Every year Lloyd Prosise, a Washington area Coca-Cola distributor, throws a party for a group of Georgetown University students at the swimming pool of his Manassas home.
And with good reason, apparently. These students run a million-dollar-a-year company that buys 60,000 cans of Coke every month. His commissions from that account helped pay for the pool, he said.
These young business men and women operate Students of Georgetown, or as it is popularly known on campus, "the Corp," which in turn runs on-campus retail stores and services that will gross an estimated $2 million this year, according to vice president Jeanne Weiland, a senior.
Its business enterprises include a grocery store called Vital Vittles, a variety story, Saxa Sundries; a travel agency; a typing and copying service; an advertising agency; a catering service, and a used-book co-op.
In addition, it is planning to start a legal clinic for students staffed by Georgetown's graduate law students, a discount ticket office for shows and concerts, a dry-cleaning service and a rent-a-car business.
"We are a very successful corporation," Weiland said.
Most student-run retail operations are subsidized by a university to allow lower prices. Not the Corp--It is a private nonprofit business that is operated by students independent of the university administration.
Student-owned corporations are rare on American campuses, according to Corp executives, who added that theirs is the largest and most profitable.
The magnitude of the Corp's growth was probably not imagined by the student government that founded it in March 1972 simply as a legal entity that could sue the university in case of conflicts stemming from student antiwar activities. The student government was not a recognized legal entity.
The Corp's motto, "Students serving students," inspired the 1974 opening of Vital Vittles and that of Saxa Sundries in 1979. Both grew quickly.
"Vittles started out selling Coke and yogurt in the dorms," said Nancy Kurilla, a senior in the School of Foreign Service and executive vice president of the organization. "Now it does over a million dollars worth of business from our small store in the Healy (building) basement with over a hundred different products." The store is located in the center of the campus.
"We provide low-cost products to students, give employment and experience in running a business to 125 students, and, best of all, we're totally student-run," Kurilla said.
"There are the students spitting out financial statements, purchasing, making business decisions, all while going to school," said Pat Reynolds, Corp manager. "Then we sell stuff for low prices to the students, help them beat the high cost of living in Georgetown. We're not in this for ourselves."
The highest paid Corp official earns $5 an hour, and most employes are paid minimum wages. Because the Corp is a nonprofit organization, the receipts after expenses are "plowed right back in for new equipment, better stuff, lower prices," Weiland said. The markup on items in the stores is 30 to 35 percent, lower than in most retail stores.
For example, a Coke sells for 27 cents compared with 50 cents in many neighborhood stores.
The management style at the Corp is not exactly from a business school textbook and that has its benefits and disadvantages.
"Other businesses wouldn't understand if a student couldn't work because of an exam or something," Weiland said. "We can understand that here with our employes and respond to it better. Also, as students ourselves we know what other students want."
But that kind of understanding can also create problems.
"It's hard to have to fire a fellow student when they're slacking off," Kurilla said, "but you have to stay professional sometimes."
Like any other business, the Corp has faced the problem of stealing. Last year shoplifting resulted in a 2.5 percent profit loss, said Kathy Ames, a junior and a manager of Vittles. "The store is small and can get congested at peak times. Plus it's hard catching people, and we're a little reluctant to prosecute them."
Last summer, a store employe stole $14,000 from Vittles weekly receipts, Reynolds said. The student was caught, suspended from school but not prosecuted, said a spokesman for Georgetown campus police. The Corp recovered $8,000 in cash but $6,000 in checks had been destroyed.
"I consider it a rare occurrence that one of our employes would steal from us, but I see that theft as a stab in the back," Reynolds said.
With the Corp's growth rate leveling off at about a 2 to 3 percent a year because it has no room for expansion, Kurilla said, "We're going to sit back, slow down, and rethink ourselves. The Corp has been growing nonstop since it started, and we need to stop and organize for the future."