Chicago trip with Stout Retail

Annalise MarkLast semester, I had the chance to travel to Chicago with the Stout Retail Association (SRA). I’m not a retail major, but I still had a lot of fun exploring Chicago and learning information that was relevant to me as a business major.

Our first stop was the Chicago Fashion Incubator (CFI) where we were given a tour by Trideep Das, CFI’s business director. Later, we were also introduced to Andrea Reynders, CFI’s design director. Both individuals were passionate and interested in helping bring designers’ visions to life.


CFI is all about mentoring a select group of fashion designers for two years at a time; helping them develop their entrepreneurial skills while they develop a clothing line, with the goal of making it retail-worthy. To me, it felt like a rigorous, educational version of what I imagine the show Project Runway to be like, minus the competitive eliminations every week.

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They have a really cool program there. I seriously wish I could operate a sewing machine and so I would at least have some chance to experience it. I did meet a CFI student who started out as an accountant, so I suppose anything’s possible! I highly suggest you take a look at their website if anything about CFI sparks your interest. It could be your next big opportunity!

Our next stop was Koastal Konnection, one of the Midwest’s leading clothing wholesalers, located in the Merchandise Mart Plaza. In my business classes, we always learn about the idea distribution channels and how wholesalers fit into the process, but I’ve never been able to visualize wholesalers as brick and mortar businesses. As consumers we  only get to see the retailer, so it was enlightening for me to connect the dots and understand the process more.

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The showroom that we crowded into, was only about twice the size of a dorm room. The room it was filled wall to wall with racks sorted and arranged with shirts, dresses, jeans and belts. I wish that room was my closet!

After a lunch break, we headed to our last stop, Groupon Headquarters. The corporate atmosphere was different from anything I could have imagined. A statement from Groupon explains it all. “Plenty of things in life are pretty ho-hum, so we aim to provide an escape from the everyday grind. In our quest to liven things up, we infuse excitement, newness and unpredictability into everything we do- from our offers and shopping experience to our office space and workday.”

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Yes, there was a giant cat in a giant space ship.

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Not really sure the purpose of this particular element, but it’s memorable and funny, so that’s a good enough reason to have it.

They have some swings in the middle of the room.

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Also, they have this thing called “The Pit.”


It’s about a three feet deep, by five foot wide tub that looks like a hallowed out tree stump that it’s filled entirely with candy. It was the end of the week, so it was a little low when we got there (understandably).

It’s a way to get people away from their desks and socializing with other employees. One rule: you can’t just grab and go with the candy.

Groupon is a start-up and hasn’t been around for that long, but they’re already making a splash on the retail world. What they do can seem complex, but long story short, they basically bring all of the retail sales and deals together in one place for consumers to take advantage of anywhere in the world.

My next goal based on this tour: get a sales internship at Groupon.

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Friday wrapped up nicely. I ate some Chicago style deep dish, did some shopping; along with exploring the city and trying to figure out why the streets outside of our hotel smelled like chocolate chip cookies (I was unsuccessful).

Saturday was a free day and 100 percent of the people who were on the trip used it for shopping. Who could blame them? They’re retail majors, so it only makes sense.

I learned a lot from this trip and I wish it could have been longer, but we made the most of the days that we were there.

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See ya again soon, Chicago!

And thank you, Stout Retail Association!

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