An Education in Business
Students at Willoughby South High School are learning how to run a business by operating a school store. Currently they sell custom-designed t-shirts, hoodies, and crewneck sweatshirts, but they have plans to expand their products to include school supplies and novels required for English classes.
In just its first semester in business, the students totaled $7,000 in sales. They operate out of an unused concession stand in the high school cafeteria, but they will move to a permanent location in a new high school currently under construction.
Among the many lessons the students have learned in the first few months of operation is that running a business is a lot of hard work.
“They are learning that business owners have to be 110 percent dedicated to running and making a business successful and that it just doesn’t happen overnight,” remarks Business Education teacher Daneen Baller, who convinced the superintendent and curriculum director to create a dedicated two semester “school store” class to teach business skills in a real world way.
The process started when a group of students in her entrepreneurship class began selling the school’s spirit wear. Through market research, the class learned their customers preferred to purchase custom-designed t-shirts and sweatshirts, not the stock items currently offered. Eventually, they wrote a business plan that described their desire to invest in a heat press machine to make and sell customized apparel during lunch hours. The plan was approved and Mrs. Baller and the students sought start-up funding from several sources, including a Grant-to-Educators from the Jennings Foundation.
“No business starts off having everything, another real world lesson I want these students to learn,” says Mrs. Baller, who worked as an accountant in business and industry for 12 years before becoming a teacher. Funding allowed her to purchase the heat press machine, an equipment cart, and the supplies that went with it.
The business lab class meets five days a week in Mrs. Baller’s classroom, but students put in additional hours selling merchandise when the store is open. While in the classroom, the students tackle concepts related to operating any business: market research, merchandising, selecting and reviewing vendors, pricing, accounting, marketing/promotion, and management. Mrs. Baller refers to a textbook but many of the lessons are learned best through experience.
This is so real world. They aren’t only imagining something on paper; they can actually see it. And they amaze me because they have so many good ideas. We take the best of the best and apply it to our actual business.
“This is so real world,” Mrs. Baller claims very excitedly. “They aren’t only imagining something on paper; they can actually see it. And they amaze me everyday because they have so many good ideas. We take the best of the best and apply it to our actual business. And then we carry it out.”
Mrs. Baller admits that even with her business background she too is learning along with the students. “I am figuring this out too – we are all learning as we go, just like a business does,” she says. “I tell them all the time, ‘This is a true business; and businesses learn as they go. If you are the CEO, or the president, or the manager, you don’t have all the answers.’ In class, they may ask me for the answer. Well in this setting, I don’t have the answer. We are just going to try something and see how it goes.”