San Marcos,
15:09 PM

Business Students Help Tribal Nursery Bloom

By David Ogul

Rincon Tribal Nursery has been selling everything from San Diego sunflower to Mohave yucca since opening near Valley Center some six years ago. But when it came time to decide whether to grow the small business nestled on a half-acre just south of state Route 76, Nursery Manager Joey Morales turned to the College of Business Administration’s Senior Experience Program for some help.

“I called up a couple people to inquire about a market analysis, and it was going to cost a pretty penny,” Morales said. “Then one of the people I talked to told us about the Cal State San Marcos program. We looked into it and decided this was a perfect fit.”

The Senior Experience Program matches teams of graduating business students with projects submitted by local businesses and organizations looking for feasibility studies, business plans, marketing research or workflow improvements. Students benefit by working as consultants on rigorous, real-world challenges that require teamwork and the application of classroom knowledge. Businesses gain by receiving concentrated attention from bright, energetic teams that provide a fresh, independent look at their goals.

Past projects include developing strategies for California Coast Credit Union to boost its Generation Y member base. Another involved market research on Target’s guest services and the benefits that they offer to customers.

The Senior Experience burnishes CSUSM’s credentials as a leader in collaborating with the community. And this project underscores the University’s history of closely working with local tribes, an effort that extends to 25 Native American communities in San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

“This is a unique opportunity for our students to engage with a tribal community and tribal leadership,” said Tishmall Turner, a member of the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians who also serves as CSUSM’s Tribal Liaison, the only tribal liaison in the California State University system. “San Diego County has the largest number of reservations of any county in the country, so it makes sense for Cal State San Marcos to be engaged with the local tribes.”


That Rincon Nursery specializes in drought tolerant plants native to the region makes the Senior Project effort even more compelling.

The Rincon Tribal Nursery’s experience has, in many ways, been typical of the Senior Experience. Businesses and organizations submit an application to the college for review, and selected projects are matched with students based on qualifications and interest. Months of market research, interviews and meetings are involved, culminating with an in-depth report and a project presentation.

This year presentations will be on May 5, and neither the Rincon Tribal Nursery nor the Rincon Tribal Council will know until then what the team of five seniors has found. A Senior Experience Trade Show is set for May 12 at the USU Ballroom.

“The Senior Experience is one of our signature programs, a program that benefits local businesses and nonprofit organizations and benefits our students,” said Professor of Marketing Dr. Vassilis Dalakas, who served as the faculty advisor to the team working with the Rincon Tribal Nursery. “It enables our students to take what they are learning in the classroom and apply it for the benefit of a business or nonprofit.”

Dalakas said he was impressed by his group’s work. “They have really done a very thorough job. The draft was 179 pages. This is not something you can just throw together the night before. Their analysis is comprehensive, thorough and detailed, and it would cost quite a bit of money if this were prepared by a marketing firm.”

The team wasted no time in getting organized, holding its first meeting the week before classes even began. Roles were quickly defined. Amy Armstrong was selected as team leader and representative. Setarre Bringman and Illyvia Samala were appointed primary and secondary researchers. Rachelle Garcia was the designated writer. And Samantha Butts was given the task of pulling the research together into a readable format.

In addition, each senior was tasked with investigating a specific business plan to pursue. Options and strategies include growing a customer base of big box retailers; growing a customer base of landscapers; growing a customer base of contractors; or focusing on growing as a retail nursery. A social media and marketing plan also was included in the report.

“We wanted to give them as many options and opportunities to explore as possible,” Samantha said.

Research included analyzing the area’s demographics, talking to homeowners associations, looking at opportunities with government agencies and contractors and researching bid processes. They also contacted tribal governments to see what potential markets might exist there.

“They’ve been very dedicated to this, keeping me updated, asking the right questions,” Morales said.

The verdict?

“There is a very promising market for this kind of industry,” Amy said. “Native and drought tolerant plants are valuable not only for homeowners and homeowner associations, but they are also valuable to the construction industry because incentives exist to incorporate environmentally friendly landscaping in their projects. There is a growing market in California for drought tolerant, native plants. We have done thorough research and analysis and we are giving them some valuable tools that we believe can help them build a strong business.”

“It was extremely interesting to pull all this information together and work as a team,” Amy remarked. “It was really our time to shine.”