SNOHOMISH — “Custom work. We need to do more custom work, Mr. Doucette!”
That was the answer students at Snohomish High School gave marketing teacher Ben Doucette last spring when he asked them how to boost T-shirt sales.
Students are in charge of Panther Pause, the DECA merchandise store at Snohomish High School.
The on-campus store sells T-shirts, hoodies and gear with the school’s name and logo. At lunch, it sells pizza and other snacks.
The school’s swag just got swaggier, thanks to three new heat presses.
“We can now customize T-shirts, sweatshirts and other items with colors, names and graduation dates,” senior Hailey Jardine said.
For years, the store purchased pre-printed, pre-decorated clothing from vendors. There was no way to add their own bling.
Now, they buy blank T-shirts and do the custom work themselves.
Students can choose from traditional logos and patterns or new designs, Doucette said.
With the new heat presses, they’re able to create all of the school’s ASB and club apparel, Jardine said.
Last year, clothing sales topped $45,000 at Panther Pause; food sales totaled $135,000, Doucette said.
With the new presses, they’re watching the sales numbers sizzle.
Hot off the press
DECA bought the new presses with store revenues. The biggest cost about $2,000; the smallest $1,000, Doucette said.
What’s a heat press, you ask? Well, it resembles a big, square iron.
And its hot!
At 348 degrees Fahrenheit, it takes 8 seconds to seal the deal. The high temperature binds the image to the fabric. No worries about sending it through the laundry, the image won’t fade.
Letters and images are cut from thin vinyl sheets with a precision cutting machine.
Want dark blue or rainbow hues? The store stocks dozens of colors and prints. When ROTC students wanted to strut their stuff, they chose a camouflage print for the lettering.
“You can choose any font or typeface or image that can be loaded onto the cutting machine,” Doucette said.
And it’s a quick turnaround.
“If someone wants a crew neck T-shirt with a specific design or their name or graduation year on the shoulder, we can have it ready in two days, or two minutes if the heat press is hot,” Doucette said.
That wasn’t an option with pre-decorated gear, Jardine said.
The store does a ton of business in late August before school starts, Doucette said. Students and parents are on campus to greet the new school year, and they’re looking to show their Panther pride.
Panther Pause offers online sales at wa-snohomish-shs-ss.intouchreceipting.com/
The Snohomish Aquatic Center and McDaniel’s Do It Center in Snohomish also sell Panther wear.
Planning for the future
At Panther Pause, profits are re-invested in the store but also fund field trips and travel to DECA conferences and workshops.
Last year, students attended a Seattle Mariners career day, toured Funko in Everett and visited the Seattle Kraken headquarters.
Students recently attended a DECA leadership conference in Bellevue, staying overnight at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue.
For Jardine, a DECA club member for three years, the gathering was a high point. She mingled with students from around the region and left with “lots of fundraising ideas,” she said.
“I love DECA. It feels like you’ve got a family in DECA,” Jardine said. “It’s a good group, a big family and so helpful in real life.”
DECA students experience every aspect of entrepreneurship, whether it’s ordering merchandise in bulk, operating the heat press or managing the store, said Kristin Foley, district spokesperson.
DECA is part of the Snohomish School District’s career and technical education program and the Business and Marketing Pathway. The group helps prepare students for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management, Foley said.
Doucette’s course in entrepreneurship focuses on managing the store.
“My students are terrified to run the register at first,” Doucette said. “After a month they’re pros. It’s great for confidence.”
The school recently trademarked its logo, the “Panthers,” and the words “Snohomish High School Panthers.”
The exercise helped students learn about copyrights and patents, Doucette said.
“We filled out all the paperwork with the Secretary of State,” he said.
With the trademark, businesses outside the school cannot legally produce Snohomish High School Panther gear and sell it for profit, he said.
Doucette and DECA students regularly re-evaluate their brand and are eyeing a new sales opportunity.
Snohomish High School will marks its 130th anniversary next year, as one of the oldest schools in the state.
Students, parents and alumni are expected to be in the market for custom designs commemorating the date. Doucette has a few ideas. After all, he was there for the school’s 1994 centennial.
“I’ve been here for 38 years,” he said. “This was my first job out of college.”
Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097; email@example.com; Twitter: @JanicePods.