Starting a business with your Ag class

June 19, 2015

Why Start a small business with an Ag class?

There are some skills that a textbook or lecture simply can not thoroughly cover.  Business skills fall under that category.  The idea of creating a business with an Ag class can see quite daunting, but with a lot of patience and some determination your students will soon be in charge of a small business that will serve them throughout their life if they ever choose to work for themselves.

What are some examples of Ag class businesses?

Here's a list of a few possible business and the class most likely to correlate with it :

  • Dog Grooming - Small Animal Care or Vet Tech
  • Greenhouse Spring Plant Sale - Plant Science, Greenhouse Mgmt., or Nursery Landscape
  • Chicken-que, Boston Butt sale, Fish Fry - Food Science, Agriscience
  • Plasma cut key chains - Ag Mechanics
  • (Canned or Bagged) Boiled Peanuts (or other regional fruit or vegetable) - Crop science, Agriscience, or Plant Science

 Describe the major steps to starting/organizing a business

  • Discuss with your class the type of product or service to sell.  Questions to answer - What specific group of people will buy it?  EVERYBODY is not a possible answer.  Be as specific as possible.  For example, not all pet owners have their dogs groomed.  Working professionals with small, indoor dogs are more likely to.  You can get more specific with gender and age ranges to help target your marketing and customer service needs.
  • In a separate lesson discuss the various business processes that have to be developed and refined. For pet grooming you would need to address: Intake/grooming/return, setting up appointments, the grooming procedure, vaccination record receipt and evaluation, proper customer service communication, and animal welfare/safety protocols are just a few of the issues you will need to discuss.  You can even break the students into groups, let them brainstorm all the possible issues with each process and let the other groups review and further refine the process.
  • Determine the management structure. Ideally you'd have an upper level student with some skill working alongside 1 or 2 younger students.  The upperclassmen leads the grooming process from start to finish, assigns duties, and monitors the other students.  The Ag teacher is close by to monitor the whole service to help guide, refocus, and mentor both the upperclassman and the 2 underclassmen.
  • Develop a system of communication between each management level and shifts (class periods) of student workers.  Most conflict in business comes from two major issues: lack of information and lack of communication.  Charts, dry erase boards, and folders are some basic methods of keeping up with vital information, but come up with a system that works best for your group.
  • Invite or go visit a company who specializes in the business you want to set up.  Preferably from the next town over, but certainly from a non-competing market so that you can get honest advice and feedback. 
  • Allow your students to develop the cost of each grooming session to help determine the price to charge for the service.  Add up all labor, supplies, software, and other costs that it takes to get a dog in the door, groomed, and out the door to develop your cost.  Then compare this cost to the price charged for a similar service nearby.  Is your price higher or lower?  Do they provide other elements to their session that warrant a higher price? Does your cost allow you to profit any from each session.
  • Have your students discuss where they consume information. Meaning are they on the phone, watching TV, reading billboards as they drive, or reading the newspaper?  How about their target customer?  Don't buy a billboard ad just because there's one available near the school.  If your target audience is on Twitter, then buying radio ads won't help spread the word about your class business much.  If your target market is 50-65 year old empty nester couples (who have an average of 2 dogs), then I bet Twitter would be a waste of time, but articles in the local newspaper about what the Ag class is up to could be just the trick.

While this may seem like a lot of work, when your students are performing these tasks you'll be amazed how quick the whole concept will come together.  Be patient and expect to go an entire school year and into the second before word really starts to spread.  It takes an average of 7 impressions (ads of some type) per customer before that customer really knows the business exists and they decide whether they are interested or not. 

This activity will have a huge impact for your students from real world job experience, to a taste of a life as a manager, to dealing with customers, leading a group, and being responsible for pets, their peers, and the success of the business all at the same time.  It's an activity that many Ag teacher stories are sure to come from.

We'd love to see your results. Send us some pictures on how yours turned out on Pinterest and Twitter. Good luck!