Selling school spirit, snacks, and smiles: Puphouse Bookstore at Orleans Elementary School

With quarters in hand, Orleans Elementary School students surround the table at Puphouse Bookstore three times a week, eagerly awaiting their turn to buy stickers, pencils, snacks, and Bulldog merchandise from classmates.

There is no need to advertise when the Puphouse will open because kids just find out, said Orleans Elementary School STEM Teacher Anna Westfall. 

Simply put: One of the newest, and youngest, student-run businesses in the Indiana Uplands has been welcomed with open arms.

In a region replete with talent and resources, it is no surprise these young Uplanders are thriving in their Ready School. 

In 2019, the Regional Opportunity Initiatives ROI awarded a Ready Schools implementation grant to the Collaboration of Shoals, Mitchell, & Orleans Schools (known locally as COSMOS). That grant funding allows the three school districts to work together to create shared maker spaces and STEM labs, expand project-based learning opportunities, develop career exploration activities at all grade levels, and more.

Behind the scenes, the students running the Puphouse are gaining critical customer service, entrepreneurship, accounting, and employability skills and experience to help develop career interests.

Snacks are the most popular item at the Puphouse Bookstore, but only because the water bottles with the school mascot, the Bulldog, sold out. The bottles were decorated on a Cricut in the maker space using a fourth grader’s design, Westfall explained.

This is the second year for the Puphouse Bookstore. In 2021, Orleans Elementary School hosted its first holiday market featuring goods from local businesses and other student-run businesses. 

“The kids really got into making and selling at the market,” Westfall said. “We built off that entrepreneur spirit and expanded by selling throughout the year.” 

Fourth-grade students last year created the name, the logo, the advertisements, and merchandise.

“Most of our merchandise is made in our school’s maker space,” Westfall said. 

From T-shirts, bags, pencils, and water bottles to key chains students are sure to find a unique item to buy at the Puphouse Bookstore. Recently, students decided to add more “fun” merchandise to their store such as stickers, rubber ducks, and snacks.  

“Through their own accounting, they noticed what merchandise raised the most profit and which merchandise was not popular at all. They profited on the Mother’s Day holiday as well and made candles to sell,” Westfall said.  

At the end of last year, students made enough profit to fix the school’s 3D printer’s extruder and purchase more 3D pens. 

“The students vote on what they want to spend their profits on, or if they want to use the funds to expand the Puphouse,” Westfall said.

Currently, eight students work the Bookstore each week. Students from all grade levels decide on the merchandise, do the accounting, and design new merchandise to sell. 

In November, the Puphouse Bookstore will start up the “Puphouse E.L.F. (Employee Led Fabrication) Manufacturing” for the holiday season. Fifth-and sixth-grade students will create custom orders and made-to-order merchandise from a flyer of designs they will create for yard flags, ornaments, stickers, and more, Westfall said.

Lessons have been learned while running a business, such as when students learned about copyright because they wanted to sell Taylor Swift stickers and friendship bracelets. Instead of purchasing the rights to make their own, students decided to purchase from a licensed wholesaler.

“Our kids have learned a lot, especially when it comes to profit margin, what types of snacks we are allowed to sell, how customer service works, and how to give change,” Westfall said.

“Our customer student body has learned as well such as how to count money and how to budget their own change.”

In the Indiana Uplands, student-run businesses are made possible through the ROI’s Ready Schools Initiative and important community collaborations between school districts and businesses in their communities. In the Uplands, hundreds of high school students are gaining real-world work experiences through student-run businesses. Launched in 2019, Eagle Manufacturing and Lion Manufacturing became the first student-run businesses in the Indiana Uplands. The concept of student-run businesses now expands from the high school level to the junior high and elementary levels.