How to Start a Student-Run School Store

For sale: pencils, T-shirts, and important life skills.

How to Start a School Store

Looking to start a school store? A school store offers the chance to teach students real-world skills like accounting, sales, marketing, and so much more. Here’s how to get yours up and running. It may seem like there’s a lot to do, but we’ve broken it all down into 10 basic steps that will have you and your students selling pencils and T-shirts in no time.

1. Decide who’s in charge.

Although you’ll want to involve students as much as you can, you will need at least one adult to manage things. In some schools, the store is run by a specific class (e.g., a high school accounting or marketing class, a middle school math class, or even an upper elementary class), and the teacher of that class is in charge. In others, the PTA is involved, and a parent or committee oversees the store. No matter who will manage the store, remember that your goal is to involve students in every step of the process.

Pro tip: Adults will need to ensure that the actual daily cash is handled according to the school district’s policies. Take this into account when considering school-store management.

2. Find a location.

Like real estate agents say, location is everything. Many stores operate in or near the school cafeteria, since every student winds up there at some point during the day. The school library can be another great choice. The lobby or main office is also a prime location. Remember that you’ll need room for all your stock as well as a display area and a space to serve as a counter (a table is fine) for purchases. 

Pro tip: Short on space? Use a rolling cart to set up shop anywhere that’s convenient. The cart can be locked up in a supply closet or administrator’s office with the rest of your inventory when not in use.

3. Determine store hours.

What hours will your store be open? Popular times for school stores are lunch times, before and after school, and during school events, like concerts or athletic games. Consider who will need to be available at these times—high school kids may not always need an adult by their sides, but younger kids will definitely need a teacher or parent there when the store is open. 

Pro tip: Offer students and parents the chance to place orders in advance via a paper or online form. This gives them more browsing time and speeds up transactions when the store is open.

4. Choose your stock.

This is the fun part! Students of any age should definitely be involved here, because they know what is likely to be popular. Items with the school logo are always a big hit—think pencils, folders, notebooks, and T-shirts. If you don’t already have a supplier for these items, there are plenty of sites online that do promotional printing at reasonable prices. Other popular items for a school store include novelty items, like small toys, scented pencils, or colorful erasers; snacks and bottled water; and basic school supplies, like pens and crayons.

Pro tip: Try selling gift certificates—parents can buy them for their kids, or teachers can offer them as rewards for good work.

5. Gather other supplies.

Other school-store supplies you might need include calculators, signage, and shelving. You’ll need a cash box that locks and some small bills and change to get things started. Will you issue receipts? You’ll need a receipt book and pens. Remember to get an account and inventory ledger, too, or use QuickBooks Online—it’s free for teachers and students (more on that below). 

Pro tip: Give your school-store staff name tags or even an official T-shirt or badge to wear when they’re on the job. 

6. Price the items.

First things first: It’s entirely okay for your school store to make a profit. In fact, that makes it a better learning experience for the students involved! Raise money for something your school needs or plan to donate proceeds to charity. Ask kids to help determine the prices for items; understanding how market prices and markups work is a great entry into the world of business.

Pro tip: Try to have items at a variety of prices, but remember that you’ll need to have the correct change on hand if you price things at a nickel, dime, or quarter.

7. Set up a financial management system.

School Store Quickbooks

Calling all future entrepreneurs and accountants! This is where math and business skills really come into play. Teach students the importance of financial management as they keep track of inventory and sales and then balance the books at the end of the month. You can go the old-fashioned paper ledger route, but students will benefit more from learning how to use accounting software. QuickBooks Online is popular with small business owners everywhere, and your students and school can receive free licenses to use the program. These are real-world skills students will appreciate now and down the line.

Pro tip: New to QuickBooks? With online courses and tutorials, the program is easy to learn for students and teachers alike. Plus, educators who register with Intuit Education can access additional free curriculum plus one-on-one guidance from the Intuit Education team.

8. Staff your store.

Try to have your school store staffed by students when possible, with adults there to oversee and guide when needed. Handling money, making change, serving customers, keeping track of sales … these are all valuable skills that students can learn, even in elementary school. Rotate students through different jobs (front-line sales, inventory and bookkeeping, and so on) so they have a chance to build a variety of competencies. Appoint older students as assistant managers and have them help create and maintain the school-store staff schedules.

Pro tip: Have older students apply for the jobs, giving them résumé and interview practice. 

9. Advertise your store.

This is another great cross-curricular learning activity. Have students write persuasive ads or commercials in English class. Then get the art students to design posters to post around school. Bring in the drama students to act in the commercials then play the ads during morning announcements or school news reports. 

Pro tip: Don’t forget parents—place ads in school newsletters and on the school website, too. 

10. Open the doors!

You’re ready to go! As with any small business, expect a few bumps along the road as you get started. Meet regularly with the student and adult staff to talk about what’s going well and what might need to be changed. Remember to be flexible as you tweak the process for your school’s needs. 

Pro tip: Each quarter or semester, publicly announce profits for the store and share what those profits are being used for. This gives the whole school a sense of ownership and pride.

Do you have a school store? Have you taught QuickBooks to your students? Please share your experiences in the comments.

Posted by Jill Staake

Jill Staake is a writer living in Tampa, Florida. She's spent most of her life teaching in traditional classrooms and beyond, from 8th grade English to butterfly encounters, and believes learning is a life-long process.

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