BEACON FALLS — Some Woodland Regional High School students are finding out first-hand exactly what it takes to get a business up and running.
The school’s fledgling DECA chapter began with a call to interested students in December 2014 and a simple business model: revive the seldom used school store.
“Our big thing was we’re going to take the store. We’re going to make the store a viable concept and it’s going to be our store, and everyone’s going to know when you go through it’s the school store, and only the school store,” said history teacher Chris Tomlin, who is co-adviser of the DECA chapter with math teacher Jenna Broadbent.
DECA is an international organization with high school and college chapters that focuses on teaching lessons in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.
After the initial meeting in December 2014, DECA members got to work in the school store following winter break in January 2015. They quickly find out that the school store wasn’t going to be a turnkey business.
There was no cash register or cash box. But there was plenty of random items — from a stockpile of leftover class T-shirts to a roughly 8-foot wooden blue guitar cutout that lights up — that had collected in the store over the years.
First things first, the entire store had to be cleaned, senior and DECA treasurer Alexa Casimiro recalled.
The chapter made the most of what it had to work with, including selling the leftover T-shirts as vintage apparel. But the chapter faced another obstacle — getting the word out that the store on the third floor next to the cafeteria was open.
“People didn’t know it was open,” senior and DECA President Sonia Sousa said. “I think when people saw it was open, they didn’t quite understand.”
Slowly but surely DECA and the school store began to take root and grow.
The chapter started with four members and now has 26.
In March, the chapter will send two teams of two to the state DECA competition for the first time. Sousa and Casimiro are competing as a team, as are DECA secretary Eliza Smith and member Kristen Persico.
New merchandise, including clothing, snacks, water and school supplies, now stocks the shelves of the store. When the store was reopened last winter, it was only open two periods a day. Last semester, the store was open all day.
The store also has a new look. Previously, the store was dubbed the Hawk’s Nest and a picture of a nest was painted on the wall above the counter. Last summer, DECA members came in and repainted the store in school colors and DECA banners hang in clear view.
Aside from being a great bonding experience, Broadbent believes painting the store helped to raise the profile of DECA in the school.
“[The store] was there and to make it something completely new and rebrand the store, I think that had a huge difference,” Broadbent said.
The chapter is about more than running a store and making money, though. The chapter holds monthly events, like selfie competitions, to help bring the school together, raises money for local people in need and has a service committee for community outreach.
“Regardless of whether you have an interest in business, it’s not just business,” Sousa said.
Planning fundraisers and thinking of new and exciting ways to make money is what makes DECA fun, Casimiro said. But there are also life lessons to be learned.
“For many of us it’s like our first job,” Sousa said.
Senior and DECA Vice President Val Vinca added, “It teaches you responsibility and how to get out into the workforce and see what you do and don’t like about finance, and if this is a career for you or not.”
For Smith, a sophomore, the chapter has opened her eyes to a potential career path. Smith isn’t sure yet what she wants to study in college, but enjoys the DECA experience.
“I’ve been considering going into business,” she said.
With senior members graduating soon, the future of DECA at Woodland will become the responsibility of younger members like Smith. Her future goals for the chapter are simple but challenging: to expand the store and bring in more merchandise.
Tomlin said DECA must find its place in the culture at Woodland as it seeks to grow.
“We’re still trying to find where we fit into Woodland,” he said. “There’s a lot of very active clubs in this small school. We’re trying to carve out what’s going to be our niche.”