At Coastal, we love hearing success stories from our customers. When we discovered one of our customers was a growing, student-run business of 5th graders, we just had to reach out to learn their story. Today, it is a pleasure to introduce to you…Small Town Studios!

Small Town Studios - Student-Run Business

Forty-five miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a student-run business is the talk of the town. Founded in the fall of 2018, Small Town Studios is made up of over seventy-five 5th graders at Ramsay Elementary who create and sell custom mugs and water bottles using sublimation. They offer a variety of pre-designed mugs and bottles and also give customers the option to provide their own designs. From researching and designing to pressing and shipping, the students are involved in every stage of the sales and production process. This allows the students to develop real-life skills in marketing, finance, research and development, and more!

Small Town Studios - Sublimated Custom Mugs

How It All Began

Small Town Studios is one of the many student-run businesses across the country made possible by Real World Scholars (RWS). RWS empowers classrooms to explore entrepreneurship and operate as a business, allowing students like those in Small Town Studios to explore their passions and interests, learn content by engaging with it in authentic ways and connect with their communities. When Small Town Studios’ leader and teacher Mrs. Michelle David came across RWS at an education training event a couple years ago, she decided it would be a great fit for her classroom.

After partnering with Real World Scholars, Mrs. David introduced the program to her 5th grade class at Ramsay Elementary and gave her students a choice on what kind of business they’d like to start. They collectively decided to start making custom mugs, and their business was born! The kids drew upon inspiration from their small town of Mount Pleasant and named their new business Small Town Studios.

How It’s Structured

Small Town Studios operates like a real business with students working in various departments including sales, marketing and research, production, design, and shipping and packaging.

Students choose which areas they prefer to work in, and they’re allowed the option to move to other departments if they’d like. Each department is made up of 10-15 students. Students work on Small Town Studios during homeroom time, recess, and at the beginning and end of the school day.

While Mrs. David played a role in the founding of Small Town Studios, she emphasizes that it very much is in the hands of the kids. The students are in charge of all aspects of the business – when they run into a problem (such as products not turning out correctly), they take it upon themselves to research the issue and correct it.

Small Town Studios - Creating custom Mugs

Small Town, Big Success!

Small Town Studios is already a huge hit in Mount Pleasant, and their business continues to grow. In December, they had over 100 orders to fulfill before their holiday break – that’s a lot of mugs! They’ve also attracted the attention of local news media and have been featured in a number of newspaper articles, radio segments and more.

Small Town Studios being interviewed

As Small Town Studios grows, so do their hearts. In the beginning, the students decided as a group to donate a portion of the money they make to the Foster Love Project, a nonprofit organization that provides foster kids and families with essentials like clothing, diapers, car seats, bedding and much more. Since 2014, the Foster Love Project has provided thousands of placement bags to kids moving into foster care to ensure they have the necessary belongings to get started. The remaining money Small Town Studios generates will go toward funding future school projects. The students are hoping to fund an additional field trip and new playground equipment for their school!

Biggest Challenges are the Greatest Lessons

As we all know, running a successful business does not come without its own set of obstacles. The biggest challenges Small Town Studios faces regularly are production errors. Because sublimation transfers require precise times, temperatures, and levels of pressure, problems such as ghosting, fading and other issues arise. However, this challenge presents a great learning opportunity and gives the students a chance to research and diagnose what went wrong during the process. Together, they problem solve and then fix the problems – all on their own! We can’t emphasize enough the wonderful opportunity these 5th grade students have – to make mistakes, like we all do in the real world, and to learn and grow from these mistakes!

Small Town Studios - Success!

Next Year and On

So what’s the future of Small Town Studios? Will this business opportunity continue for the next generation of 5th graders? Mrs. David assured us that Small Town Studios has a thriving future ahead, and she will continue offering new classes of 5th graders at Ramsay Elementary the chance to create and sell their own drinkware. She even has plans to bring back some of next year’s 6th graders to help train the new business owners! We wish Small Town Studios the best of luck in all of their endeavors, and we can’t wait to see how their business continues to grow.