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Teen Marketers Turn Profit at Spirit Store

As a business, what’s the best way to market to teenagers? Put them in charge, high school students recently proved.

At Byron Center High School, the Spirit Store –- a space at school meant for selling Bulldog T-shirts, sweatshirts and other gear -– hadn’t been profitable or even open in years. Old inventory that never sold was left in disarray. People bought their spirit gear online and at basketball and football games.

Noticing an opportunity to give his students some real-world marketing and retail experience, business teacher Jordan Lee put those in his marketing class in charge. Using principles from class, they revamped and reopened the store last fall.

Senior Crystal Lettinga peruses what’s for sale

Students updated products and designs, adding hats and T-shirts with catchy slogans like “Always Reppin,” based on schoolwide surveys of what students said they like and were willing to pay for.

Students run the store during lunch twice a week, after school, and at sporting and special events, managing every aspect.

The year-end profit: $3,000.

“We know what kids like to wear, what kids like best, and I think kids are more comfortable coming in here when kids are running it,” said sophomore Jennifer Geerlings, who serves as Spirit Store human resource manager.

Sophomore Jonah Schlindwein tries on a hat

How to Run a Store

Students like Jennifer were interviewed by high school administrators for positions including chief financial officer, human resources director,marketing manager and inventory manager. They plan to add a social media manager next school year.

Employees design products and vote as a class on the best ones. They conduct surveys, price items, calculate markups and track inventory.

Profits are returned to the school store for merchandise and equipment, and Lee hopes to someday be able to pay his staff.

Lee, who is also school-to-career coordinator, said revamping the store not only teaches marketing, but gives students an idea of what a career in business and retail is like.

Hats and updated shirts designed by students have helped the school store become profitable

“I can talk about anything in business and marketing, but it’s not applicable until they are hands-on doing it,” Lee said. “They’re pricing things and they are getting real data by serving staff and students.”

Jennifer said she learned that retail requires good customer service. “I just learned to be good with people, to be friendly, and keep the store clean to keep people interested in coming in.”

Sophomore Nolan Unthank learned running a business is more complicated than meets the eye.

“You’ve got to sell things for more money than it seems like you need to, to make a profit,” Nolan said. “We buy stuff we think people like and sometimes it’s expensive.”

Sophomore Jonah Schlindwein said he learned about marketing strategies such as using nostalgia and “bandwagon” trends to entice customers, but that there’s a lot more to it to get items to fly off the shelves.

“I learned how difficult it can be to run a school store,” he said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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