MDR’s Merchant Development Program leads four merchandising majors to get a ‘shoe’ in the door at the NRF Big Show in New York City
Feb 20,2014

Subrina Hossain, Khuyen Nguyen, Karen Saltzman, and Adriana Solis were accepted into MDR’s Merchant Development Program (MDP), which enables majors to build their professional skills and abilities and elevate their level of talent through a series of academic and industry experiences beyond the requirements of the degree plan.  One of the categories in completion of this program is participating in an organized competition.  These four majors are members of the NRFSA, which is the student organization of the NRF (National Retail Federation).  Select members of the NRFSA chapter at UNT attend the Big Show at the Javits Center in New York City in January each year.  Mr. Rich Last, Senior Director of the Global Digital Retailing Research Center and Digital Retailing faculty and Mrs. Dee Wilson, MDR’s Career Development Coordinator accompanied 16 students in early January and attended the week-long event. 

These four students entered the NRF competition which is open to the NRFSA member universities.  The competition sets the participants in the role of product development specialists for a retailer for whom the team would research and bring a new product to market.  The process began in August and continued throughout the Fall semester, culminating in a trip to New York to present their concept and plan to a panel of judges.  

The product idea developed from experiencing “foot fatigue” during MDR’s May New York Study Tour.  Was there a solution for professional looking footwear that also gave support and comfort?  Their brainstorming led to creating not just a shoe of any kind, but a heel that would be best focused to career women and provide the perfect balance between style and comfort.  They researched existing and emerging shoe technologies, met with industry professionals including product developers in footwear, package designers, financial projections analysts, and potential retail business clients. 

Subrina served as the fashion specialist and trend forecaster as well as researcher regarding customers and competitors.  Karen was the inspiration for the name of the collection and played a key role in the "customer" experience/customer service strategy.  Khuyen was instrumental as a product designer and dealt with product technology and specifications.  Adriana was heavily involved in the financial portion, leading the team through the process, and making sure the project remained financially viable in terms of cost, price, marketing, promotions as well as keeping the branding cohesive.  Organization also play a key role in that their team met and completed the entire process between August and December including weekly meetings with Mr. Rich Last and many additional hours on their own time to refine their idea and develop the required contest materials.  This was in addition to their existing course loads and work schedules.

The competition involved several stages, each step forward dependent upon a different set of industry judges determining the advancement of the team to the next stage. They developed a business plan and a pitch video for the initial entry.  There are approximately 28 member universities in NRFSA and our team was selected as a top 6 finalist.  They continued to prepare by meeting with industry professionals who are members of MDR’s Board of Governors.   These professionals helped the team hone their presentation skills and simulated the environment of the anticipated next rounds of competition.  They presented their product and detailed business plan via conference call to a new set of judges.  They were awarded $2500 each for travel to the Big Show and to participate in the final round of competition.   The formal presentation and finale of all of their hard work and long hours culminated in a 45 minute “Shark Tank” style meeting with yet a different set of judges consisting of presentation and questions the team addressed based on their knowledge and preparation.  Their efforts garnered third place in the National Retail Federation’s Student Competition.

Thoughts regarding the experience.

"The opportunity to be a part of the NRF Student Challenge was a rewarding challenge. I'm glad to have been able to connect all the dots from my course work and classes with a real world situation and be a part of the team who developed a solution to a common problem. I'm thankful to be a part of the Merchant Development Program and for all of the support from CMHT." 

 -Subrina Hossain


"It was the most amazing and valuable experience for me. I felt extremely lucky to have that unique opportunity to evaluate and improve my skills, strengths and weaknesses. I gained not only the real insights of the retail industry but also the leadership, entrepreneurship, and power of teamwork. Deep thanks to UNT, CMHT Faculty and all my wonderful team members for making this come true!"

 -Khuyen Nguyen

"As a recent member of the Merchant Development program, I have been given a tremendous opportunity to work alongside my peers, to showcase my merchandising expertise. The concept of the K.Saltzman career women’s shoe embraced my vision with a truly innovative design committed to style and comfort. As a team, being able to participate in the NRF Foundation’s Student Challenge has helped pioneer the way for the future leaders of the retail industry and bring attention to the talent at the University of North Texas. ”-Karen Saltzman

 -Karen Saltzman

 "Attending the 2014 NRF show was a transformational experience on both a personal and educational level. I am very thankful to CMHT for allowing me the opportunity to attend such an important conference. It was amazing to learn about retail from the industry's top leaders and game changers. The experience was incredibly inspiring and made me even more excited about my future. I feel that I came back with an enlightened perspective on the power of commerce and teamwork."

-Adriana Solis


Mr. Rich Last reported the outcome of the competition with these words 

“Third place in student challenge scholarship award .... First place in our UNT hearts !” 

The NRF Big Show is the event for attended by approximately 30,000 people from 86 countries representing both national and international retailers.  They gather to gain the best information regarding their industry from over 250 speakers, 100+ educational seminars, networking opportunities, and exhibits from 555 companies demonstrating the latest in technology and business solutions.

For more information about the MDR Merchant Development Program, application and due dates, see  or contact Dr. Tammy Kinley    Applications are due well in advance of the upcoming semesters in which new groups are formed each Spring and Fall.

For more information about the New York Study Tour, application and due dates, see  or contact Mrs. Dee Wilson for details.

The NRFSA – (National Retail Federation Student Association) is open to all merchandising, home furnishings merchandising, and digital retailing majors.  See  or contact NRFSA Faculty Advisor Mr. Richard Last for scheduled meetings and information about joining.  

For more information about the NRF and a recap of the recent Big Show, see

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