Log Home News: Log Home Company to Receive Marketing Makeover 10/04/2007
Students Recommend Business Marketing Strategy to Local Business

Bowdoinham, ME: As part of their Master of Business Administration (MBA) requirement, teams of University of Southern Maine (USM) students were tasked with the assignment to study a local company and make business recommendations for it. Last spring’s USM MBA Practicum class was divided into 7 teams of student consultants tasked with analyzing the defined needs of their client companies. USM students Jaime Bower, Bob Langworthy and Mark Lichter selected Hilltop Log & Timber Homes as the business entity they would analyze in the area of marketing.

Hilltop Log & Timber Home’s inclusion on the list of companies to analyze was the result of the combined efforts of Brad Swanson, Consultant with Maine’s Small Business Development Association and John Massaua, the head of this same organization and the USM professor assigning the MBA Practicum Project.

Swanson recommended Hilltop get a team of students involved in analyzing their business. He met with Hilltop owners, Dan and Cathy McKenna in January 2007 to help identify needs and direction for the project.

The MBA team had at least 8 companies to choose from in formulating their MBA Practicum Projects. Hilltop Log & Timber Homes was the top choice for the marketing study team. Team leader, Langworthy, grew up in the building industry since his father worked in this field and found Hilltop Log & Timber Homes most interesting.

The team received a summary of identified needs to study and assess and met with Hilltop principals to better understand these needs. To begin, Hilltop sought specific recommendations as to where to allocate marketing dollars. The MBA team felt there was too much potential for disappointment in this particular task since they had no formal background in consultation. Instead, the MBA team proposed to study Hilltop’s customers and overall strategy in order to present a clearer picture of Hilltop’s target market.

The students researched Hilltop by interviewing employees, dealers, owners and homeowners. They also attended the annual Maine Log Home Show, a standard tradeshow on Hilltop’s marketing calendar. Langworthy said, “We had a great response rate from the customers and were surprised by some of the findings.” The MBA team found that log homes are not only suited for just a stereotypical small cabin purchaser, but that many customers seek primary residences and executive log homes for retirement, vacation or 2nd homes. “In the end our professor thought we had done a very good job. Whether or not some of the ideas we suggested were implemented would be another measure of the success of our project,” commented Langworthy.

When taking on the MBA Practicum, Langworthy already had some background in business management. He graduated from USM in May 2007 and is currently working at Atlantic Great Dane, a semi-trailer sales and service company with clients such as Hannaford and Oakhurst. Bob interviewed for this position while working on his MBA.

With no previous business management background, the MBA Practicum presented Lichter and Bower the opportunity to be involved in a hands-on experience from a business ownership and management perspective. Lichter and Bower are on target to complete their MBA programs this year. Bower is currently in the Coast Guard and plans to use her MBA to advance to a management position. Lichter recently worked for a Cadillac Mountain Store in Portland and currently has chosen to go back to school full time.

When the project was complete the USM team presented Hilltop with their findings in a full report and conference. Langworthy remarked, “Working with Hilltop gave us a chance to apply what we were learning in class. “There is nothing like actually going onsite, meeting with the owners, employees and interviewing customers to get a feel for what we are learning and how it applies to the real world. It was a very valuable experience for all three of us.”

The USM team students were graded separately and competitively based on their perceptions of each others work load. Langworthy received an A, but does not know what grades Lichter and Bower earned. To help with grading assessment, students were asked to divide and allocate an imaginary $10,000 of bonus money between the team members, explaining their choices. They were not permitted to divide the money evenly. Massaua let the students grade each other since he could not possibly know who carried the bulk of the responsibility and effort on the project.

The Practicum’s conclusion included a recommendation for subsequent MBA teams to continue forward supporting Hilltop Log & Timber Homes as well as specific items to study further. “If Hilltop was willing I think it could have a really positive impact on the company,” Langworthy suggested. He continued, “It was a very positive experience for me. I hope that Hilltop will continue to have a good relationship with the USM MBA program and allow more teams to help out.”

Hilltop Log & Timber Homes designs, manufactures and sells custom log, post & beam and stick-built homes, cabins and commercial buildings. With nearly 25 years experience, the company now sells to a variety of buyers including those seeking smaller first homes, larger second homes, luxury vacation homes and camps or cabins. The company’s commercial markets include resorts, campgrounds, restaurants, log home developments and bed & breakfasts.
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