Online school store hones entrepreneurship students’ skills

AGAWAM — Students in Agawam High School’s entrepreneurship class recently came up with a new twist on what once was a staple at the school: the school store.

Instead of reopening a physical store, students created an online store where students — and the public — can buy Agawam-themed apparel. This elective course is intended to give students experience in how to run a business.

Students realized that there’s a market for selling to the public, because access to Brownies merchandise has been limited recently to students who play sports.

With a virtual store, explained Giovanni “Gio” Russo, who teaches the course, Agawam apparel can be sold to a variety of people, from grandparents, parents and relatives to “faithful Agawam alumni” and others who support the school.

“It’s nice to bring back the school store and it’s also a nice way to show pride for our school and our town,” said freshman Dawood Atanane.

“It’s been a really long time since we’ve had a school store, so recreating one for students and the public is a great idea,” added freshman Daniel Saeed.

Russo said the school had a small store until 2013, and “the idea of a virtual store is to bring back this tradition and give students access to apparel to proudly represent their school.”

“The goal of the store is to show students what it takes to begin a business, such as start-up costs, creating contacts, talking to different vendors, creating and buying inventory, selling, packing and shipping merchandise as well as other things related to running a business,” said Giovanni.

He added that students decided a virtual store was an excellent way to connect the school to the community.

“They’re a generation that relies on social media for information and content,” Giovanni said. “They felt the best way to get the word out was to go virtual and post it online.”

Senior Ben Britton said students shared ideas about items they wanted to put in the store.

“It’s our ideas. We came up with it all,” he said. “Many of our customers will be other students — and we have a feel for what they might want.”

The downside to an online store is that customers can’t feel the material or get an idea of how sizes run. To help overcome that obstacle, students discussed also having a physical “pop-up” store in the future at school events.

The apparel uses Agawam High School’s capital-A athletics logo with a mix of orange and brown that Russo said “pops and pairs well” on clothing. Items include fleece jogging pants, a cotton long-sleeve shirt, hooded sweatshirt, cotton T-shirt and a “New Era sideline beanie” hat.

“We wanted to represent the town with our apparel and not just the school and sports teams. Our apparel’s target audience is people who live in Agawam who bleed brown and orange,” explained Russo, who graduated from Agawam High School in 2015 and once took the course he now teaches.

Students reached out to the school district’s social media staff to promote the store on Twitter, Facebook and other sites. They also added a link to the store on the school’s home page and created handmade signs and fliers to post around the school advertising their store to students and staff.

In another nod to technology, posters and fliers also include a QR code to allow students — and anyone else with a smartphone — to get the link instantly by holding up their phone’s camera to the code. A copy of the flier with the QR is also on the school’s outdoor electronic message board.

“The QR code makes it so much easier and quicker to access the store without typing in the whole link,” said Russo. “Word is definitely getting out there and the buzz is real.”

Quinn Donohue said it’s “really cool” to have a virtual store.

“It could bring Agawam closer together as a community,” the senior said, adding that seeing people in the community wearing Agawam merchandise “makes you feel happy that people are supporting your school. It shows we’re all on the same team.”

Since there isn’t any existing apparel, students designed new apparel to sell. After small groups of created and designed items, the entire class met to edit the designs.

“We critiqued designs, asked each other our opinions, voted to approve or disapprove designs, and then edited them again,” said Russo.

“Students do everything. This is their store. They’re the bosses. This is how they get real-world experience and put the curriculum into action,” he added.

The store went “live” at the end of November and will be open until Jan. 8. Students will then debrief and discuss how they can run a store 24 hours a day. All apparel will be shipped to the high school after the store closes so customers can pick up their orders.

Russo said another store will open this spring that will be run by students taking the course in the second semester, with a new line of clothing.

According to Russo, students are unable to view any sales figures, since the website isn’t run by the school. But he said the hoodie and the long-sleeve shirt appear to be the most popular items, based on conversations with staff and students.

“Everyone wants to purchase the hoodie and the long-sleeve. The hoodie is just casual and does not overpower the logo, while the long-sleeve is unique because of its logo placement on the front and the uniqueness of the ZIP code on the back,” he explained.

Clothing for the fall line is currently produced by an outside vendor. Money from sales will be used to purchase a heat press so students can make products in school. This will reduce the cost of the clothing, make it more affordable and give people an opportunity to view products before buying an item.

Once students have to the ability to make products, they will collaborate with the web design and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) classes The web design class will run the online store while STEAM students will create posters and fliers.

“The entrepreneurship class will be responsible for not only making the apparel but also packing and shipping it. They will be charge of running the business,” said Russo.

Although the store is intended to make a profit, he said it’s more important that students understand what it takes to run a business and learn the ins and outs: “It will take what we talk about in class and turn it into reality.”

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