Andy Chen has been running a business for a little over a year. He manages a budget, he deals with clients, and he oversees a team of 24 graphic artists proficient in print advertising and Web design. He goes to bed at three, and wakes up at seven. He’s a busy guy.
It just so happens that Chen, along with all of his employees, is a full-time student. And the financial backer for his operation, the Student Design Agency, just happens to be the University.
Since 1911, Princeton Student Agencies (PSA) has been providing the Princeton community with a variety of services and giving student managers the chance to run individual businesses under the PSA umbrella. Today more than 250 students are employed by 19 agencies, whose products and services range from shipping and packing to special occasions, parking to publicity, and facebooks to food delivery.
“The agency program provides a venue for students at Princeton to run a business and to do it with the help and support of the University,” PSA director Sean Weaver said. “They don’t need to put themselves at risk financially, so if a manager makes a mistake and their agency goes in the hole, they don’t have to pay out of pocket, and we don’t go to their parents.” With about 13,000 customers per year, the agencies bring in more than $1 million in annual sales.
The newest addition to PSA is the Student Design Agency, which launched in January 2007, thanks to the efforts of Chen ’09 and co-founder Tiffany Wei ’07.
“There is a huge demand for design on campus,” Chen said. “Most professional sources are way too expensive, so a lot of times the campus was covered with pretty ugly posters. It’s a very practical thing, and we’re really cost-effective.” While the agency charges $27 per poster, major competitors would charge $60, he said.
“It’s also an opportunity for students to learn about design and provides a forum for communication and the exchange of ideas,” said Chen, who organized the University’s first graphic-design conference. The March 1 event attracted design professionals and more than 100 college students.
“We had been looking for someone to take this agency on for years,” Weaver said. Chen had to submit a budget proposal and a business plan detailing how the design agency would operate, which is standard procedure for agency managers.
Traditional links between certain teams or affiliations often play a part in students’ applications to PSA. An enduring aspect of the Moving and Storing Agency is its affiliation with the Princeton hockey team.
“Of about 20 employees, the majority of them are on the team,” said hockey player Kyle Hagel ’08, one of the co-managers of the agency. “We have an open-door policy, but normally ordinary students quit after a day. They’re not used to working 16 to 18 hours.”
Formal Services manager Salone Loney ’10, hired last spring as a freshman, had never worked for a student agency before. “Originally, I was just looking for a job,” Loney said, “but I saw they were also hiring managers, so I figured I’d skip the remedial step and go right to the high-paying ones.”
One of the newer agencies, Formal Services was born two years ago from the combination of the Bartending Agency, which supplies student bartenders to staff and alumni events on campus, with the Tuxedo Agency, which distributes rental tuxes before winter formals and houseparties. The bartending course offered each year makes this one of the most popular and profitable student agencies.
“We continuously harp on our managers to make sure they know that we are not content with an agency just doing same thing year after year,” Weaver said. Microfridges have been a popular addition to the Rental Agency’s offerings, he said.
“For years, students were asking for microfridges, and now we can’t keep them on the shelves,” Weaver said. Not all additions have been a success, however — the Rental Agency also tested out surround sound and personal dishwashers, but both had to be scrapped due to problems with equipment.
Surf-gear sales and a Princeton version of Monopoly are just some of the ideas that never made it off the ground, although there have been 260 successful agencies over the years.
The Newspaper Agency, one of the oldest on campus, closed last year due to an inability to find enough students to deliver papers. With Princeton’s financial-aid opportunities increasing all the time, fewer students need the income, Weaver said, and it is more difficult to find students willing to take on time-consuming jobs. There are about 100 fewer students working this year than five years ago, he said, and PSA is increasing its advertising campaign.