Austin College students visited Bean Me Up Coffee and Bistro in downtown Sherman Friday as part of their JanTerm business course.
Austin College Economics and Business Professor Syed Kamal explained the mini-semester that takes place in January is meant to provide students an opportunity to learn something experimental.
“Most of the students who take a JanTerm are either travelling outside or doing something experimental on campus,” Kamal said. “The way I designed the course is for non-business majors. It’s for students who haven’t taken any business classes or don’t intend to take any business classes.”
Kamal went on to explain the 25 students enrolled in the class are charged with running a virtual coffee business in a small college town.
“We are doing a business simulation,” Kamal said. “They are competing against each other. They do a coffee shop business on a simulated environment. On Fridays, we go into town to local coffee shops and enjoy the atmosphere there, talk to the owners and try to get some practical perspective that they can bring in their simulation.”
The simulation is called BizCafe. The program is provided by Interpretive Simulations, whose motto is “learn by doing.” The simulation allows student to learn about management, operations, marketing and accounting in an immersive and interactive way.
AC senior Taylor Ryan said she chose the course to help prepare for life after graduation.
“I’m a senior this year so I have to go out into the real world in five months,” Ryan said. “I had never taken a business course so I don’t know the things about personal finance that I think I need to know going out into the real world. That’s what drew me to this class.”
Bean Me Up owner Sheila Kluss and her husband have owned and operated the coffeehouse and bistro for three and a half years. Additionally, they have owned and operated Northstar Signs for the last 16 years. Kluss said she told the students about the preparation required for starting a business.
“I explained that I spent a year doing research before I even opened,” Kluss said. “I was getting research for different coffee shops and different restaurants. It’s important to watch your debt level. Don’t get yourself so far in debt that when you walk in to your new business, you feel like you need to make a million dollars to survive.”
The class is in its second week of the month long mini-semester. So far, they have visited the on-campus coffee shop at AC, the coffee shop at Gelati’s Ice Cream Parlor and now Bean Me Up.
Kamal said he hoped to teach students the hard work required in opening a business.
“The point that I want them to learn from coffee shop owners is when you see a business from the outside, you see products and atmosphere but there are other things that go on,” Kamal said. “One thing that I learned from our first coffee shop that students didn’t expect was the coffee shop owner told them he works 16 to 17 hours a day. Establishing a business is not just about the outside and the fun part.”
Kluss said she enjoyed having the students visit.
“I thought it was awesome that they are actually teaching kids how it really is,” Kluss said. “For example, pastry students often think they will walk out of class and immediately become an executive chef. It doesn’t work like that. By them coming and talking to someone, they get more reality of what it is really like. They need to know the pros and cons, curses and blessings.”
A student from the class, Patrick Anselin, said he has already started to learn about many aspects of real world finances during the first two weeks of the course.
“We already learned about FICO scores,” Anselin said. “We learned about investing. We’ve already started the simulation and the simulation itself is teaching us how important every little detail is when it goes into running a business.”
Kluss explained the biggest struggle she experiences with her two small businesses is finding the right employees.
“You want to try not to have too much turnover because it doesn’t look good,” Kluss said. “You want to try to keep everyone consistent on everything. That’s one of the biggest struggles because if you don’t have any help, you can’t do it all by yourself.”
Ryan laughingly explained the most difficult part of the simulation so far has been dealing with employees.
“I didn’t know imaginary people could be so stressful,” Ryan said. “Our department is HR for our group. I had to fire someone two days ago. It was really stressful. It came back to bite me. You feel for these imaginary people.”
Kluss said she does not believe people understand the amount of work a small business takes.
“I think a lot of it is they don’t realize how much work it is,” Kluss said. “It looks fun and you come in and everything in here is eclectic and exciting. But it’s a lot of hard work. It’s not just all fun.”
Kamal explained hard work is the No. 1 message for the course.
“There’s a lot of hard work and work ethic involved,” Kamal said. “When they see a business and they are learning how to run a business, I want them to learn the hard work part of it, the planning part of it, the discipline part of it and the hard work part of it.”
Kluss said the hard work is definitely worth it.
“Happy customers are my favorite part about being a business owner,” Kluss said. “I had a customer leave a review on Yelp the other day. They wrote a bunch about how wonderful their experience was. By the time I was done reading it, I had a huge smile and tears in my eyes. That’s my reward.”