When businesses are thrown curve balls, the successful ones adapt and often prosper. Those that don’t flirt with having their existences threatened.

Darian Bordon, MBAe innovation at work winner

Darian Bordon

Darian Bordon, a recent Clemson University MBAe graduate and Glazed, a business she works at with owner Brittany Perez, chose the former. As a result, their paint-your-own-pottery business has withstood COVID-19’s impact on the future of the 12-year-old small business in Clemson.

Darian was recently recognized, through the MBAe program’s Innovation at Work competition, for her innovative thinking that changed the fortunes of Glazed. The MBA’s entrepreneurship and innovation advanced-degree program’s annual event challenges its students, many of them working professionals, to put their classroom knowledge to work in their workplaces.

“When the virus hit, we had to look at whether our business was going to remain viable moving forward. There were bills to pay and when consumers distanced themselves from brick and mortar businesses, we had to pivot,” said Darian, whose prize for winning the event was $3,000. “Rather than closing our doors, we had to come up with an alternative business model quickly to retain and grow our business.”

Innovation at Work 2020 screenshot

Darian Bordon made her winning MBAe Innovation at Work presentation virtually.

Previously, Glazed’s business was primarily walk-in, with customers purchasing pottery such as dishware, figurines, and other products that they would paint in the store, then have it glazed and fired in a kiln. A week later, their goods were packed and ready for pickup.

“We were forced to innovate quickly and put everything online. Customers were able to order their pottery online and pick it up at curbside, along with painting supplies. Instead of in the store, their painting became an at-home activity. Then, we’d handle the glazing and firing,” she said.

The business strategy has shown short- and long-term signs of revenue growth. From 2019-2020 with combining online sales, there was a $12,000 growth with a projected $20,000 growth overall. In 2021, as an online-only business if certain regulations continue, revenue of six figures is the goal.

“The virus forced us to change the profit model, product performance and channel in which we operated the business,” Darian said. “Frankly, without the virus forcing our hand to embrace new opportunities, the future of our business may not be as bright as it is now.” Darian adds that having an open-minded owner like Brittany that fosters and encourages an innovative work environment was key to bringing all these changes to her small, local business to life.

Darian said her classroom learning contributed significantly to decision making that enhanced Glazed’s business fortunes.

“Among other things, the program opened my eyes to being innovative and open to trying new things. The program helped me look at all aspects of the business, even back office operations,” she said. “It’s also had an impact on my non-professional life in day-to-day living. It’s always nice to improve any part of one’s life if you’re open to trying new things.”

Fifteen students from the part-time and full-time MBAe programs competed in this year’s Innovative at Work event. The second and third place winners, respectively, were:

-Ernie Campbell, senior manager, technical education for cyber security company Palo Alto Networks. Holidays created a $255,888 monetary issue for the company’s five-day training regimen and the 12 instructors Campbell supervises. His process innovation of using holiday weeks to present pared down four-day pre-sales courses has resulted in $384,000 of previously unutilized instructor time being turned into $46.8 million in new opportunities.

-Andrew King, vice president, Heavy Salvage, an online broker for heavy-equipment transportation salvage, which customers can purchase from insurance companies through blind bidding. Andrew formed a partnership with Adjustrite, which creates digital forms for insurance adjusters. That partnership enables adjusters to transfer their data to Heavy Salvage’s system more efficiently. The result was a seamless transition from claims processing to selling the salvage.

“Companies today are expecting innovation at every level of an organization,” said Greg Pickett, director of Clemson’s MBA programs and associate dean in the College of Business. “The winners of our Innovation at Work competition applied the business-relevant curriculum our program provides to their respective organizations, which resulted in positive results for those forward-thinking businesses.”

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