How a community helped these Kansas high school students succeed in business

The staff at the Roar Store, from left: Ella Rice, website manager; Kinzlee Wallace, office manager; Caylyn Pfizenmaier, advertising manager; Ty Pfizenmaier, production manager; Clara Edwards, project manager; Rhonda Gierhan, CEO and instructor. (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. A junior at Clay Center Community High School, Kinzlee Wallace is an officer of CCCHS’ Future Business Leaders of America.

The average American uses only 37% of the information they learned in high school post-graduation, according to a 2019 study by H&R Block.

Luckily, I am confident I’ll use much more than 37% thanks to an incredible teacher at Clay Center Community High School and support from some incredible community members.

My classmates and I at CCCHS are fortunate to be taught by Rhonda Gierhan, who leads our business essentials class. An educator with 34 years of experience, Mrs. Gierhan takes on the job of ensuring her students learn skills and have educational experiences that will last a lifetime.

Mrs. Gierhan knows students often learn best when they have hands-on experiences. That’s why she challenged our class to go beyond just reading and writing about business, and to actually learn the ins and outs of business by starting and operating a business of our own.

So that’s what we did. After lots of discussion, our class identified a gap in the local market and decided to launch an apparel business representing our school. And so, the Roar Store was born.

From billing and invoicing to designing and producing, our class manages every aspect of our business with supervision from Mrs. Gierhan to provide spirit apparel for our students, parents and community. We also span our business to include other CCCHS classes, such as web design for our website and digital media to produce commercials, and run our social media.

When we launched our small business, we were starting from ground zero. With no experience in the apparel business, we sought out to learn anything and everything we could. That’s when we turned to community members for guidance and support.

While our team is incredibly passionate about and dedicated to our business, it would have been difficult to get it off the ground without the help from members of Clay Center and the extended small business community.

If you’re looking to support students in your community who have a passion for business, here are some ways they helped us:

Share your expertise

Helping out high schoolers who have the potential to be future leaders will only come back to benefit your community. A lot of industries tend to be exclusive and competitive, but The Roar Store received incredible support from other small businesses in our community. Our local printing shop, Gate 9 Graphics, played a fundamental role in the launch of our business. Our friends at Gate 9 were kind enough to share lessons learned though their years of experience and gave us incredible insights on tools and equipment to use and set us off in the right direction.

The takeaway here is to not view young entrepreneurs as competition but as partners. The more you each do to bring awareness to your industry and your community, the better off you will both be!

Support unconventional ideas and programs

Our class wouldn’t have been able to launch our business without an “OK” from administrators at our school. Our class’ curriculum differs from the “norm” and it would have been easy for administrators to turn down Mrs. Gierhan’s idea and insist we follow a traditional classroom set-up. Without the opportunity to take a risk and try something new, our class would have never learned the invaluable skills of creating and operating a business, which are talents we can use long after graduation.

Look for ways to give back

The “big break” for our small business came when we applied for the Stahl Family Small Business Fund’s Pure Imagination Scholarship. The Stahl Family Small Business Fund was founded by the Michigan-based Stahls’, a world class innovator of custom garment decoration and equipment. Stahls’ is now an industry leader, but also has vast experience as a small business, as the family-owned company founded in a Detroit garage in 1932.

The scholarship program granted us a Stahls’ entry level heat press, heat printing materials and a full year of one-on-one coaching from industry experts at Stahls’.

A scholarship program is just one incredible way for established businesses that have found success to support those just getting started in their industry.

You can also support high schoolers interested in business by making donations to educational programs or by volunteering as a coach or mentor in the industry.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.