McFarland’s newest manufacturing company has finally reached the selling phase.
After beginning from scratch in September, the business has set up an e-commerce site and is taking orders. In the week before Christmas, the company needed to ensure it could ship all of its consumer products before the holidays.
“It’s been crazy lately,” said Michael Marfori, manager of the cutting board department. “We have to meet all of our orders, and we need to put in extra time to get the work done.”
However, unlike most companies, the entire staff has yet to graduate high school.
Spartan Manufacturing is in its inaugural year. The business is run entirely by students within the confines of McFarland High School’s technology and engineering education classrooms.
A visitor to the class will see students manufacturing the products, checking inventory, working on the website and overseeing e-commerce among other activities necessary to run a successful business.
The company is manufacturing five products: metal roses, engraved keychains, engraved water bottles, cribbage boards and cutting boards. Currently, all except the cribbage boards are sold on the business’s website. Orders can be placed at https://spartan.market/.
The class is overseen by Travis Ray and Steve Pennekamp. Ray said Principal Jeff Finstad gave the department free range to create the type of class that would allow students to run their own manufacturing business.
The teachers know of a few other schools that have similar programs, though some of those programs entail only the manufacturing end of the process as they work directly with an established business.
“That’s not what we wanted,” Pennekamp said. “We wanted to have the entire process.”
Ray noted that because the curriculum for this type of program does not exist, plus the fact it’s the first year, they take it day by day based on how the previous class went.
“We knew we would be able to touch on a vast number of areas,” Pennekamp said. “And within a school model, you try to bring in other areas and other departments and other theories within the same class. So, you really combine a lot of things together.”
Ray said they are hoping to increase the diversity of the class by having students who have artistic skills, accounting skills, computer skills, marketing skills and beyond, because all are integral to a manufacturing business.
“You look at Findorff that’s doing the school construction,” he said. “They have construction workers, accountants, lawyers, engineers, to make their company run.”
There are 34 students in the class – by far the largest the technology and engineering department has ever had for a single class.
“We knew we needed diversity in the workforce,” Pennekamp said. “We needed people to work in the IT department and the e-commerce side of things. We knew we needed more than one product, and we needed enough people to be able to produce the products at a high enough rate. We didn’t know if we were going to get 10 or 30 or 100.”
The only prerequisite for the class is junior or senior standing. While most of the students participating have taken multiple other technology courses, there are some who have never been to that wing of the building.
Spartan Manufacturing marks the first time Molly McCaulley has been in the technology and engineering classrooms. Unsure of what she would contribute, McCaulley found herself taking photos and blogging for the company’s website.
“Overall, it’s been exciting to see everything come from our brainstorming to thinking about prototypes to a real online store and seeing everything come to life,” she said.
Much like a professional company, each department has a manager, and those students are responsible for their employees, Pennekamp said.
“The managers know more about their products than we do,” he noted.
Ray and Pennekamp are only consulted when the students are unable to address a situation themselves. And when that occurs, it is the managers of each department who see the teachers.
“We’ve literally been there just to guide, to keep equipment running and to answer any questions,” Ray said.
Pennekamp added the pair wanted the students to take ownership for every part of the business. In fact, the two keep out of any decisions made by the students about the business operations.
Ray said the teenagers do not treat Spartan Manufacturing as a class; instead, it’s looked at as a business.
“If they saw it as just as class, they might not take it as seriously,” he said.
Because the company is earning money, funds will be reinvested into Spartan Manufacturing. The teachers are hoping to earn enough to offer scholarships to students who are part of the business.
“We’ve got some students right now who we’ve identified as amazing leaders, where we wouldn’t be where we are at if we didn’t have them,” Pennekamp said. “They deserve some kind of scholarship, and we want to make that a reality. We have a strong belief that if you’re going to put into this (business) and we’re going to benefit, you should benefit, too.”