Agencies deliver experience along with the morning paper
"Just Say No to Dirty Laundry," exhorts the Student Laundry and Dry Cleaning Agency.
"Perfect for Any Occasion," suggests the Flower Agency modestly.
These, and 21 other Princeton Student Agencies, provide an impressively wide range of products and services to the entire campus community -- faculty and staff as well as students. There isn't much you need, from a VCR, to a video, to Chinese food to eat while you watch the video, that you can't get from one of the agencies.
The agencies office, located in Clio Hall, is part of the Student Employment Office; both operate under the aegis of Undergraduate Financial Aid. The entirely student-run businesses provide jobs for more than 500 undergraduates. Each agency has a student manager responsible for agency operations; other workers are hired as necessary.
And business is good, with gross sales in excess of $1.3 million per year, says Thomas Bates, assistant director of student employment. Profits from the agencies are put back into the system to pay manager wages, student wages, professional salaries and various expenses associated with each agency as well as to maintain the computer system and vehicle fleet. Any remaining funds are used for future agency projects.
All agencies originate with student ideas, according to Bates. "We look for ideas that will benefit the University community, be profitable and not compete with other agencies," he says. The most recent example is the Princeton Water Cooler Agency ("Enjoy cold, fresh, pure spring water right in your dorm room!")
Not all proposals become agencies, however. Among the ideas that died on paper, says Bates, is "a Student Transcript Agency, for which a student proposed to take notes in classes and sell them to students who didn't attend."
Although also a fixture at Harvard, Dartmouth, Cornell, Yale and Penn, student businesses are not common outside the Ivy League. Bates says he can trace the agencies at Princeton as far back as 1911.
"In the early years there was the Furnace Tending Agency, the Discount Books Agency and the Cocoa and Sandwich Agency," Bates says. "In 1929-30 there were 46 agencies, including the Cider Agency, the Firewood Agency and the Laundry Agency, which still exists."
Four years ago, the student employment staff streamlined the agencies, merging those with like products and services. For example, the Carpet, Loft, Futon and Used Furniture agencies combined to make the Dorm Furnishings Agency.
"The streamlining made it easier for us to track them," Bates says. "It also created more of a 'one-stop shopping' kind of atmosphere. We were able to shrink our total number of agencies and at the same time were able to employ the same number of students."
The number of agencies has remained relatively steady since that time, with an addition or subtraction every now and then. The newest Student Agency presence on campus is the colorful kiosk on the 100 level of the Frist Campus Center. Here, students, faculty, staff and campus visitors can purchase souvenir items, such as hats, sweatshirts and key chains, from the Princeton Souvenir and Outfitter Agency; a cheerful bouquet from the Flower Agency; or an Upperclass Facebook or Freshman Herald from the Facebook Agency. Also in Frist is the Shipping and Packing Agency, offering UPS and other shipping options to all comers.
The largest agency, in terms of staff -- 86 students this semester -- and revenue -- "about $1,000 in sales on any given day," according to manager Jeff Frasco '01, is the Tiger Food Delivery Agency. Tiger Food offers deliveries from a roster of local eateries such as George's Roasters and Ribs, and Karen's Chinese Food.
Hungry campus dwellers can SOS Tiger Food any time from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. "We ring our hot line to the restaurant," says Frasco. "Our driver picks up the order and delivers it anywhere on campus. The agency collects the money, plus a $1.50 delivery charge, and pays the restaurant." Participating restaurants are limited to those willing to stay open until 1 a.m., he notes.
Frasco is a typical manager in that he started working with the agency as a freshman, "for the money." Now, however, he does it "for the experience."
"Some days are a management nightmare," he says, but the responsibility of "running a business on campus, being completely in charge of hiring, firing, working out contracts with restaurants, making sure the students show up to do their jobs -- it's a level of responsibility you would never have otherwise."
Peter Boger '01, co-manager with Kelly Yamasato '01 of the Newspaper Delivery Agency, gets perhaps the least sleep of any agency worker. His agency delivers The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Princetonian and USA Today anywhere on campus. "We have 13 routes," says Boger, the earliest starting at 5:30 a.m. and the latest at 7:30 a.m. Weekends bring a little respite, when only the Times is delivered.
"My freshman year I was busy every evening with Triangle Club," recalls Boger, "but I needed a job. My mornings were free. I didn't enjoy losing sleep, but I did enjoy seeing the morning sunlight, and getting to know the campus really well."
Boger admits he is "not by nature a business person, but being a manager has given me respect for how many aspects of a business people have to deal with that a customer never begins to think about." So, Boger continues his early morning rounds "because it's such a valuable experience, regardless of the money gained or the sleep lost."
Marisa Higgs '01, manager of the Facebook Agency, has had to collect photos and personal data on all undergraduates, compile and edit the proceedings, solicit ads, and supervise production and delivery -- herself. "Being a manager is like being an entrepreneur, " she observes, "except with the safety net of University support and a set, predictable market." In addition, "I can thrill a crowd with my surreal knowledge of everyone's middle name," she quips.
Peter Yang '01, who runs the Video Productions Agency, tapes and markets Commencement videos. A confessed "huge sports fan," he also videotapes home men's and women's soccer, men's and women's ice hockey, and men's lacrosse games, as well as selected theatrical and dance performances. Yang, like his colleagues, has found the opportunity to manage his own business challenging. "It's nice to be a boss," he says, "but it can be awkward. Sometimes you have to say to a peer, a friend, 'You messed up.' It's awkward, but it's part of growing up."
He quotes Bates, who is a mentor to agency managers and employees: "Tom tells us, 'You won't get rich, but what you learn doing this, you will use the rest of your life.'"
For more information on the Student Agencies, check out the Web site at <www.princeton.edu/~studage>.