Running with the big dogs | March 9, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - March 9, 2012

Running with the big dogs

Amador Valley's DECA carves its own niche in the apparel business

by Glenn Wohltmann

Some seniors and juniors from Amador Valley High School are running their own business, learning and earning at the same time.

The 35 DECA students in Laurie Andrews' Economics of Business Ownership program have taken over a student-run business, DECA Custom Designs

"The program is about 4 years old. It started at Foothill and Amador. Now, I'm just doing it at Amador," Andrews said. "I thought it would be a good business experience for the students. These are kids who are making decisions about their future, and I like being involved in that process."

DECA Custom Designs works with a local company, Made to Order, and markets a variety of custom-printed items.

"The business has been around for a couple of years," said Emma Rigl, a member of the company's public relations department. "There's sweatshirts and T-shirts, there's all the various things you can sell ... we're just trying to reach out to all the kids on campus."

Since March 2010, the company has brought in about $20,000 in gross revenue and about $5,000 in profit, Rigl said.

"We get money from all of our orders and we get that to put back into our business. We use the money to put toward technology in our classroom," she said. "We continue to make money and it carries over into the next year's class and they'll be able to use it in their business."

Rigl said DCD markets mainly to clubs on campus, although the class is holding an open house March 14 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to draw in more potential customers.

"It's mainly apparel and specifically T-shirts. We have a lot of T-shirts that clubs and sports teams want," she said. "The biggest challenge was getting started. It took a while to get our departments organized and to actually get out and start marketing our business. Once we got started we got on a roll and have lots of sales coming in now."

Another member of the public relations team, Jarrod Groves, said DCD faces some stiff competition from the Internet, where students can buy apparel with the click of a mouse.

Chris Amezcua, a member of the sales team, said most of the orders went in-house to DECA chapter members, but added, "I also made an order to the baseball team."

A big recent change was ordering from a local specialty shop rather than one in Pennsylvania that DCD had been using for years.

"Its definitely easier, because they're right down the street from us," Rigl said.

That allows DCD to sent students over to pick up items, rather than await deliveries, and also opens the door to internships there in the future.

"I pretty much let them decide and take on the risks and pitfalls," said Andrews, a 20-year teacher.

Those pitfalls include dealing with major brands, like Nike. Students wanted to use Nike swoosh on their clothing, said student Karen Matsume.

"We talked to the people at Nike and they didn't want us to use it," she said.

The class has just added a new celebrations department to market for birthdays and other special events. Although the idea was proposed by Andrews, it still had to be approved by management staff and department heads.

CDC's CEO Jay Sephi said it was challenging to balance his job and his friendships with the other members of the class.

"It can be really awkward sometimes. They're my age and they're all my friends," Sephi said, adding that sometimes he was forced to put on an "unfriendly face."

But he said overall, he had a good experience with his first time in management, and he praised his directors and the rest of the class, his employees.

The Economics of Business Ownership class joined a Marketing class and Sports and Entertainment class to compete at the California state DECA competition earlier this month in Irvine.

Sephi said he learned a lot from the trip.

"It kind of gives you a sense of what business is going to look like. There's a lot of competition and you have to bring 110% all the time," he said.

All told, DECA at Amador did well, with 10 first-place awards, eight who took second place and five in third place. They'll be among the group of 40 qualifiers that heads to Salt Lake City next month for DECA's international competition.

Foothill high's DECA team did well, too, with 11 members qualifying to compete at Salt Lake City and one second place and two third-place winners.

Competitions for DECA, which initials once stood for Distributive Education Clubs of America, are a blend of exams, written assignments and live presentations based on scenarios presented by judges.

"We have students that prepare either written projects or role play. You are given a situation and you have one to five minutes to prepare, and you tell them (the judges) about your ideas for the situation and how to implement them," Rigl said. "It's nerve-wracking at first but once you sit down and look at the situation and analyze it -- you have to be quick thinking and figure out how things will be seen by the judges -- it's really fun."

It's easy to spot a DECA team member at any of these events. They're the ones wearing blue blazers with the patch on the front pocket. Jeans and sneakers are banned, and their code of conduct prohibits swearing and gambling, along with more routine restrictions, like those against smoking and drinking.

In addition to the opportunity to compete, students at the Economics of Business Ownership class also can get credit at Las Positas College. And, they get real-world experience, Rigl said.

"The best part was actually running a business. When I signed up for the class, I thought we'd be just learning about business," she said, adding that the hands-on experience was "great."

She said she'll bring what she learned to college and beyond.

"For me, it's definitely been about communication skills and learning how to work with people," she said. "I want to major in marketing in college so being part of the PR team at DCD will help, being able to speak and communicate with people."