Tuesday, October 21, 2003

FliX ready for debut

Lessons in real-life business at XU

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Andy Gibson and his partners at Xavier University haven't even opened their new business yet, but already, they've gotten an education.

Lesson No. 1: "It's gonna cost more and take longer than we thought."

But Gibson and fellow juniors Kristi Zuhlke and Kenny Ray Schomp are proceeding with their venture, a movie-rental store called FliX. Wedged between the bathrooms and a pool table in the Gallagher Student Center on the heart of XU's campus, the store will open early next week with close to 400 selections.

It's the first student-run business on XU's campus, financed by the Student Government Association and employing more than a dozen students as workers, accountants and marketers.

Zuhlke is studying in Europe this semester and will miss the store's opening. But with their first taste of entrepreneurship, Gibson and Schomp are both hooked on working for themselves after graduation.

"Once you've had a taste of owning your own business, I don't know how you could go back to working for another company," Schomp, a Lexington, Ky., native, said. "I couldn't imagine having a boss after this."

Xavier is helping Schomp, Zuhlke and Gibson reach that goal through FliX Corp. and a growing Entrepreneurship program. And it's not alone, as schools across Greater Cincinnati and the country are pushing real-world experience for their students.

"Many schools have said, 'We need to connect the real world with the academic world.' We need to connect the dots," said Ed VonderBrink, director of the Xavier Entrepreneurial Center and former managing partner of the Cincinnati office of accounting firm Grant Thornton.

This year, XU started a minor in Entrepreneurship, directed mostly at non-business majors who might someday want to operate their own company. VonderBrink's goal is 150 minors to add to the roughly 50 students who major in Entrepreneurship.

He's also working with students on other businesses, including an idea for a coffee shop.

Like many good ideas, the new FliX store didn't spring from inside a classroom. The operators came up with the idea through talking with other students, who had to drive several miles to either Hyde Park or Norwood to the closest video store.

They started with a market survey, which showed them that 60 percent to 75 percent of Xavier's 6,500 undergraduate or graduate students have DVD players.

They wrote several business plans, then picked one depending on a $14,732 zero-interest loan from the Student Government Association. They set up a non-profit corporation, meaning that any profits will go to either help other students start companies, or fund business-school scholarships.

That ensures that the store can continue after Zuhlke, Schomp and Gibson leave XU.

The operators used the loan to pay at least $6,000 for their stock of DVDs. They hope to start making roughly $400 monthly payments on the loan in 2004.

Then came labor. The trio has hired 14 students - at $6 an hour - to work at the store, and marketing and accounting majors will help. Unloading boxes of DVDs onto the shelves Monday, Schomp and Gibson said the selection will trend from European films to popular U.S. titles such as Dumb and Dumber.

They used market research from a distributor that has sold to college campuses before to pick the movies.

"They say the No. 1 thing is, you can't pick what you like," said Gibson, who's from Zanesville.

And even though "everything in our initial budget has been blown up," as Schomp said, the pair doesn't appear deterred.

"There's never been a time when I've turned to Kenny and said, 'I don't want to do this anymore,'" Gibson said. "It's been fun."

E-mail cpeale@enquirer.com

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