Ask the Expert

Our community has been adversely affected by the recent downturn in the economy. In times like these, what type of program would be best for our school?

Simply stated: In tough economic times, people still eat! With that said, it's not hard to understand why people feel like they're getting more value for their dollar with an edible product that they're already purchasing at the grocery store than a trinket that they may not really want in the first place. Food sells! And, it's becoming more and more prevalent in our industry, particularly as the numbers become increasing favorable over hard goods. In fact, our flagship product is now our simple little 11-item cookie dough brochure. It’s hard to believe, but in today's market, it is truly the best product line for most schools.

How do I know what product lines are best for my school to sell?

Well, first and foremost, an exclusive product line preferred. You certainly don’t want to sell the same thing the feeder school or the school down the street is selling. And, since most all fundraising companies buy a majority of their products from the same suppliers, many of the brochure will contain many of the same items. However, if you can access a company with an “exclusive,” custom brochure, with it’s own look, and be the only school “on the block,” so to speak, selling that line, you’re in good shape.

When is the best time of year to do our fundraiser?

The very beginning of the school year is undoubtedly the best time to do a school-wide sale. At that time, parents and students are always more excited about the new school year and therefore more willing to participate. And, even though nearly every school does a sale at that time, all of them will receive their due market share and provided they are properly motivated, will be surprisingly successful as well. In fact, most successful fundraising companies conduct their campaigns during the first few weeks of school, and by the end of September, most of the sales are over.

Our neighboring school sells nearly twice the amount that our school sells. How can there be such a disparity with schools so close in size and make-up?

The economic base of a community obviously impacts the sale, but the most important ingredient in a successful fundraising program is the incentive package. If students and parents are motivated to participate, they will. If they’re not, they won’t. It’s really that simple. Unfortunately, many fundraising companies don’t understand this simple philosophy. This is not rocket science here. We simply try to create prize programs and unique incentives that are going to get the kids excited. Rather the the run-of-the-mill prize flyer that they’ve seen for the last 15 years, let’s try a “MEGA PARTY” with giant inflatables…maybe a HUMMER LIMOUSINE…or how about stuffing your own “BUILD-A-BEAR” animal right there at school! Now you’re getting their attention!

Other companies have offered our school higher percentages than M.E.P. Isn’t the highest profit percentage always the best option for us?

On the contrary, actual cash money in the bank is far better than a certain percentage. In fact, one company’s 40% program (as described in the previous question), can be considerably better than another’s 50-60% program! Many companies don’t understand that you simply must invest a substantial portion of the revenue to ensure motivation. Consequently, the first thing an inferior salesperson/company does is lower their price (i.e. higher %) and compromise their prize program. This, however, has time and time been proven remarkably ineffective.

Some parents have suggested selling cookie dough. What do you think of selling food items in an elementary or middle school?

Cookie dough is, without a doubt, the fastest growing product line in fundraising. However, many schools have been reluctant to sell it, due to the volatility of frozen foods. Our “Smoky Mountain Gourmet Cookie Dough,” however, is the only recipe in the industry that boasts a 21-day shelf life at room temperature once it’s thawed! This is truly a wonderful thing for schools. While every other cookie dough company has to have their dough back in refrigeration in 48 hours, ours can literally sit on a shelf for three weeks! You no longer panic trying to get everything distributed before it goes bad. And, you can freeze & thaw over and over with our dough.

Do you recommend cookie dough in the tub form or pre-portioned?

Our manufacture tells us that tubs outsell pre-portioned (pucks) by 4:1. And, although, we carry both tubs and pucks, that little statistic tells me which to recommend to our customers. Not only does tub cookie dough sell better, it “tastes” better as well. Our manufacturer tells us that pre-portioned dough contains 70% less water than cookie dough in a tub, therefore, it bakes into a much dryer cookie. Not to mention the fact that people like to scoop & bake different sizes of cookies, and many even eat the dough right out of the tub! But, given the reason we do fundraisers to begin with, I would always recommend tub cookie dough over pucks simply because it will make a school more money.

Should we collect our money as well sell or when we deliver?

Pre-collecting is the absolute worst thing a school can do on a fundraiser. Unless you’re in a 90%+ free/reduced lunch school with a real tough economic setting, I would always recommend post-collect. The reason is simple: You sell about twice the amount on post-collect sales! Yes, you will lose some money on post-collect (the rule of thumb is 2-3% in theft), but the increase in revenue will far more than cover your losses. You just have to treat those losses as a “cost-of-doing-business.” You also need to objectively look at both options and weigh the differences. Post-collect is more work as well, but if you’re conducting a sale for the purpose of making the most money possible for your school, the best choice by far, with all things considered, is post-collect.

Do you recommend a “Mega Party” or a standard Prize Brochure?

In past years, we also offered this “choice” to our schools, however, we are now proud to offer our “Mega Prize Package,” which actually includes both! We firmly believe that the stronger the prize package is, the more successful the sale will be. With that in mind, we purposely invest in a more expensive overall prize program in hopes of driving the sale. And, consequently, as most fundraising companies are in steady decline, Mountain Empire has been able to grow substantially every year by continually improving and altering the incentive program to motivate our customers.

How does your “MEGA PARTY” differ from other “Mega Parties?”

We didn’t invent inflatables, but we did invent the “MEGA PARTY!” In fact, Mountain Empire created the name & logo in 1996 and has held the federal trademark since. And, although many companies now use the phrase, “The Mega Party” as a “trade-term,” the various parties available in the market are vastly different. First of all, we employ “The Fun Factory,” which owns over fifty inflatables of all types (and weights up to 1600 lbs!), to conduct our Mega Parties. Each Party includes up to (8) inflatables, a DJ, Karaoke, Money Wheel, Money Machine, Build-A-Bear Machine, Cash & Prizes, plus Games & Contests. Our Party is much more than a rental situation. Ours is billed as more of an event! We entertain, we tell jokes, we interact with the kids, we referee the obstacle course, do hula hoop contests, etc. etc. We want people to remember our Party so that they look forward to coming back to it the next year!

What else can we do “in-house” here at school to help the sale?

The more involved the school is during the sale, the better the results will be. Daily announcements, daily prize drawings and words of encouragement can do wonders. Many schools have video capabilities in each classroom and can periodically play our Mega Party DVD during the sale. Of course, there can be unlimited reminders, Mega Party posters all over school, reminder notices and prize drawings throughout the sale, but the results will always be the greatest with the most active teachers and parent groups.