- The Aspen Difference
Student Entrepreneurs Pivoting Businesses & Showcasing Agility: Bear's Student Enterprises Store
An Interview with Jennifer Gravlee, Bear’s Store Manager & Leadership Coach
Inspired by Kristina Scala leading student-run businesses on her college campus, Aspen Academy has had a long tradition of student-run businesses called Bears’ Student Enterprises. What started as selling pizza slices has evolved into four divisions: a store, a cafe, publications, and broadcast. The store sells Aspen Academy gear, from mugs to apparel and many other items that parents, students, grandparents, and alumni might be interested in purchasing. Students select and design inventory, manage the inventory, create packages and promotions, and fulfill orders.
The interview below with Jennifer Gravlee, Bear’s Store Manager and Leadership Coach, showcases how the students and the Store have responded and evolved to the new conditions of a global pandemic.
Aspen Academy (AA): It’s been a very different year for the store, how have day-to-day operations changed due to COVID restrictions?
Jennifer Gravlee (JG): Students are no longer able to operate it as an in-person store. We were able to pivot to an online only experience. We are limited to the amount of 8th graders that can be in the store at once stocking items and completing orders. The student employees quickly learned how to fill orders and prepare them for pick-up.
AA: What were some of the initial ideas for adjusting the store to meet the needs of the public health order and COVID-19 requirements?
JG: We stood up the store with an online storefront this year, shopbse.com, in response to COVID-19 and knowing that we would have significantly less foot traffic to the store. In addition, we added masks to our inventory, given the public health order and necessity to wear masks to resume lessons on-campus. We can now mail store items, allow for pre-order of merchandise, and brainstormed many ideas of how to get the merchandise to the customer. We also had to address plans for what to do if we had to go full virtual again.
AA: How did you (as a group) arrive at the solutions you did?
JG: We had a discussion and encouraged feedback on the top ideas. To gain ownership from the students, it's important to ensure their voice is heard in this process.
AA: What have been the challenges for the Store this year?
JG: Keeping inventory in stock and correct on the website, and handling returns. All of this must be done contact-free this year and sales were higher than anticipated, so items quickly go out of stock.
AA: What is going well?
JG: We are the most successful we have ever been -- tripling revenue this year versus last year. It is wonderful to see all the Aspen gear on Fridays as we added “Spirit Wear” days to our dress code for every Friday this year.
AA: How have these changes affected you personally?
JG: It was challenging at first with so many orders coming in, but as a routine was built and the 8th graders were able to start helping it has turned into a very enjoyable experience that has taught me many new things: resilience, creativity, and I’m inspired to work with the students through their problem-solving.