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“The Center for Retail Excellence program has fueled me to believe in myself more. The training experience has already pushed me far beyond my original expected goals and to see the potential inside of me.”
– Nina, Current Student

“The one thing that I have found very valuable about the class training is learning about everything that it takes to prepare to open my own business. The preparations that I must take, such as saving money, getting permits, purchasing supplies and store fixtures, advertising, marketing, employee training, and preparing a monthly and yearly account of expenses.”
– Joanne, Current Student

tarajonesheadshotThe Center for Retail Excellence (CRE) was launched in 2017 and already has numerous students enrolled. Those students are under the direction and guidance of not only the Director of CRE, Susan Moore, but the cohort facilitator. We had the pleasure of sitting down with CRE facilitator, Tara Jones, to discuss her role and perspective on the value of the program.

Tara first became involved with CRE during its conception and came on board because of her “…passion for education and research and [I] feel that many business owners and entrepreneurs are not well-prepared to run a business, especially to handle any obstacles or challenges they may face.” Essentially, it provides her an outlet to educate and guide aspiring and current retailers.

To facilitate this type of program, a strong educational and business background, more specifically retail, is key. Tara graduated from Virginia Tech with a B.A. in Business Management. Following the completion of her degree, she went on to participate in a retail manager training program and continued the management track in the banking industry.

She currently is a Financial Center Manager at Fulton Bank and believes that her “background in banking, sales, customer experience and facilitation gave [her] a unique perspective of what’s required financially and beyond.”

Her role requires that she serves as a subject matter expert and aids the students in brainstorming ideas while still providing guidance. She also provides personal suggestions from her experience to students when reviewing and giving feedback on course assignments. Tara also explained that a great benefit of the program is the impact of student to student interaction. During class, she’s able to observe the supportive and collaborative nature of using peer review, “They have started to really talk like retailers, bouncing their ideas off each other, and their interaction and support of each other is a joy to watch.”

The current cohort of students is made up of professionals who are existing retailers or work in retail/banking. The group of students are representative of what Tara sees as the ideal candidates: entrepreneurs and small businesses within the first three to five years. “The initial years for any entrepreneur or small business is crucial, especially from a financial perspective as this is the time when more financial backing is required whether it’s to recoup funds contributed in the start of the business or to obtain more,” she commented.

Like money, time is a major commitment. Fortunately, CRE provides a good balance of face to face instruction and online facilitation via Blackboard for convenience and accessibility for all involved. Tara spends two hours every other Monday and even more time outside of instructional time to help students, whether it be online or a personal phone call; creating an open-door policy is yet another major resource of this program. Although Tara has two children, a full-time job, and other facilitator roles, she makes the time and invests that in education for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Overall, the students are surrounded by invaluable resources, so at the completion of the program, they walk away with not only knowledge and connections, but a physical business plan to use for their future endeavors. Such a visualization is what has driven Tara to take on her role as a CRE facilitator and is very appreciative of the opportunity to participate in the program. She is looking forward to the continued growth and success of the program, especially with the launch of the Peninsula cohort, set to commence on August 14. Contact Susan Moore for more information about the classes at or call (757) 455-9319.