by Abe A.
With vending machines – which, by the way, stole into the school under a shroud of mystery and, possibly, shame while everyone was away on their beginning of the year trips – now in full swing at OES, we have huge, visible, advertisements for Coca Cola in school.
Corporate relationships are important for any school or school district, mainly for financial reasons.
OES has a number of such relationships, which in many ways have become more visible over the last five to ten years.
Kris VanHatcher, who is in his 40th (!) year as Athletic Director – and alarmingly has not yet gotten a statue – expounded on the school’s longstanding athletic relationship with Nike, which is nearing a decade.
“I was approached in 2004 or 2005 as we started winning a lot – it was right after that amazing fall that we had where we had the volleyball team win state and both the soccer teams win state – anyway, we had one parent ask me if we were interested in becoming a Nike school. It basically meant that we would buy Nike equipment.”
It was a win-win situation for the school, which was already using “75-80%” Nike equipment, but wanted to increase the quality of gear mainly for Middle School teams.
The school signed on informally – there’s no written contract, and OES is still able to go outside of its relationship with Nike to buy lacrosse jackets and volleyballs from other companies.
With the Nike relationship does is, “gives us a sizable discount off athletic equipment,” Hatch said.
“Before (the deal with Nike), it was not in the budget to get coaches gear. This allows for that, and for our coaches to go to the employee store, for instance.”
The more equipment OES buys from Nike, the bigger comp the school gets off that gear – in addition to the sizable discount the school already gets.
In other words, it pays to buy more.
Generally, the relationship has worked because of Nike’s flexibility – but in the last ten years, there has been a fair share of hiccups.
Just last year, the team changed its Boys Varsity Basketball uniforms. It decided to go with an “Arizona” template, a common design for basketball uniforms named for one of the most successful basketball programs in the country.
When the uniforms came, there was one problem – instead of having an O on the side of the shorts for OES, there was a massive A.
Nike scrambled to get a local manufacturer to patch over the As on the shorts in time for the season, but when gear is coming from halfway around the world in many cases, it’s not always an easy process to get things right – as anyone who has made it out of Hatch’s office/storage room in the gym will testify.
OES also has a partnership with Bon Appetit, who was installed as the school’s food provider after an exhaustive search in 2009.
Kelly Cowing, who has been in charge of Bon Appetit and food operations at OES since the beginning, has been with Bon Appetit since 1997, but took five years from the company after her daughter was born, and started teaching culinary classes as Marshall High School.
Coming to OES full-time was, “the perfect opportunity,” Cowing said, giving her an opportunity to make healthy meals and educate about nutrition.
OES pays a management fee to Bon Appetit and gives Cowing a budget to work with that has to account for everything from the food itself to paying employees.
It was because of those budget and time constraints that continuing to run the popular Student Store became difficult.
Cowing said that the student store was, “very expensive.”
“It was a great service for the students, but it wasn’t economically sound.”
The decision was made this summer to replace the student store – which was expensive to stock and run each day, which in turn drove up prices for students – with lower cost vending machines.
The installation process has been less than smooth.
The vending machine contract is between OES and a company called Canteen – Bon Appetit is not directly involved, though Cowing helps keep things moving.
The vending machines came adorned in early September with large Coca Cola advertisements covering the machines – which wasn’t supposed to happen.
“There wasn’t supposed to be advertising,” Cowing said. “The idea was the products would speak for themselves. The machines that came were not the machines that we thought we were getting.”
Cowing’s message was clear: “We’re not here to advertise.”
Cowing said that in the next week or so, the defective vending machine in the DVR could be replaced, while plain black skins will be brought in to replace the Coca Cola skins.
The vending machines are an experiment. “I’m not sure it’s the best scenario, but it’s one to work on,” Cowing said.
She may have summed up OES’ school-wide relationship with cooperations best when she said, “OES is its own little sphere of business.”
Cooperations are great to work with, but not great to be beholden to.
There’s a section in the brilliant Fast Food Nation, a 2001 exposé of the American fast food industries influence and practices in the world by Eric Schlosser about a public school whose district had a relationship with Coca Cola, and agreed to be part of an ad for the company.
The idea was that the entire student body would assemble on the grounds with red or white shirts to spell out Coca Cola. They’d be filmed in a flyover from above.
In protest, one student decided to wear a blue Pepsi shirt in the middle of the scene. He was suspended.
It continues to be important to advocate good practices, companies, and lifestyle choices to students – removing the Coca Cola skins from vending machines is certainly a step in the right direction.
Cooperations are great to work with, but not great to be beholden to – and frankly with the wealth and amount of choice at OES, that should never happen. Thankfully, for the most part, it’s not.