Sell at School
My name's Ed, and I started YourTeenBusiness a few years back to help other teenagers starting their own businesses. Since then, I've 'grown up' a little and moved onto a new project to help entrepreneurs, job seekers and people creating new, exciting things.
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Sell At School for Fun and Profit: I learnt about selling in school when I setup my first enterprise supplying snacks to my fellow pupils. It’s great have a captive market, you experience face-to-face selling and learn business skills hands on.
What to Sell in School
Good things to sell in school are disposable, consumable items like breaktime snacks. Goods like disposable handwarmers in cold places over the winter, iPod socks and other small-fry goods... not tried it myself
but I’ve read about reports of condoms selling well (fueling peoples egos if anything...!).
Marketing in School
Posters work well. Its a closed circuit. Think of how people get around your school - are there any bottlenecks where practically everyone has to go?
At my school, everyone does Maths. The Maths department had a really narrow corridor which also lead to other departments, so we blu-tacked posters back-to-back on the doors in the corridor with big pictures of our products, the location we were selling at and our prices.
Work the word-of-mouth conversation too. Build some excitement and buzz; maybe the first 10 customers each day get a half price product?
“Wheeling and Dealing” vs. More Official Selling
The trouble with trading out of site, and without the school being aware, or supporting you, is you’ll never really be able to scale up without attracting too much attention (so there’s not much money available anyway) and you’re much more on your own if something goes wrong (like cash going missing!)
Unless there’s a big reason not to, try and get your school onside with some of these techniques...
Getting Permission to Sell: The Schools Mindset
Your school has several priorities which will come above your business ambitions. This is your business hurdle to starting your tuck shop business, and of course there’s no guarantee you can set up shop on your schools premises, but I’ll show you how to best approach these issues.
Your school will have the following problems with kids running:
- Disrupting Learning (of yourself and other)
- Health and Safety issues – e.g. selling ‘junk’ food and food poisoning!
- Ethics – Is it okay to profit from your peers?
- Waste – wrappers need to go somewhere!
At this stage, the task is only to get the go-ahead just to explore the idea. There’s no point wasting energy pursuing something if they’re simply going to say no.
So… in order
Disruption of Learning
Don’t forget schools are there to educate kids; you’re not going to be able to get around that. Aim for trading during breaks and lunchtimes - its not something you’ll be able to do instead of classes. That’s also the only time most people will be around to buy your stuff too!
Health and Safety
Health... all I’m going to suggest is don’t do anything dangerous! Safety wise, I would strongly recommend finding somewhere secure at your school to store your stock and money:
- Make sure it’s separate from other kids’ lockers and stuff (you can’t afford anyone stealing from you!)
- Make sure the temperature of the room isn’t too high or too low so your stock keeps well
- Make sure it can be locked to keep unwanted people out!
When I was running a school tuck shop, I used our school’s business studies office for storage and sold pre-packaged cakes, muffins, flapjacks and brownies. It worked well, except the office was right next to the schools boiler room!
Ethics of Profiting in School
This can be a touchy subject which you need to be prepared for BEFORE pitching the idea to your school. The best plan is to fight ethics with ethics. Consider selling fair-trade goods, organic goods or products which are associated in some way to helping other people.
You could also consider donating some of your profits to charity. I donated25% of our profits to Barnadoes which looks after vulnerable children. Very apt! Be creative here; the school loves it if you make the school look good.
Simply say you’ll move some school bins next to your stall or wherever your selling. If necessary put up a sign reminding people to bin their waste (or wear t-shirts telling them to do so...?)
The Provisional Pitch
Once you’ve thought through all your schools possible concerns, you should approach your school and submit a draft of your idea. If you’re doing it as part of an academic thing (e.g. a class project) you can start with your teacher, but if not you’ll need to go and talk to your schools senior management – yeah, head teachers and all.
(Umm… it helps to be on good terms with them, so avoid getting into trouble in the run up to the provisional pitch!)
- Partner with a Business Studies teacher!
- Run it as a school project (although that normally means you’re business will only be able run for so long)
- Go to the highest authority for permission first. They're the decision maker
You want to do this in two parts; first get their attention and second, discuss the idea of a school tuck shop. There’s a few tricks to this…
Most schools have an internal email system now so you can contact your senior teachers directly, but if not it’s a case of speaking to them around school, asking your teachers how best to speak to them etc.
When talking to them initially, be it by email or face-to-face or whatever, you only need to briefly introduce the idea:
- Explain the problem - who are you helping in school? Why do they need what you’re selling?
- Explain why the problem hasn’t been solved - school unaware, against school policy even?!
- Show them some examples of whats possible, maybe in other schools?
- Say you’d like to schedule a meeting to talk about your idea. Give a specific time and date. It should be a yes/no question for them.
Provided you’re polite and courteous, they’re obliged to find some time to talk to you. That doesn’t mean your plans will definitely happen; but now you have the chance to sell the idea.
By briefly introducing the idea and scheduling an “appointment”, you’ve switched around the field of focus by gaining their permission. This means they’re far more receptive to your argument and makes it more likely you’ll “sell” your proposal. This kind of ‘permission marketing’ is well used by business gurus to make people more receptive to their sales efforts.
Next, you need to prepare some kind of notes and talk about why a teenage-powered tuck shop is going to do so much good for the school. At the very least, make a printout with some of the basic points so they can take it away (they’ll probably have to show it to some other people) – if you’re really keen you could make a PowerPoint presentation and go for the full “Dragons Den” pitch but it may not be necessary, particularly if teachers are in a hurry.
I suggest you follow the following format with your presentation (and finish this workbook before the presentation too!):
What is the problem?
e.g. Poor quality food, unhappy students, other schools have better food
Why hasn’t the problem been solved?
e.g. School caterers have a monopoly and don’t take care over quality, schools management is focused on more important things, school isn’t listening enough to its pupils
What is possible?
e.g. Competition, with lower prices and better quality food and drink, students learning enterprise, donations to charity/fair-trade goods (or another ethical argument) … and so the school looks good
What will we do: (reassure your ethical principles here)
e.g. Sell X at Y times of day, Give Z amount to charity etc...
What will happen next
What will happen after you present the idea is they’ll say they’re very impressed and they’ll get back to you.
If and when you do hear back from them and they say yes – woohoo! You’re on your way to starting a profitable school enterprise. You mustn’t feel too down if your plans get rejected; “business ideas” are relatively risky for a school and some establishments simply can’t take it. Unfair I know, but that’s life.
Either way, you’ll still have learnt a lot!
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