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GOSHEN -- Buy a can of coffee. Brew a couple of pots. Hang an OPEN sign on the door and start taking in the money.
Goshen College student Trang Pham thought that was the recipe to operating a money-making coffee shop.
After she joined the management team operating Java Junction, a student-run coffee bar at the college, however, Pham quickly learned running a successful business means paying attention to the little things.
Each semester eight to 10 business students like Pham gain a real-world entrepreneurial experience by enrolling in the Java Junction management class. Those students become responsible for the day-to-day operations and financial health of the popular gathering spot nestled between two dorms.
The fly in the coffee for this business is turnover, something that can hinder any small venture. Every September and January, a new team of managers assembles to make the purchases, monitor the inventory, keep track of expenses and earnings, organize the catering events as well as hire and train the baristas for a coffee shop open 10 hours each weekday and four hours each Saturday and Sunday.
Business faculty member Michelle Horning developed the class and now teaches and supervises the student managers.
"I give my opinion," said the associate professor of accounting. "They don't always listen to me, but they don't have to because I'm just the supervisor."
Still, while the business changes behind the counter every four months, the service and the coffee concoctions must be consistently good the entire school year. Moreover, even though it's a college-sponsored business designed to enhance student life, Java Junction must remain a profitable venture to stay open.
Not a business model that would attract investors but one that lures undergraduates looking to apply their classroom exercises to a working business.
"It's not a class where you walk out of class and do your own homework," said Liz Martin, the Junction's human resources manager.
The students soon learn some lessons are not covered in their textbooks.
Coffee is complicated, purchasing manager Jeff Bauman said, noting he was a little intimidated when he started calling vendors and placing orders, but now he enjoys interacting with business people outside the college.
What drinks to add to the menu, where to purchase the baked goods, whether to buy a juice machine, whether the profit margin is large enough to absorb the cost of switching from Styrofoam cups to recycled paper cups are some of the matters that arise in the managers' weekly meeting with Horning.
During the week, they have to handle the unexpected like adjusting schedules to accommodate the baristas' class load or making a quick trip to the market to pick up few gallons of milk.
Among Goshen students, Junction managers have discovered, the sweeter coffee drinks are more popular. This means extra syrup and whipped cream always should be in stock.
Since the Junction opened in September 2004 and the first team of managers had to scrutinize every cost, the business has grown and subsequent teams have built a revenue cushion.
Horning said her goal was to increase revenues by 25 percent between the first year and second year the coffee bar was open. Instead, revenues blossomed by 50 percent.
Part of each manager's final grade is tied to the Junction's bottom line, so in addition to paying invoices and depositing the daily receipts, accounting manager David Haire gives his colleagues a financial report each week.
This semester, the team of managers has overseen the expansion of the business into catering. The 25 to 30 catering events that now fill the Junction's fall semester calendar is about double the number of events during last spring's semester and led to creation of Pham's position as catering manager.
Marketing falls to managers Garrett Gingerich and Aglaya Nickolova. Despite its hideaway location, the Junction is beginning to attract customers from off-campus. One recent afternoon, a group from the Goshen Chamber of Commerce met at the coffee bar.
Behind the counter, the espresso machine, the blenders, the recycling bins and refrigerator are neatly organized. Mugs and steaming pitchers sit ready to be called into action.
Picking up a spiral-bound notebook from the countertop, Mary Jo Martin, operations manager, explained the writing tablet serves as a communication tool between managers and employees. Handwriting on paper works better than e-mail for announcements, instructions and even suggestions for new drinks because all the baristas know to look for new messages when their shifts begin.
While his classmates talked about operating Java Junction, Peter Widmer jumped up from the table, climbed onto a chair and untied a plastic ghost hanging from the ceiling of the coffee shop. Taking down a stray Halloween decoration is one of the little things the managers need to do to keep the business successful.
Contact Marilyn Odendahl at firstname.lastname@example.org.