but one is most meaningful. “I am very proud to have the Zale name associated with my name,” said Berry, the M.B. Zale Chair in Retailing and Marketing Leadership. “I would never exchange that title for any other at Texas A&M.”

Zale, who has also committed an estate gift for the CRS, continues to be a key supporter through the Zale Lecture Series and M.B. Zale Leadership Scholars program, the leading undergraduate professional development program for top retail students in Mays.

Building Brand Loyalty

“Retail has always been dynamic and fast-paced,” said Scott Benedict, who became the center’s director in 2019. While some retailers folded during the COVID crisis, many more are thriving in the post-pandemic landscape. “It’s an exciting time to be in retail because of improvements to the ways that we can serve customers,” he said.

Benedict has continued Berry’s legacy of expanding support for the CRS by establishing ties with retailers nationwide. The benefits to partners include influence on retailing curriculum and access to research, talent and networking opportunities. It’s a win-win, as students enjoy speakers, internships and field trips to explore many facets of retail through partnering brands.

Nichole Martin ’22, an M.B. Zale Leadership Scholar, completed a merchandising internship with Dick's Sporting Goods.

Market Evolution

Technology improvements are changing every part of retail, from advanced data mining for trend forecasting to managing remote teams. This retail revolution was the theme of the 2020 Retailing Summit, which took place virtually for the first time. In October 2021, the CRS flagship event returned to Dallas for two days of networking and idea exchange.

As retail shifted in response to the pandemic, so did retail education. Nichole Martin ’22 said she had a rich experience as an M.B. Zale Leadership Scholar during the last academic year, despite COVID challenges. Speakers, networking and internships were virtual, which offered an unexpected bonus: Students had access to more resources due to the ease of video conferencing. Martin also completed a virtual corporate merchandising internship with Dick’s Sporting Goods this summer and submitted a case study for the National Retail Foundation Next Generation Scholarship, for which she is a semifinalist.

Mays’ One Stop Shop

Martin, a supply chain management major with a passion for retail, said the CRS is a hidden gem that offers personalized attention and unparalleled resources to the approximately 100 students who work with the center in various settings. “There are so many opportunities,” she explained, from the Student Retailing Association to experiential learning trips. “Students in any college with interests in retail can get connected.”

Through the tumultuous pandemic period, students and faculty unpacked the retail world in real-time in classroom discussion. From face masks to toilet paper, retailers had to adjust to meet supply and demand challenges rapidly—just as educators had to be nimble to provide quality education through the crisis. “It was the most interesting real-life case study,” Martin added.

Closing the Deal

Mays Business School is currently campaigning to secure additional, sustainable funding for the CRS to increase rankings and attract more students to retail. Endowed gifts during this effort can provide faculty support, improve curriculum and lab spaces, expand the Retailing Summit annual event and grow industry research opportunities.

“Our ambition is to remain the leader in retail education and produce the highest caliber graduates,” Benedict concluded.

To learn how you can support the Center for Retailing Studies, contact Stephen Cisneros '05, assistant vice president for development, at the bottom of this page.