Talus McCowan, a UND medical student, tried on jackets during the JCPenney Suit-Up Event on Sunday evening. For three hours, the store was open exclusively for UND students and alumni to shop at a discount. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.
The store had just closed for the evening, but soon it was busier than it had been all day.
In the first 15 minutes of the JCPenney’s Suit-Up Event, more than 100 UND students walked through the Grand Forks department store’s north entrance, which was bannered in UND green.
The fanfare gave UND Career Services director Ilene Odegard a boost of energy on what would otherwise be a relaxing Sunday evening.
“It’s like a party,” she marveled, as students walked in to sign their name and student ID number to receive a 30-percent-off coupon.
Since 2018, the retailer has partnered with UND to provide the exclusive sale, which involves closing the store for one evening each semester to all but UND students and alumni. In addition to a store-wide 30 percent discount, further discounts were applied to men’s and women’s professional apparel and accessories – up to 60 percent off regular prices.
It was all hands on deck for both JCPenney and Career Services, as the event has drawn close to 400 students in the past.
“The first time around, the corporate representative was asking how many people we could drive to this event,” Odegard recalled. “We were saying maybe 75? 100? Then students came in droves.”
Saud Abu Aldam was all smiles as he upgraded his wardrobe on the cheap. The mechanical engineering student was proud of his strategy of advance shopping to beat the lines of the popular event. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.
Saud Abu Aldam knew it would be busy as he made a bee-line for the counter.
With a wide smile, the mechanical engineering graduate student from Saudi Arabia said he and a friend had “engineered” their own strategy for the Suit-Up event.
“We spent a lot of time here on Friday, and it wasn’t nearly as busy as it is now,” he explained. “We looked through suits, all these nice things, and found what we wanted to buy; then we put them on hold.”
After making it to the counter, Abu Aldam gave his name to a sales representative, who promptly left to retrieve his items. While waiting, he explained that their advance shopping helped him make the right decisions. If he’d been rushed and trying to beat the lines, he might not have seen all of the options for his wardrobe.
“I got a sport jacket, a bowtie, suspenders and some shirts,” he said as the representative came back with a large bundle. Abu Aldam said he’s looking forward to mixing and matching the items with what he currently owns, and making a good impression in future interviews.
“First impression is key,” he said, pointing out his fresh haircut to match the fresh outfits. “That’s what gets the conversation going with an employer, whether you’re seeking a job or an internship.”
Jackie and Jonathan Bartels moved through the specially marked racks of JCPenney’s sale on Sunday, seeking “teacher clothes” for Jackie, who recently started student teaching as part of her elementary education major at UND. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.
Building a closet
Of course, for many financially strapped students, that’s much easier said than done, said Madison Moen, a projects and events specialist with Career Services.
“It can be tough to buy high-quality, professional dress,” Moen said. “This is a great opportunity for students to build out their closet in an affordable way, because the price tag is a major factor in their decision to purchase.”
As Jackie Bartels and her husband, Jonathan, browsed through specially marked racks of clothing, Jackie said she’d heard about the JCPenney-UND partnership through UND’s event text alerts.
Last year, they came and got a suit for Jonathan. This year, Jackie wanted to find “teacher clothes.”
“I started student teaching five weeks ago,” the UND elementary education major said. “It’s a different kind of wardrobe from college clothes.”
Events such as Suit-Up are helpful as people move into professional careers, the couple said. With clothes that are reasonably priced, it’s at least worth checking out what’s available.
“Teachers don’t make a whole lot,” Bartels laughed. “They’re on a budget, so events like these are great.”
With students in the store and exposed to all of its offerings, JCPenney’s management has been happy with its “tremendous relationship” with UND. After four runs of the event, hundreds of students have taken advantage of the discounts. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.
Win for students, local retail
Kevin Flynn, general manager of the Grand Forks JCPenney, had a tape measure draped over his shoulders as he whisked about the store. He’s seen the Suit-Up Event as a “tremendous relationship” with the University, as it brings attention to JCPenney’s offerings.
For example, JCPenney also offers salon, makeup and portrait studio services, in addition to clothes. So, students were able to get coupons for professional headshots, samples and a “mini-makeover” at Sephora and free hair consultation at the salon during the three-hour sale.
“A lot of students might not know that we have these services available in-store,” Flynn said. “This gets our name out around the University, and students like it when they can have the whole store to themselves like this.”
Jen Proulx, events and communications coordinator for Career Services, characterized Suit-Up as a win-win that drives sales for Grand Forks’ brick-and-mortar retail while providing students great clothing options. The team tries to schedule it around upcoming Career Fairs, events when students know they should look their best.
“It’s a fun event to work,” Proulx exclaimed.
When they weren’t at the table checking in students, Career Services staff were on the sales floor providing valuable second opinions to solo shoppers.
“It’s a good partnership for Career Services in that we recognize how important it is for students to show up looking professionally dressed,” she continued. “I hope more students learn about it, hear about it and take advantage of it.”