In an ongoing effort to support Spirit Box schools, we’ve interviewed the top performers and are sharing their challenges, solutions and ideas to help fuel your school based enterprise (SBE) or school store.
Liberal High School
Overview: Liberal High School is located in rural Kansas, seven hours from Kansas City and at least an hour away from any large retail store, so students do not get a lot of exposure to business and bigger city amenities. Thus Spirit Box (school store vending machine) has supplemented their business and marketing programs in addition to boosting their fundraising sales.
Ranking: Top 6 Performing Spirit Box this school year.
Program Length: 1 year
We interviewed Tasha M., DECA Advisor and two of her students actively involved in managing the Spirit Box for their team. Here’s what they had to share:
Spirit Box: What challenges or needs did you face that led you to look for a solution like Spirit Box?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor:
Challenge 1: Tired of traditional fundraising efforts
The profits from Spirit Box sales help fund our DECA club activities. Students are tired of traditional fundraising and selling candy. I was talking with a fellow advisor last year about fundraising ideas and the challenge we had motivating kids to sell candy and he recommended the Spirit Box. Most of our competitions and activities are four to seven hours away at minimum so fundraising is required to help pay for travel and hotels. The school is supportive of these activities but there’s a limited amount of funding. The Spirit Box more than supplements this need.
Challenge 2: Staffing the brick & mortar school store
Students are only available to work one hour during the school day and some students forget they are scheduled to work due to involvement in so many other activities. For example: One of our juniors is in DECA, yearbook, runs cross country, is in a leadership class and she’s president of NHS (National Honors Society). Another student is in DECA, Yearbook and Student Union. So, it’s nice the Spirit Box doesn’t require additional student staffing to handle transactions.
Challenge 3: Brick & mortar school store has been overwhelming
Our school store takes custom apparel orders and we’ve received more orders than we could handle this year. As a DECA advisor, teacher and coach I don’t have a lot of extra time and I’d like to have a personal life, so I love that Spirit Box doesn’t take a lot of time or effort. I don’t think I’ve ever come up to the school after hours to stock or maintain it except once after Christmas break. I also shop for new stock while I’m shopping for other personal items when I go into town. We get most of our consumables from Sam’s Club and order the non-consumables from schoolstoreproducts.com.
“The best part about the Spirit Box is that I don’t have to hound kids to work on it, and the student body loves it. They call it the “better box” because it sells the snack food they want along with other convenience items they need.” - Tasha M., DECA Advisor
Challenge 4: Location of brick and mortar school store
Our campus is spread out into three different buildings. Our school store is in a smaller building (not the main building) and there’s no parking, so having the Spirit Box located in the main building helps bridge this gap and offers additional sales exposure. Our Spirit Box is outside the gym where we get the most traffic in the main building. The doors are also locked on our other smaller buildings after school hours, so the community cannot access or buy from our traditional school store during those times which really limits our sales. If anyone comes during school hours, they have to show an ID or have a keycard to get in which is not convenient.
“I really like that I don’t have to run an after school program or hound kids to fill the box. I have not had to come up to school after hours to maintain the program, and that’s amazing!” - Tasha M., DECA Advisor
Spirit Box: What product mix do you stock your Spirit Box with and which sells the best?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: 80% Consumable (snacks and candy) and 20% convenience items and merchandise like wireless headphones and mice which are big sellers because all students have Chromebooks. Surprisingly, chapstick flies off the shelf!
Spirit Box: How much do you mark up products in your Spirit Box?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: Anywhere from 30-50%. Some chips we only mark up 30% because there are other vending machine competitors within the school. We mark Sweet Tarts and candy up nearly 50%. We also do product research to see what gas stations and stores are selling items for so we’re not ripping off anyone.
Spirit Box: What challenges have you come across with the Spirit Box?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: Kids were eating consumables, so the advisor we had to re-evaluate the stocking responsibility. This is also why it’s important to keep track of your inventory.
Spirit Box: What features of the Spirit Box increase sales most or help you stay competitive?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: Having credit card processing and smart payment ability helps tremendously. Other vending machines and the concession stand only take cash.
Spirit Box: Do you feel like you’ve learned or the students have learned aspects of running a business?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: Yes, it helps students understand supply and demand. They are way more engaged in hands-on learning than sitting in a classroom being lectured to.
“I’ve learned what it takes to run a vending machine business and have grown to appreciate the fundraising aspect. It’s cool to count the profits that come from the time we spend stocking and maintaining the Spirit Box.” - Alissa, Junior
“Yes, I stock, count, and figure how much profit each day. We see what’s selling and what’s not and discuss with our advisor which products are not selling and how much to mark them down.” - Iisha, Junior
Spirit Box: How do you go about finding new products?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: We look for new products on schoolstoreproducts.com. A student will take a picture and survey other students to see if they will sell. Other students (in DECA and outside of DECA) will give us recommendations too. For consumables, we shop at Sam’s Club.
Spirit Box: Do you think Spirit Box has the ability to generate more awareness around the DECA program?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: Yes, it definitely has the potential to raise awareness of DECA. The school will start requiring students to be more involved next year, mandating they participate in at least one extracurricular activity to graduate. Because of this we’re anticipating DECA enrollment numbers will go up next year. Most of the students don’t know what DECA is, but they all know what the Spirit Box is. We just need to communicate that the Spirit Box is ran by the DECA team and we’ll be all set.
Spirit Box: Are you SBE Certified or have any desire to be?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: Not yet, but we’re working on it this year. The custom orders have had us a little overwhelmed. We’re going to pick it back up after National Competitions and apply for our SBE certification.
Spirit Box: How did you fund the launch of your Spirit Box program, and how do you plan to fund it in the future?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: We received a Carl D Perkins grant that is divided into five pathways to help earn that funding. We submitted a request to fund the Spirit Box program for this year and over the next few years. The Spirit Box program helps expand the business department offering. Students are required to have a business credit to graduate, so we offer a variety of classes: Sports Entertainment, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, etc. They can receive dual credit and can even receive college credit. Plus, when the principal or administration supports it, you have a much better chance of gaining approval.
Spirit Box: How do you currently promote the Spirit Box?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: We don’t. We just picked the perfect location. Our box is right outside the gym in the main hallway.
Spirit Box: What advice would you give other schools related to location of their Spirit Box?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: Location, location, location. Look for high traffic areas. Think about after school hours, what events take place on the weekends and where. Make sure the community will have access to that area without effort (not blocked off or requires keycard access and photo ID to access). For example: I was at a CE conference all last week, stocked it on Friday and came in Monday and all consumables (especially chips) were all gone except for a few chili cheese. Even the earbuds were all gone. So it’s important to make sure outside school hour activities can access the machine and it’s STOCKED!
Spirit Box: What motivates your team?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: We’re competitive and we have a healthy rivalry between other Spirit Box schools. For example: Dustin (advisor at Lansing, KS that referred us to you) texted me “who’s the loser now?!” after receiving the list of Top 10 Performing Spirit Boxes. It’s all in good fun! We would love to find out what Rio Rancho is selling and why they made so much money. Bottom line, we like seeing our name on the top ten list.
Spirit Box: What days or times do you have the highest sales?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: After lunch. I think kids are looking for a mid afternoon sweet treat. If I stock in the afternoon, a couple students stop to buy things, but if I stock it in the morning, I have no interruptions.
Spirit Box: What would you tell others who might be considering a Spirit Box? Would you recommend the Spirit Box to other advisors?
Tasha M, DECA Advisor: Yes, I recommended Spirit Box to Eisenhower Middle School. Their student council would run it, so not a DECA program, but still useful for them.
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