AASA School Solutions

Raising Money for Schools While Alleviating a Burden


The staff at Elias Bern-stein Intermediate School in Staten Island, N.Y., needed a simpler and less costly way to order and distribute physical education uniforms to students. The process had become a major headache.

Ordering uniforms in bulk meant the school paid upfront. The correct mix of sizes had to be determined in advance. Then staff had to manage the sale and distribution to each student and put excess inventory in a closet where it collected dust until the following year.

By partnering with my company, Propell, Elias Bernstein this fall introduced a new online ordering system. Students ordered the phys-ed uniforms using a secure e-commerce shop that Propell created and tailored to the school’s needs. Items were shipped directly to students’ homes. We handled all inventory, manufacturing, shipping, customer service and payments — the stressful and time-consuming aspects of selling products directly to students.

In addition, Elias Bernstein received a share of every sale, thus making this new process profitable to the school. (At the time of this writing, the school had sold more than $7,500 worth of merchandise, raising over $2,000 as its share, and saved many hours in staff time.) There was no upfront charge to the school so long as the school commits to communicating the service. No long lead times were needed. Propell’s business model is to take a percentage of every sale.

As an AASA School Solutions Center partner, the association has vetted PropellShops and several competitors but chose Propell because it’s a “the win-win proposition for both the school and the company,” according to Chuck Woodruff, AASA associate executive director for finance and operations. “Schools are looking for revenue streams but have few financial or staff resources to devote to fundraising. Plus, this could streamline workflows.”

On-Demand Technology
At Propell, we use new technologies, including e-commerce tools and “on demand” manufacturing, to solve problems for schools. We’ve helped several hundred schools sell anywhere from $200 to $10,000 in merchandise over the last six months, with 20 to 30 percent of revenues returned to support school programs. PropellShop’s T-shirts, sweatshirts, gym uniforms or day-to-day wear are among the products we customize. Since items are made when an order is placed, the technology also allows, students, alumni and the community to personalize each purchased item.

The PropellShops solution was integrated into the K-12 Suite at eChalk, which offers web-based learning platforms in K-12 school communities. Now thousands of eChalk clients can instantly add a set of web shops at no charge, offsetting the cost of eChalk service and generating additional revenue for school groups.

One eChalk customer, Fort Sam Houston Independent School District in Texas, used PropellShops to create an array of products, supporting different groups and activities. These include elementary school shops and alumni shops and even one dedicated to their chili cook-off. This has permitted staff to create and promote products to raise funds with little additional effort.

Promotional Advice
Our service reduces the risk, hassle and expense of creating merchandise. And it permits more types of products to be offered, serving more school groups. The school markets the service, and we help with promotion. We provide materials and advice but tell schools the most effective way to promote merchandise is to remember the ABC’s of on-demand e-commerce:

•  Audience — Take advantage of the built-in audience of students and parents, but also those in your broader network that aren’t at school daily. 

•  Breadth of Product — With no inventory risk, offer more choices. 

•  Communication — E-commerce means no need to spend hours at a table selling logowear or managing uniform sales. Spread the word of the online store via e-mail, school newsletters and word-of-mouth. Direct people to the link on the school’s website, where they can do their purchasing at whatever hour is convenient to them.

Ed Bernstein is CEO and co-founder of Propell Corporation in San Anselmo, Calif. E-mail: ed@propellshops.com