Greeted with a choice of three sodas, a stapled waver and a blank piece of paper as a name tag, students filed into rooms that smelled of garlic, tomato sauce, bell peppers and raised bread.

On Tuesday, Oct. 18, students of the Market Research class conducted five focus groups for Pizza Schmizza, a branch from the Portland-bred company Schmizza International, Inc. As a class, students are helping to conduct comprehensive market research on millennials and social media channels. The consultation project consists of four stages of research: mystery shopping, face-to-face surveys, focus groups and a social media survey.

Pizza Schmizza reached out to students in an effort to better “target millennials, so they want to know how to service and meet our needs, to the best of their abilities,” Travez Whyte said.

Mystery shopping is where customers shop at a business with the intention of evaluating a variety of aspects of a certain store, while under the guise of anonymity. For this stage, students were given gift cards to purchase various products at any of the 25 locations, while taking notes on their experience.

Students sign up for Pizza Schmizza focus groups outside the Psalm Center.

Students sign up for Pizza Schmizza focus groups outside the Psalm Center.

After gathering the information from different locations, students went to new locations to conduct in-person surveys, each team collecting results from thirty customers.

Once the survey results were compiled, the class began to plan for the next stage: hosting focus groups.

“Focus groups are live surveys,” Luke Jackson said.

A week prior to the event, students passed out pizza after chapel and asked peers to sign up to be placed in groups. The weekend before meeting, volunteers for the focus groups received an email with their assigned group, separating participants into classrooms of seven to sixteen students.

“About seven people is the ideal focus group size,” Austin Marsh said. “It’s a good amount to hear what everyone thinks.”

Each group was facilitated by a team of three members, each with a unique role. One student was the main speaker who hosted and guided volunteers in discussion. Another student was the observer and videographer, while the third member took notes of what transpired during the session.

“It’s very fun to get opinions of fellow students of what we’ve been working on so closely,” Joey Meador said. “Sometimes it’s so obvious, but because we’re so close, we don’t see it.”

Hosts in each classroom spoke different scripts, guiding conversation to better understand what students preferred when it came to pizza, service, social media and atmosphere.

“Close your eyes,” Jonah Brokaw said, as he walked around in a circle holding the open pizza box close to the participants’ faces. “There are two reasons why I asked you to close your eyes. One, it heightens your sense of smell without seeing. Two, I want your opinion on the smell alone. So, what did you smell?”

For a few students this consulting project is not their first experience with Pizza Schmizza.

“The company was so happy with the results of last year’s project, they have asked us to collaborate annually,” Professor Kelli Gassman said. “Real-world projects like this one create a value-added learning opportunity for my marketing students to take theory and put it into action, which is a great way to learn marketing and build their resume.”

Meador is one of the few students who previously worked with the company.

“Pizza Schmizza serves boutique pizza, a more dine-in setting,” he said. “Their pizza always is the same, but each store’s atmosphere is different than another. One store in Vancouver hosts game nights every Monday. There are so many Wiis. Nintendo’s everywhere.”

It was the free pizza that attracted many students to partake in the focus groups.

“I knew it wouldn’t be long, and I have a night class, so I wouldn’t normally get to eat,” Boaz Dillon said.

The groups ended with an invitation to take leftover pizza slices, a free sticker, a free slice card and a drawing for a free Pizza Schmizza T-shirt.