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Going to market

South Boston News
Isiah Dunn delivers a polished presentation on his various business concepts. (Sharon Kinsey photo) / December 07, 2017
You won’t find retail stores with names like Squishable Squares, Nick’s Non Negative Nation, Carson’s Craters or Spongy Nation in South Boston or Halifax — not for a few years, anyway.

Fourth-grade entrepreneurs in the Halifax County Elementary Gifted Program showed off their business skills at Market Day, an annual event at The Prizery that teaches students how business works — from product creation to marketing, advertising to sales.

The students have been preparing for this event since the beginning of school. Kelly Franco, EGP specialist for Sydnor Jennings and Meadville elementary schools, said they begin laying the foundation for the program from day one. “Most of the students, when they start, did not understand the concept of a jingle or marketing slogan,” she said.

They start with fundamentals like advertising, marketing, economics, and commerce. At the same time, students begin to identify a product, a business name, and a jingle as part of their project. The hardest part, said Franco, is the sales pitch which each “store owner” must do with everyone else looking on.

This program, which is in its eighth year, is an annual fourth-grade project for EGP students. This year, 52 students from seven elementary schools participated along with parents, teachers and principals.

Dora Slagle, a student at South Boston Elementary, set up a store called “The Adoption Center” where she sold — well, not sure they had a name, but they were squishy dog and cat buddies. She found something online that looked like a Wookie, and decided to stake her entire business career on it.

Slagle gave her pitch like a pro, afterwards admitting she felt perfectly calm and confident: “I never had one single nervous moment,” she said with a smile.

Dora’s mother, Lisa Slagle, used one word to sum up the program: “awesome.” Dora is her second child to participate in Market Day; her son was in last year’s program. Slagle said that the program does wonders for their self-esteem when they master the art of talking in front of a crowd. At the same time, they learn how to make a product and manage money.

Kenly Staton, also at South Boston Elementary, got the idea for her store from nature. Her family raises honeybees, so she decided that a beeswax-based product, like lip balm, was just the ticket. Her business, Santa’s Chapstick, offered Chapstick in a variety of flavors, including cookie dough, which sold out first.

Staton’s parents, Matt and Stephanie, helped her find all the materials she needed to make her product. She made the chapstick from beeswax, Shea butter, coconut oil, and soy wax. After she filled the tubes, she created her own label.

Logan Clark and Elizabeth Hardy both got their inspiration from Sponge Bob. Hardy’s product was a yellow sponge with body part accessories. Maybe it wasn’t Sponge Bob, but it was hard to miss the resemblance.

If there had been a best-dressed award, it would have gone to Isiah Dunn, who dressed in a dark blue suit and tie.

And if there had been a most useful product award, Isaac Stevens would have won it for the bookmarks he sold at his store, Bookmark Mania Legends. Not only did he “upgrade” a regular bookmark with fancy ribbon and patterns, but he added an elastic band on one end so that when you close your book, the band can keep it closed and prevent damage to the pages should the book fall off a table.

Market Day is part trade show and part shopping spree. As students give their pitch, “evaluators” decide how much money the presentation, product design and storefront deserve. Each student receives this reward money, and along with profits earned from store sales, they can purchase products from other stores.

If you ask any of the store owners, they will tell you that the goal is to “sell out” first.

This year’s evaluators included Mitzi Riddle with the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce, Lin Hite from the Longwood Small Business Development Center and Lori Ashwell of South Boston Memorials.

The organizers included Kelly Franco, EGP specialist for Sydnor Jennings and Meadville elementary schools, Susie Milam, EGP specialist for South Boston Elementary, Donna Elliott, EGP specialist for Clays Mill, Sinai, and Scottsburg elementary schools, Pam Eakes, Halifax County Public Schools EGP director, and Debbie Crenshaw and Lynn McKinney, EGP staff at central office.

The principals of all seven elementary schools were on hand to cheer their students on and provide moral support.

The last event of the day was an auction, where students could use whatever money they still had to bid on a wide variety of games and stuff.

Don’t be surprised if 10 years from now, you spot a store named Sack Shack as you walk down Main Street.

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