The routes to customer satisfaction

23rd March 2001 at 00:00
At Our Lady and St Patrick's High school in Dumbarton, this year's Young Enterprise company, Aristos, has gone from strength to strength. The business produces a range of wood-mounted clocks (the most expensive, combined with a barometer at pound;15.99, has been the best seller), has branched into music, selling 140 CDs of the school choir, orchestra and soloists at pound;5.99 each, and has moved into publishing. All 150 copies of its dictionary of Dunbartonshire slang have been sold.

In a rather different vein, the company was appointed to run the S3 St Valentine's disco. The directors surveyed costings of venues outside the school that would appeal to pupils, selected one, sold a record number of tickets to enthusiastic third year pupils and were judged to have held a much more successful event than their teachers' past efforts.

With a turnover of pound;1,500 and a profit of pound;1,000, assistant headteacher George Meiklejohn, who plays an important role as the YES link teacher, says that Aristos has been the most successful YES company in the school to date. (The average turnover of YES companies last year was pound;700.) The directors' objective is clear: "to make quality products to satisfy our customers", and they have done their homework well. The dictionary of slang cost a modest 30p. They could, they say, have priced it at 50p, "but no one would have bought it for the same price as a can of Coke".

The board is now considering which charities will benefit from their success and has pinpointed Oxfam and the ScottOsh Catholic International Aid Fund as likely beneficiaries.

The nine directors of Aristos - all of whom are in S6 and studying for a combination of Highers, Sixth Year Studies and Advanced Highers - profess to each being talented in their respective roles but recognise the importance of a full collaborative effort. Where members have not worked as they should, verbal and written warnings have been issued.

Mr Meiklejohn says the company has a positive ethos, developed early in its establishment. If the board ever feels it lacks specific expertise, it brings in new members. For example, the school's guitar tutor, Gerry McGhee, was formally employed to help with the CD production.

"We looked into what it would cost to hire a studio and found it would be much more cost-effective to pay Mr McGhee for the work," says the CD's production director, Kevin Neeson.

Marketing has proved a success. The directors consulted potential customers, including pupils, parents and school staff, on what they would buy. And they were recently awarded a marketing trophy a a trade fair in Glasgow's Merchant Square shopping area, where they had a stall and distributed flyers to passers-by to entice them to buy.

In all its enterprises the board has benefited from the help of its business adviser, Charlie Savage, from the local offices of Polaroid UK in Alexandria. He regularly attends board meetings and has even arranged for them to be conducted in the boardroom at Polaroid's offices, which the directors find enhances their sense of being a real company.

"Charlie's great," says Mary Beth Duffy. "He doesn't tell us what to do but he's always happy to give advice when we need it."

He would, for example, counsel them if they were working within an unrealistic timescale or encourage them to take direct action and avoid unnecessary procrastination. He advised them in the early stages to be more focussed about Aristos's range of products on the grounds that too many products can sometimes be less cost-effective. His words were duly heeded and diversification of products was carefully regulated.

Mr Meiklejohn, as the Link teacher, has been approachable and patient: he "just lets us get on with it," the directors say. He respects the fact that Aristos is their business and encourages them to look to one another when tackling a problem.

All the directors are careful not to let the company dominate their school work and their parents are keen to support the enterprise this year, but the pupils admit they would have been less enthusiastic during their fifth year studies.

The experience of running a business has transformed their final year at school. Company work is not directly related to class work but it does help, they say. Accounting offers new aspects of maths, for example.

At the moment the greatest challenge facing the board is the compilation of the company report. Company reports form the main criteria for national YES awards later in the year. They have been helped by a report writing evening organised by the YES area board and reports from the school's previous Young Enterprise companies have been a useful point of reference.

All of the group plan to go on to higher education but find that their experience of Young Enterprise has altered their ambitions. Kevin Neeson's goal of working in optometry has taken a new direction in that he is now considering the possibility of owning his own optician's business in the future. Rowan McCoy has moved from her original idea of hospital pharmacy towards business law. Human resources and business management are now being considered by some of the others.

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