January 29, 2018

Student-Run Businesses Thrive

UMass Amherst students serve up sweets, fix bikes, and gain business savvy

Student-run businesses at the University of Massachusetts Amherst bustle with customers while their managers earn valuable work experience along with their paychecks. Students learn to make the perfect cupcake, adjust the gears on a bike, and cook a vegan lunch, all while running a business.

The businesses, seven in all, run as cooperatives managed by their student members. Each strives to meet a campus need. Overall, they employ 115 students and generate nearly $700,000 in annual revenues. Sylvan Snack Bar, the oldest business, has been feeding hungry customers on the outskirts of campus since the '70s. Sweets and More, in Field Residential Hall, provides late-night milkshakes and bagels. Greeno Sub Shop, in Greenough Residential Hall, serves tasty subs and offers live musical performances. The other four businesses are in the Student Union: Earthfoods was serving vegan food before dining services offered plant-based meals; People's Market is a go-to spot for bagels and fair trade coffee; UMass Bike Co-op fixes flat tires and makes other repairs; and Campus Design and Copy provides business cards, passport photos, and logo designs.

A team of professional advisors supports the student cooperatives. Corey Walters, director of the Center for Student Businesses, assists with training, including worker orientation and help in developing budgets. Isenberg School of Management students offer consulting. "They help the businesses prepare financial statements and act as a conduit between the center and the business. These students are given real-world business experience and often have their pick of jobs after graduation," says Walters.

"These students are given real-world business experience and often have their pick of jobs after graduation."

Corey Walters, director of the Center for Student Businesses

Orchard Hill students eagerly line up awaiting Sweets and More's 8 p.m. opening, craving its famously indulgent milkshakes and cookies. Sophomore economics and legal studies major Sam Kennedy was a frequent customer before he started working there this fall. "It was a positive place where people are kind. It looked like a job that I would like to have and something I would like to be a part of," says Kennedy.

As part of his job, Kennedy attends meetings, works shifts, and helps with social media. On shift, co-managers work to keep the wait times down and the customers satisfied. "Sweets and More is constantly busy, there is no time off on shift. Once you swipe in, you are scooping ice cream or doing other tasks until your shift is up," says Kennedy.

The hard work does not end when the shift is over. Student committees meet weekly, focusing on specific elements of their businesses, such as public relations, social media, and marketing. Sweets' financial consultant and senior management major Alicia Berard says that the businesses are "working to invest more in their employees to avoid burnout." They hold retreats where workers can bond and brainstorm.

The students also plan and hold philanthropic events. Jessica Furtado, a co-manager at People's Market and a biochemistry and public health major from Dubai, describes a recent fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Maria that hit Puerto Rico. "We asked people to pay what they thought their coffee was worth and most people paid more. We took the difference and donated it to the cause. We raised $1,600."

The cooperatives constantly adapt to students' wants and needs. In September, Earthfoods moved into the former home of the Hatch in the basement of the Student Union, where there is more seating capacity and foot traffic. Much to the delight of Earthfoods regulars, its iconic chalkboard displaying the daily selection of vegan meals also made the move.

Through their inviting food options, friendly customer service, and philanthropic events, the student businesses create a community that keeps loyal customers coming back for sweets—and more. "I have gained so much leadership experience," says Furtado. "Our co-ops encourage students to have a voice. When people feel like they have a place on a big campus, it can help them do better in school and feel like they belong."

By Ali Ziomek ’18