Bit by the business bug

Kearney High School senior Devin Smith, right, and Tiffany Keck, center, man the register in the new KHS school store for their first official sale. Customer Judy Henning purchased a KHS T-shirt designed by the school’s graphic design class. As DECA president, Devin helped plan and launch the store, which has exploded in popularity with Bearcat fans and will be going online next school year.

KEARNEY — Devin Smith has become the Kearney High School man with the plan — a plan that includes a lot of scheduling and a lot of T-shirts.

As the president of the KHS chapter of DECA, a high school program focused on helping students explore and prepare for careers in marketing, Devin has spent the last year bulking up not only the club’s enrollment numbers but also planning, opening and running a new KHS school store from the ground up. The store is apparel-focused and is stocked with sweats, T-shirts, and other Bearcat gear, all designed and approved by KHS classes and organizations.

“We partner with other classes in the school, like graphic design,” Devin said. “They design the shirts and then send them to advanced marketing where the designs are narrowed down to figure out which ones will sell best.”

Students can swing by the store — which is, of course, student run — on the way to and from class. It’s located right in the common area of the high school and is open from first block to last block, allowing students to snag all the high school swag that catches their eye.

“We just opened in January, and it’s been really successful so far,” Devin said. “We’re sold out of most of our popular items.”

Although Devin — who worked with his adviser to come up with a business plan for the store, which was then approved and implemented — clearly has an eye for retail, he wasn’t always interested in high school business development.

He spent the first three years of his high school career playing tennis before being bitten by the business bug. It has been full force since then, with Devin managing the store and its six or so student employees daily.

“I wasn’t quite sure what career field I was interested in when I got here,” Devin said. “I played tennis for my first three years, and then realized I was attracted to the business side of things. I got involved in DECA and became president my junior year. Since then we’ve managed to turn the club around completely.”

That turnaround includes taking the club from 10 or 15 active members his junior year to 60 members, give or take a few, only a year later. Devin credits an emphasis on the social side of business, and a new KHS school store, with the increase in interest.

“It’s business, but it’s not strictly business,” Devin said. He knows that all work and no play makes DECA a dull club, so Devin makes sure that alongside the rigmarole of running a store, the club adds in social events to keep things interesting.

I’ve never really been shy, but I was definitely more reserved before taking over DECA,” he said.

Coming up with a business plan for the store and then implementing it didn’t really allow for introversion, though — a good business takes ideas from its employees and keeps the conversation open, something Devin strives to do.

“We’re just getting started and in a position to move forward,” Devin said. “We’re always looking for new ways to keep the excitement opening.”

Devin also is taking steps to implement an online component to the store, so students and Bearcat supporters can purchase all the KHS gear they desire, any hour of any day.

The online store will go live well after his tenure, but Devin is still planning to leave a little bit of his signature mark on the retail side. As an Old Navy employee, Devin knows how to market clothing, and he has been helping to model and photograph the Bearcat clothes for fit to showcase online.

Devin said that the success of the school store has prompted DECA to look for more times to open the doors to the retail outlet. It currently uses an iPad and Square system to take debit and credit cards but will be implementing a full service POS system next school year. Devin envisions eventually opening the store for sporting events and may try to keep the store open during lunch periods, too.

“I think people are probably more likely to buy stuff during lunch,” Devin said. “We’ll eventually open during basketball and football games, too. We have a big group of fans here — the plan is to offer special items for certain games or events.”

Devin will be parlaying that keen business sense into a degree in either marketing or public relations/advertising next year when he starts college courses at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He’s not sure where exactly he’ll end up in the end, but he knows one thing: He’ll be doing what he loves — running a business where the social side is just as important as the rest of it.

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