Learning ‘the biz

Ron Burtz
Custer High School senior Jon Anker has long dreamed of owning his own business, so when the school offered its first-ever entrepreneur class this fall, Anker eagerly enrolled. He hasn’t been disappointed. 
Anker is one of eight students in the inaugural class taught by Tiffany Newman, who says the idea for the course came out of a personal finance class she previously taught here. 
In planning for the class, Newman and principal Orion Thompson considered various student-run businesses, ranging from a campus coffee shop to a T-shirt printing business, which Newman has done before. The problem with those ideas, according to Newman, came down to a lack of space for equipment in the already crowded jr./sr. high building. 
They finally settled on having the entrepreneur class take over management of concessions for sporting events, something already in place in its own space. 
School organizations still have the opportunity to staff the concession stands for fundraising purposes; however, the class buys the food, plans the menus and oversees the operation’s management. 
Newman said the concession business brings together many skill areas, including culinary and employee base skills like time management and teamwork. 
Marketing is another aspect of small business in which both the students and the teacher are learning. 
“It’s been good,” said Newman. “We’ve been able to look at different products, different pricing. We have tried some things that definitely didn’t work. That’s part of growing and building a class like this. I could sit there and come up with 500 ways of doing something, but until you do it, you don’t know what’s going to work and what doesn’t.”
“The nacho cheese machine has been a huge hit with a lot of people,” said Newman, noting that previously concession operators “had a crockpot full of cheese that you had to scrub out at the end of the night. That was a pain.”
Newman says individually packed cups of cheese didn’t work very well, either, but the cheese machine turned out to be a great idea with very little mess or product loss.
The class has even experimented with test marketing. Newman said students made a couple of pans of homemade brownies for one volleyball game, which sold out very quickly. However,  an idea for brownie sundaes at a football game wasn’t as popular. 
“We sold one pan,” says Newman. “Didn’t sell the second one.” 
For a recent home football game, the class made a large roaster of homemade chili, which they hoped would be a hit with fans on a chilly September evening. 
Newman said, while other clubs operate the concession stands at football and volleyball games, her students have the responsibility of setting up and a different class member serves as manager for the event in case “something majorly goes wrong or all of a sudden we sell out of pizza by the first quarter of the game.”
It is important to Newman that her students be involved in all areas of the business from marketing to inventory to management. 
“We want to make sure we’re pricing things right and making a profit,” said Newman, “and that the students are the ones making the decisions about what is offered.”
Newman said having students manage the concession stands has been a learning experience for both them and for her, as in the first night Anker served as manager for the first home football game. 
After arriving at Wildcat stadium to set up the stand, Anker contacted Newman saying there were no nacho chips or cheese.   
“He wasn’t there when they set it up,” said Newman, adding that through the experience Anker learned to problem- solve and think critically and she learned the importance of making sure her student managers have experience in every part of the operation.
When a new class of nine students starts the second semester in January, Newman said she will have the class run the first event of the new year so they can gain the experience. 
For his part, Anker is glad he took the course. 
“I have always kind of wanted to run my own business eventually,” he said. “So just learning everything that goes into running a business is pretty interesting.”
Anker said setting up the concession stand is the hardest part of being a manager, noting that once the operation is underway, it goes pretty smoothly. 
Newman said a big part of the learning process for everyone has been managing sales and inventory. She said one surprise for her and the class was that Dr. Pepper turned out to be their biggest seller among pop brands. 
“We sold out of it,” she said. 
Newman said operation of the business is being “turned over more and more to the kids every week,” which she said is the whole point of the class and where they will learn the most.
She wants to continue to experiment with different products as the class moves forward, but admits sometimes the price of raw materials like hamburger can be an obstacle. 
“I didn’t want to buy prepackaged, frozen,” said Newman. “I wanted the kids to learn how to do it.”  
Newman said the class has tossed around the idea of doing a burger bar with various toppings for an upcoming event. 
It is apparent that with the creative juices of both teacher and students flowing freely, innovation and experimentation will continue to be an important part of the class. 
After the conclusion of our interview, Anker approached Newman saying, “I have an idea!” going on to suggest “doing different things with popcorn” to increase sales. 
So, as the entrepreneur class continues, watch for a “popcorn bar” at a high school concession stand near you. 

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