By Krystin Gehrich
Students in Neil Holden's personal finance class have spent the quarter delving into how to buy insurance, pick an investment or manage credit -- all strategies designed to build wealth. On Monday, a handful of Kroger Co. executives who visited his College of Business class shared some of the service-oriented steps the grocery giant is pursuing to build its own bottom line.
Those strategies include developing relationships with financial institutions to market ATM services, credit cards and insurance -- products typically not found under the same roof with bread, meat and milk.
"I think Kroger is often thought of as the local market," said Holden, an executive-in-residence at the college. "Like me, students were quite surprised at how extensive it is" and the opportunities it offers.
In addition to Holden's class, Kroger executives visited three other classes, offering students a detailed look into best business practices as well as practical advice on matters such as landing a job after graduation. The classroom visits were part of a daylong visit designed to highlight Kroger's ties to Ohio University and the company's 125th anniversary.
Those ties include nearly $125,000 that the firm and its leadership have invested in university programs during the past decade, from athletic sponsorships to enrichment programs for children. In addition, Kroger Senior Vice President Marnette Perry is vice chair of the university's Board of Trustees and a founding contributor to the university's Appalachian Scholars Program, which benefits Southeast Ohio students.
"I love this university, and I'm pleased to be a trustee here," Perry said during her keynote luncheon address. "We really want today to be about developing that relationship."
Kroger, she said, is determined to continue investing in both the university and Southeast Ohio, a goal that she said aligned with the nationwide grocery chain's business credo of "knowing what we stand for, listening to customers and living our values."
As an example, she noted that Kroger spent $8 million overhauling and expanding its Athens store on East State Street. The project added a bistro and a section featuring locally made products in addition to a larger pharmacy.
"It's an investment we feel they've earned," Perry said of the store and its customers.
Students said the chance to hear first-hand from the executives provided valuable insight into a future career.
In addition to the personal finance class in the College of Business, the professionals gave presentations to classes in retail merchandising and computer-information systems.
Karla Tankersley, a Kroger supply chain engineer, talked to students enrolled in a retail merchandising class in the College of Health and Human Services that examines promotional planning, store image and target markets, among other things.
Using slideshows, Kroger representatives shared how the company tracks customers, trains managers, handles inventory and manages change within the industry and in its own operations.
The messages resonated with retail merchandising senior Ellen Board.
"It was interesting to hear from the engineers, because in our major we deal mostly with textiles," Board said. "It was nice to learn about something more."
Julie Tatge contributed to this story.