Junior Achievement is a world-wide organization that teaches children and teenager students how businesses are created, staffed, and organized. When I was involved in it, we also learned how to sell the products we made.
I joined the local Junior Achievement program that was headquartered in Flint, MI in my junior year of high school in the fall of 1971.
The students, under the guidance and leadership of local business men or women, form their own companies, elect department heads, choose a simple product to manufacture and then choose a company name that would represent that product.
These school year-long companies were miniature corporations. Stock certificates were issued and sold, business reports were written, and purchases of the raw materials were made. Then training of the production crew was completed, the products were made and then the finished products were bagged, tagged and sold.
Sales reports, production losses reports, balance sheets, etc., were also generated by the students in those respective departments.
At the end of the J.A. business year (which coincided with the last days of school before the summer break), the companies would be dismantled and binders with all of the reports, balance sheets, etc., were put together and given to each stockholder.
If there were profits, then dividends would be included with the original share price that was, hopefully, at least returned to the shareholder. The shares sold for only one dollar so there were not that many companies that performed so horribly that they could not at least return the original stock purchase price.
The Junior Achievement program that I was involved with had high school students from every school district in Genesee County.
The different companies, each composed of about 10-15 kids, all met on certain weeknights from 6-9pm at the J.A. building in downtown Flint. There were approximately 4-5 companies who met on their designated night so that meant that there were over 350 kids total who participated in this program in our county alone.
There were J.A. programs in Shiawassee and Lapeer counties as well and they participated in the Trade Fairs and also in the end of the year huge banquet dinner and awards night.
Twice a year Trade Fairs were held at the two largest malls in Genesee County at that time: Genesee Valley Mall and Eastland Mall (now called Courtland Center).
Each individual company set up 3 tables to form a “U” shape and decorated it to highlight or explain their products that they sold at the Trade Fairs. The companies could win prizes for having the best-decorated booth or for having the most sales at each Trade Fair.
I had heard about Junior Achievement when I was a junior in high school from some friends. I began going with them and because it was so much fun, I joined their company and began to help make the very handy telephone message centers that were that company’s product for that year.
The message centers were on a sturdy wood board, approximately 12″ long and 6″ wide and 1″ thick. There was a hole in the back so that the board could be hung right next to the wall-mounted telephone that almost everybody had in their homes at that time in the 1970’s.
There was a metal strip in a cup-like shape at the top of the message center that could hold the receiver of the telephone. That was very handy if there were a lot of people in a home and the phone could be hung there while the person who was wanted on the telephone could be found. That way the telephone receiver didn’t fall off anything and hit the floor with very loud and annoying clunks in the caller’s ear.
Below that receiver cup strip was another metal strip placed horizontally on the board. That was used to hold notepaper pads. Everybody at some point always needs a piece of paper to jot down telephone numbers or messages so the idea to include that on the message center was a great one.
On both sides of the message center were diagonally drilled holes that were used to hold a pen or a pencil. There were holes on both sides to make it more convenient on where to put the pen, depending on which side of the telephone the message center was hung on the wall.
Below the notepaper pad holder was a piece of cork with included push pins that was used to hold telephone messages for other family members, or reminders to call people or to do things, etc. Then below that piece of cork were hooks to hold car keys, etc.
Our company’s product was really creatively designed and very, very useful. My family used ours for decades, even after we started using cordless telephones.
Because I had missed the first couple of weeks, I could not become a part of the “white-collar” teams of our company but I gladly became a part of the production team.
Our jobs included using using table saws to cut the required sizes of the message center boards, sanding and staining the boards, using a drill to bore those pen holder holes, using screw drivers to attach the metal telephone receiver strips and the notepad holder metal strips with screws (those metal pieces were created for us by outside companies), gluing the cork pads on, and screwing the car key hooks onto the bottom of the message boards.
Since I had learned early on how to correctly use tools from helping my dad, this was not work for me, this was fun!
Then we attached notepaper pads and the push pins into the cork pads, put a “Made by a J.A. Company” sticker on the back, put the finished message centers in clear bags and packed them into boxes that held approximately ten of the message centers.
Every member of each Junior Achievement company, no matter if they were a part of the executive or the production side of the company, had to sell their products. We each took one of the boxes that held the ten message centers home every week, then brought back our sales money and the receipts the next week to report to the sales manager.
Because each company’s members were from the many high schools in Genesee County, sales were easier to do because the products were being sold in different areas, rather than being concentrated in just one town or city.
That telephone message center product sold itself though. Once you brought it out and showed its many efficient features, they were usually quickly bought right then and there.
The Trade Fairs were the places where everybody had the most fun! They were always scheduled on a Friday and a Saturday and usually right before a holiday when there were more shoppers out and about at the malls.
Every company’s member had to commit to a schedule of when to sit in your booth and help with sales or with demonstrations of your product. And of course, everybody had to help decorate the booth and put up poster boards of information about your company and your product, etc.
But after you had done your scheduled booth time, then you could go out and visit the other booths, catch up with friends who were in other J.A. companies, and make friends with other kids from other high schools from the three counties.
It was interesting to see the ingenious or fun products made by the other companies. And interesting as well to see the products that were totally dumb. But what was the most fun was the hanging out with the other kids, going to the different restaurants in the malls, and trying out new flirting techniques.
My telephone message center company in my first year of J.A. was the runner-up in sales for the year. We each got a little trophy at the banquet that was annually held at one of the bigger hotels’ convention rooms.
However the company I joined in my senior year in high school did win the sales award. Our company was called “Hang ‘Em High” and we sold heavy-duty aluminum rod coat hangers in several different colors. Those coat hangers turned out to be so durable I still use over a dozen that I had helped make 42 years ago!
They were also fun to make as well. A company in Wisconsin sent us long aluminum rods that were approximately 3 feet long. In our production room we had several tables with different equipment on them that helped curve, twist and shape the rods into coat hangers.
The first table is where we inserted the long rod. Then with two levers at the bottom of the table, the rod was bent to form the bottom corners of the coat hanger. Then two more levers at the top of the table would shape the two rod ends closer together at the top of the coat hanger.
Then the rod was removed and sent to another table. There the two rod ends were inserted into another shaping machine and the two ends were twisted together with a lever that was rotated for very specific rotations: 1 1/2 twists only.
If you went over that, the rod ends broke off; if you went under that, the rod ends stuck out and could then snag the hung clothes or snag on people using the coat hangers.
Then the piece was sent to another table to make the hook part of the coat hanger. At the end of the twisting process, one end of the rod was always longer than the other end and it stuck straight up. This next process used another shaping lever to curve that longer end into the hook shape to hang over a closet clothes rod.
Then the completed coat hangers were packed into boxes to get shipped back to that Wisconsin company who then anodized the aluminum coat hangers with gleaming colors. We had blue, pink, orange, and green colors for the coat hangers.
When the coat hangers were returned to us with their beautiful metallic color coating, then plastic caps were put on the end of the hook. Three hangers were put into clear plastic bags with the “Made by a J.A. Company” sticker on the top of the bags.
The coat hangers were sold in packs of threes. You could not buy only one or two but just three at a time. If I remember correctly, the 3-pack hanger sets sold for $2 apiece.
Our company’s hangers work exceptionally well for heavy coats and they look so pretty in the closet, all lined up, gleaming, in their many different colors that have not faded or have been scratched over the many years I have had mine.
Those coat hangers sold like hotcakes! There were people who came to the Trade Fairs just to buy those particular coat hangers. So it was a lot more fun to be a part of a very successful J.A. company, unlike some friends who were in the few companies with product duds.
I met my high school boyfriend, Mike Lewis, at one of the J.A. meetings at the building headquarters. I cannot remember exactly what it was that his company made and sold, but I do remember needing to have Mike explain it to me because it looked so odd.
Even after he explained it, I had to try very hard to say something, anything, positive about their product. He smiled as I stammered and then he told me that when it came time to vote on what product to make, that thing won by only one vote. He said he knew that it was a dumb product so it was okay, I didn’t need to be polite. Whew!
I so loved being a part of the Junior Achievement program that after I had graduated from high school and was attending Baker College, I asked if I could still participate in some way.
I was allowed to be a junior advisor to assist the other adult advisors from a local business who were sponsoring a J.A. company. That was interesting to then be a part of the adult/advisor aspect of the J.A. program.
I’m so glad that I got the opportunity to be a part of the Junior Achievement program for three years. It was very educational and interesting but most of all, it was so much fun!
Junior Achievement logo when I was a part of the organization in the 1970’s