Minding the store
Inventory management? Check. Sales and profitability? Check. Promotions and social media marketing? Check. Customer service? Check.
It’s all in a day’s work at Husky Mart, a student-run convenience store kiosk located inside Oelwein High School.
Currently the only DECA-certified school-based enterprise in the state, Husky Mart (note that is with an “M”) is completely student led and student driven. Students see the entire business from start to finish and get first-hand experience in connecting classroom learning with a real-world business. To earn the DECA certification, the students had to demonstrate competency and achievement in 10 key business performance indicators. Its humble beginnings defy the common misconception that a school needs to have deep pockets and large-scale capacity to sustain a successful school-based enterprise.
“We actually started as the Husky Cart,” said Cole Thomas, Oelwein High School’s business teacher. “Students in our Intro to Business class researched the idea and came up with a proposal. With administration’s support, we started with a mobile cart that we purchased using federal Perkins funding.”
The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which amended and reauthorized the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, provides funding to support and assist local educational agencies and community colleges in the development of academic and technical skills of secondary and postsecondary students who elect to enroll in career and technical education programs.
Mason Meyer and Joey Barron, now seniors, have been with Husky Mart since the beginning.
“We used to roll the cart into study hall classes to sell merchandise,” Mason said. “We would have a spread sheet and fill in when we had business class and off periods and we would do scheduling that way.”
The students soon learned that small business management is no walk in the park. They had to use a mix of education, knowledge and expertise to run their business. The work involved a lot of insight and effort to make wise choices, mitigate risk and successfully run an entrepreneurial operation.
“It is a small business,” Joey said. “We think of it as our own business. You can’t slack because if we don’t do it, the work just doesn’t get done and the business can’t grow.”
Their work has been recognized.
Mason presented their cart concept as a business enterprise at the DECA State Leadership Conference and was invited to the national conference in Anaheim in April 2017. Sophomore Ethan Studebaker was invited to the national conference in Atlanta last spring for the Husky Mart as well as in sports and entertainment marketing.
Those experiences not only boosted their confidence but also motivated the team to continue to think about how to grow their business.
The students are in charge of all aspects of the business – purchasing, managing inventory, pricing, point of sale, and promotions. The majority of their merchandise is snack oriented.
“Everything we sell has to meet the Healthy Kids Act,” Joey said. In addition, we research ideas, ensure compliance and set clear guidelines for the merchandise that we sell.”
Take, for instance, the school’s clear liquid rule. When student surveys showed a strong demand for flavored powder packets to add to water bottles, the students had to first sell the idea to their principal. To be able to sell the flavor packets, the students agreed to include a label to identify the items were purchased at Husky Mart.
The students are also very careful to keep inventory at levels that meet demand without a lot of overstock.
“We aren’t sitting on a lot of merchandise,” Joey said. “We will try out new things, but in small quantities until we know what we can sell. We don’t want overstock on something that won’t turn around quickly.”
A lot has changed since that first year. This fall, the students took the Husky Mart from a mobile cart to having a physical location in the business classroom with regular hours of operation – 8:20 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. They also went from a cash-only operation to integrating Square (a software program), which enables them to accept credit card payments and offer point-of-sale software to help manage sales and inventory.
The display case, point-of-sale system, and new DECA study materials were purchased from funding from their Regional Planning Partnership. There are currently 15 such partnerships across the state consisting of private sector partners, area education agencies, community colleges and schools districts that collaborate to provide an effective, efficient and economical means of delivering high-quality secondary career and technical education programs in their regions.
“In Business Management class, we researched Square as well as additional products to have in our new display class,” Mason said. “We had to determine whether it would be worth it to offer credit card sales. We found the convenience route to be a big deal. A lot of students don’t carry around cash.”
The research paid off. Husky Mart used to have around $100 a week in sales. Since the addition of the point-of-sale system, sales have nearly doubled.
The Husky Mart even has its own Twitter account where the team engages their customers, tweets out specials and surveys and shares seasonal promotions. This month they are having a pumpkin carving contest. During last year’s Super Bowl, customers earned a ticket for every $1 spent that put them in the running for winning free merchandise.
In growing the business, the students have also become candy vendors in which they purchased candy machines to set up in local businesses. They researched the investment, developed a sales pitch and set up meetings with local business owners.
“It was intimidating at first to meet with the business owners,” Joey said. “But it got better each time. We showed them how hosting the machines wouldn’t hurt their businesses and at the same time they have the benefit of supporting the school. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
The experience of running the Husky Mart, creating sales pitches and presenting at DECA conferences has helped many of the students hone in on their strengths. Mason enjoys running the Twitter account and growing their social media presence. Some students, like Joey, found they like sales. Other like finding and researching new items to sell.
“Getting involved in DECA has influenced me to take more business classes,” Joey said. “I did professional selling and took sales classes that got me more involved in business. I definitely want to go to college, maybe UNI, and go into their business sales program. I want to work in the field of sales.”
“DECA has shown me that business is a promising career,” Ethan said. “The Husky Mart shows possibilities of what you can do. I like introducing students to DECA and getting them more involved in Husky Mart. I think I would like to be a business teacher and DECA advisor in the future.”
What is DECA?
DECA is a career and technical student organization (CTSO) that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe.
More than just clubs or extracurricular activities, CTSOs like DECA are integral to high-performing career and technical education programs. They enhance classroom learning through authentic real-world experiences and provide a leadership component to the education program.
Other business-related career and technical student organizations include Business Professionals of America and Future Business Leaders of America.