April 18, 2007 in Business

Wake up and sell the coffee

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A pile of beans

GU’s three CEO teams made a total of $587.02 during the coffee competition. The contest winner will be announced at the club’s Thursday evening meeting.

A collegial version of The Apprentice — the TV show featuring Donald Trump and his wannabes — played out on Gonzaga University’s Spokane campus on Tuesday.

The set-up went like this: Three teams of four students each got $25 in free coffee and black T-shirts bearing hammer logos from the local Thomas Hammer Coffee Roasting Co. In addition, they could spend up to $75 on baked goods, promotional items or advertising.

The goal was to see who could sell the most coffee, on campus from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the only proviso being a ban on setting up outside dining halls. The team that generated the most revenue would be named the winner and receive a prize from Thomas Hammer, a GU alum. All proceeds went to charity.

Sponsored by the university’s chapter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization or CEO, the contest gave students a chance to practice what they’ve learned in the classroom and to give something back.

“All proceeds go to Center Pointe, a local charity for people with developmental disabilities,” said Mike Sass, CEO vice president.

Halfway through the contest, Team B already had $150 in its till — nearly twice as much as its competitors.

The secret?

“The coffee’s free, as long as we get people to give us (donations). That’s all we need” to win, explained Maureen “Mo” Bingham, a sophomore studying economics and finance.

Because she knew from stints selling baked goods on campus that students were cash-poor, her team didn’t open a traditional coffee stand. Instead, it went door-to-door in the academic office buildings, hitting up the flush faculty.

“We just give them the quick spiel about Center Pointe and they buy. It’s kind of contagious,” said team member Scott Wagemons, a sophomore in mechanical engineering who was talked into joining the business club by his roommates, the club’s two highest office holders.

Garrett Swanburg flanked his teammates, offering customers a choice of giant muffins from a long, pink Costco box he carried gingerly.

Wagemons said the team figured: “If you give them a whole breakfast, they’ll give you more money.”

Meanwhile on the West edge of campus, Team A struggled with a pair of faulty steam kettles, replaced at noon, at a coffee kiosk it set up in the high-traffic Jepson Building.

Sales soared during class breaks, said Elliott Black, manning the table behind sales touting the “Coffee for Charity” angle. Cups went for a buck apiece.

To drum up additional sales, the group planned to go “dorm stormin’,” an “insider bonus,” said Mike Uhlman, a civil engineering major who, as a resident assistant, had access to more than a dozen student dorms.

Black said he was a little worried about having to compete with his brother, a member of the third team. “He’s been a barista before for Thomas Hammer so he’s sort of got a step up on us,” Black said.

In the center of campus, Team C set up shop on a picnic table which hundreds of students and teachers would stroll past. Posters pointed out their brew came from organic beans grown only on free-trade Guatemalan coffee farms.

“We triangulated all the other coffee shops on campus” and set up shop in the coffee-less lawn between them, said Taylor Black, Elliott’s brother.

Monday evening, Team C said it whipped up an Italian chocolate cake infused with coffee and made cookies. Their baked goods were offered so long as customers also bought a $1 cup of java, in keeping with contest rules.

Elliott Black said the experience was fun and offered a chance to socialize while making money and practicing philanthropy.

“It makes you feel good inside,” he said.


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