The Wolverines’ Den is open for business.
But the fledgling student-run store that opened on the Antioch campus last spring is considerably more than a convenience — it provides real-world lessons that can’t be found in any textbook.
The enterprise is the brainchild of Steve Kish, a teacher in the school’s Business Technology Academy who converted an adjoining classroom into a laboratory of sorts where his marketing students put theory into practice.
“Anything that can be taught in the book can be taught in the store,” he said.
Painted entirely in black and outfitted with ultraviolet lights — remember, teens are running the show here — the room was bustling during a recent visit as students replenished inventory and worked on ads for the custom posters the store soon will be selling.
Ball caps bearing team logos, wallets and sunglasses were neatly arrayed in display cases near a bouquet of small balloons bearing birthday greetings.
Mindful of the money they could make by catering to an older demographic as well, students had stocked one corner with cookware ranging from frying pans and spatulas to pizza cutters.
“You got teachers going in to buy?” Kish asked a boy upon glimpsing a couple of his colleagues leaving the store. “Excellent, excellent.”
Over the course of a year, his do-it-yourself approach has students shepherd a product through the marketing process from concept to cash register.
Students distribute surveys to their peers to determine what products potential customers want and price them competitively. They also promote the store on Deer Valley High’s closed-circuit TV and work on overcoming what Kish calls its “backwater” location by making it an inviting spot to visit.
Teens spend the first part of the year on bookwork, learning such skills as how to be an effective salesman, identify a target market and track cash flow as well as how to analyze a product’s success and decide which items to put on clearance.
A recent stop by Room 111 found many of Kish’s 27 juniors and seniors embarking on one of their SWOT sessions, marketing-speak for a self-analysis during which they discuss the store’s strengths and weaknesses, opportunities for expansion and factors that can threaten its success.
One pitfall that novice entrepreneurs encounter is choosing a product to promote simply because they like it without considering whether it holds a broader appeal.
“You have to learn it’s not about what you think; it’s understanding what the customer thinks,” Kish said.
Junior Ruben Morado discovered that truth for himself when he pitched the idea of selling faceless wristwatches; classmates nixed the suggestion, saying the general student population wasn’t familiar enough with the design.
The 17-year-old also has learned not to approach customers by asking if they’re looking for anything in particular because they’ll typically say they’re just browsing.
To be an effective salesman, you have to know a product well enough to be able to point out the features that meet the shopper’s need, Morado said.
After students reach a consensus on how much of which products to buy, Kish takes them on an annual spring field trip to a flea market in Galt, where they stock up on goods at near-wholesale prices.
Even with a markup of about 10 percent, the items are still deeply discounted: Ball caps are $10 each, earbuds, wallets and sunglasses sell for $5, and the price for a memory stick is $2.
But the Den is not just about hands-on experiences; it’s where students learn valuable life lessons.
Kish makes it clear that running the store is serious business and should be treated as an actual job. Referring to students as “employees” and their grades as “pay stubs,” he leverages the store’s popularity to instill self-discipline.
He once “fired” a student who, though a natural at sales, was habitually late to class. Losing the chance to work in the store soon turned his apathetic attitude around, said Kish, noting that when the boy rejoined the staff he put his talents to use recruiting customers during the lunch period.
“This is the only (one) out of my five classes that I have no tardy problems,” he said.
The teamwork required to operate The Den also motivates students to toe the line; students responsible for ordering balloons know that if they miss their deadline, they won’t have the product ready to sell by the time it’s advertised on campus TV, Kish said.
The store also is a source of encouragement. Students gain self-assurance when a product they have chosen to market does well, and that enables them to succeed in tough classes like economics, Kish said.
Understanding basics such as sales techniques and the importance of keeping displays tidy leads to small victories beyond the classroom as well: Teens will seek Kish out to tell him they landed a retail job or got a promotion.
“They’re beaming with pride and confidence,” he said.
Reach Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.