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At Creighton U.’s Apple Store, Students Will Run the Show

Creighton University students will soon test their business chops, trying to sell one of the world’s most popular brands.

The business school at the Nebraska university this fall will open the first student-run Apple Store, where aspiring marketers, accountants, and entrepreneurs will be able to get their start at the retail giant. The store will become a classroom—and unpaid gig—for 30 to 60 student employees each year, as they will get class credit for managing inventory, making sales, and performing other tasks.

“The store is certainly a retail outlet, but it’s a learning outlet. This is a place to congregate, where people can bring in ideas,” said Tim P. McMahon, a clinical associate professor teaching leadership, marketing, and social media at Creighton’s College of Business.

After Apple approved Creighton’s plan to open one of more than two dozen authorized campus stores across the country, Mr. McMahon helped put together a proposal to the company that students should help come up with a business strategy.

Apple and other vendors will supply products like cases, iPods, and laptops to the store, which is a nonprofit organization. Neither an Apple representative nor Creighton administrators would disclose how much the university had invested in the store, though Mr. McMahon said Creighton hoped to recoup the initial funds within 18 months.

A professional manager will oversee the store, dubbed the iJay Store after the university’s mascot, Billy Bluejay. The store will also employ and pay some students to sell merchandise. Otherwise, the store will serve as a practicum for students, who will work behind the scenes.

Mr. McMahon said a faculty group was now working out how students would be graded when the class begins next spring. He said students would probably see marks based on how well they had put their business strategy into action, including how well they had trained employees but not how quickly the store became profitable.

The store will open by September after a $15.5-million renovation of a building that will house the business school and several other university offices. Creighton’s business professors want their students to understand not just their own discipline but also how to run a business, said Anthony R. Hendrickson, dean of the business school.

He said the Apple-authorized store would seek to build on the practical success of a Creighton class that has allowed students to work together to manage a portion of the university’s endowment for two decades. “If employers are looking for anything, it’s collaborative skills,” he said.

But this time, students want to focus on technology.

“If you look at the things we do on campus, in terms of professional education, we have a dentistry clinic for dentists, a medical clinic for medical students, a law clinic for law,” Mr. Hendrickson said. “We wanted to duplicate that in business, and we didn’t think running the bookstore was the kind of thing that’d be the right kind of fit for our students.”

The store, which will sell only to students and faculty and staff members, will not be identical to the renowned, trademarked Apple Store design, as the company encourages campus stores to break away from the standard layout. It will include only about 1,000 square feet of space, but no Genius Bar for customer service. And it will not be the only Apple Store in town; a more typical Apple retail outlet sits 13 miles away, on the other side of Omaha.

But the iJay Store will give students exposure to working with a remarkably successful brand. Apple is the second-most-profitable company in the world, and is especially popular among college students.

Mr. Hendrickson said, however, that there’s no sure bet. If students are not savvy enough entrepreneurs or marketers, they could end up with low grades as well as low sales.

“It’s not the layup we think,” he said, referring to an easy shot in basketball. In addition to Apple electronics, the store will offer iPad and laptop accessories, sales of which could determine the success of the students’ merchandising efforts.

“There is a plethora of opportunities there,” Mr. Hendrickson said. “They’re going to learn how to run a business.”

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