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Big ideas for bringing in a younger crowd

Katelyn Paget, Abby Cegler and Sara Devitt didn't know much about Finish Line before they put together a plan they think will draw more teens to the athletic apparel stores. Their ideas have won them a trip to company headquarters in Indianapolis to present an expanded version of their plan.

A five-minute YouTube video has won three Rosemount High School students a trip to Indianapolis to pitch their marketing ideas to a national athleticwear retailer.

The video RHS students Sara Devitt, Katelyn Paget and Abby Cegler posted in November was chosen last week as one of three finalists in a national competition sponsored by Finish Line, a national chain of shoe and athletic apparel stores.

Before November, Devitt, Paget and Cegler hadn't really heard of Finish Line. Neither, it seems, had many of their peers. That's why the Indiana company reached out to high school students late last year and challenged them to come up with ideas to draw more teens into the stores.

At RHS, marketing teacher Ryan Harrison turned the challenge into an assignment. He had his students do market research on the company and conduct focus groups. RHS students got more than 600 people to respond to a survey about the company.

When the research was done, Harrison split his students into teams of three and had them use that research to come up with a marketing plan. Business teachers at RHS judged the results, and the presentation assembled by Devitt, Paget and Cegler came out on top.

Harrison called the girls' ideas "realistic and impactful."

"They really did a good job connecting to the core consumer in a way the core consumer would respond to," Harrison said.

The girls put a lot of time into their work. They studied the research and drove to Burnsville to check out the store in person. What they noticed were dull colors and pictures that didn't feature many people their age. They also saw a shortage of the kinds of brands they and their peers covet.

"Their stores are kind of plain," Devitt said. "We were going to add more color."

They put together a plan that replaced black-and-white posters with bright colors and that featured Nike products more prominently in store displays. They used Microsoft Paint, a free photo editing program, to transform photos of stores to match their ideas and they assembled a PowerPoint presentation to show everything off.

"We spent a lot of time on it," Cegler said. "We spent a whole Sunday videotaping what we were going to put on YouTube."

Each high school was allowed to submit only one video presentation, and the RHS video, which had to be posted online by Nov. 30, was one of about 30 submitted nationwide. The girls were called out of class last week to get the news they were one of three finalists.

As a reward, Devitt, Paget and Cegler will fly to Indianapolis next month to present their information to a group of Finish Line executives. They'll visit the corporate offices and have dinner with the executives Feb. 1, then make their presentation Feb. 2. If their presentation is chosen from among the top three they'll win an all-expenses-paid trip to the national DECA conference in Louisville, Ky.

There's plenty of work to do before that happens, though. Initial video submissions were limited to five minutes, but the live presentations can be up to a half an hour. The girls plan to go further in depth with their proposals and rework sections they weren't happy with.

They started work this week by reviewing their own presentation and those of the groups they'll compete against. They've taken their own presentation off of the video sharing site to keep the competition from seeing their ideas.

If you start seeing a lot more bright colors soon at Finish Line stores, you'll know it worked.