Student-run businesses flourishing downtown

Helene Miller

Have you ever used Laundry in a Flash’s service or bought a bag of chips at The Main St. Snack Shoppe? Maybe you’ve gotten a cup of coffee at Bookends Cafe or rented a DVD from Flash Flix.

If so, then you have supported a student-run business.

Laundry in a Flash, The Main St. Snack Shoppe, Bookends Cafe, and Flash Flix are all student-run businesses, which came from the Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation. Each business has a student manager that is in charge of anything and everything in running the business.

Kristin Dowling, entrepreneur-in-residence, oversees the student businesses. She worked at Kinko’s in its early years and was a part of its rapid growth. She says her job at Kent is to help students develop their business ideas and provide the details of how to do it.

“I learned so much at Kinko’s about how critical it is to teach people about the business,” Dowling said.

Bookends Cafe

It’s no secret that the Kent Free Library is family oriented, which means that during the summer it’s crammed with kids and moms seeking relief.

When Bookends Cafe opened in May 2009, the cafe only sold coffee and pastries, but it expanded its choices to sandwiches, wraps and salads last February. All of the food comes from Kent State University Dining Services.

Manager Charlotte Varney, a senior marketing major, said that while the business is student run, its clientele is mostly made up of Kent city residents. She said traffic varies during different times of the year.

In the summer months, Varney and her student employee, Felicia Wetzig, man the cafe, which is frequented by a lot of mothers stopping in for a snack after story time.

Varney also explained the business is non-profit and all of the earnings go right back into running the business.

Varney says her responsibilities include “literally everything.” She handles the cafe’s finances, orders products, creates employee schedules and markets the business among other things.

The Main St. Snack Shoppe

Acorn Alley takes students and residents back to the days of small shops on street corners. It gives people the feeling as though Charlie Bucket could come whizzing past to buy a Wonka Bar.

While The Main St. Snack Shoppe doesn’t carry Wonka Bars, it does carry locally produced goodies for people of all ages. The shop carries Waggoner’s Chocolates, Shearer’s snack and Metropolis Popcorn, which are all produced in Ohio.

The store opened Sept. 18 last year and has continued to grow.

Heather Weber, a senior art history major, manages The Main St. Snack Shoppe. She said while the shop wasn’t her idea, she built the business and it has become a success, which she says is evident through the shop’s regulars and growing number of patrons. Weber says the shop usually sees higher traffic on Fridays and Saturdays when people spend more time downtown. She said more than 300 people visited the store during the Heritage Festival.

Weber said that after working as an underling for years, she tries to get her employees as involved as possible so they can enjoy what they’re doing.

“I want to make it fun because if they’re having fun, they’ll interact with customers more, and the better customer interaction you get, the better sales you get,” Weber said.

Laundry in a Flash

Starting this fall, students will find a Laundry in a Flash drop-off point at the bowling alley in Eastway Hall.

Laundry in a Flash provides students with a laundry service once a week. Students can buy packages by the year, semester or month.

The businesses provide students with laundry bags, which they can drop off at Eastway Hall. Two days later, students go back and pick up their clean laundry. The service can be used once a week, but there also is a premium twice-a-week package.

Manager Chris Lintner, a junior entrepreneurship major, said that at this time of year he focuses his marketing strategy on informing parents about this service. He said he believes they would be interested because then they would know that their kids would always have clean clothes.

Lintner says he does pretty much anything an owner would do, which has included revamping their business plan and strategy.

All of the laundry is done at Laundry Time in Stow. Laundry in a Flash employees are trained and supervised by the professionals who work at Laundry Time.

Lintner said the business has grown almost 1,000 percent since it began, and about 40 people have already signed up for service for the fall. He is hoping to have more than 100 signups per semester by fall 2011.

“We’re really expecting to launch off and get big,” Lintner said.

Flash Flix

Flash Flix can also be found in the Eastway Hall bowling alley. It is a basic movie rental place where students can get movies for cheap.

The movies are split into two groups: new releases, movies that came out during the semester; and classics, movies that are at least a semester old. While the store only has about 400 titles available, compared to the 3,500 or so available at Family Video, it provides a convenient venue for students living on campus.

As far as paying for rentals, students have the option to buy a flat rate membership or to pay by the movie, which is $2 a night for new movies and $1 for three nights on classics.

Flash Flix is closed for the summer, but will re-open this fall with about 15 summer releases available for rent on top of its ever-growing inventory.

Managers Lea Koehler, a senior managerial marketing major, and Andrew Wimer, a senior entrepreneurship major, helped do the research for the store two years ago and are now taking over the business.

Koehler said she believes the business has done well since its opening more than a year ago, but said it still has room to grow.

“I want to see it go on to bigger and better things,” Koehler said. “I know it can.”

Contact college of business

reporter Helene Miller at [email protected].