Student Super-Saver™

Student Super-Saver™

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

Student Super-SaverTM

The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.

John Rushkin

I still remember my dream car, a 1976 Special Edition Trans Am. It was deep black with gold accents, the same model Burt Reynolds drove in the movie Smokey and the Bandit. I’d worked hard during high school to buy it.

Thousands of miles later, while driving down a lonesome country road, I would gladly have traded it for a decent apartment with some basic furniture. Struggling to finish my freshman year at college, I had recently thrown all caution to the wind and proposed to the girl of my dreams. She said yes.

Then reality struck. Flat broke with the wedding just months away, I was beginning to get a taste of that dreaded adult word “responsibility.” My goal to finish college seemed to fly out the window. If there was a way to stay in school, marry and still earn a living, I couldn’t see it. I took inventory of my few career skills. I could wait tables. I had spent one summer installing sprinkler systems, but winter was coming, so that didn’t make much sense. Was there anything else?

A couple of weeks later, driving down the same country road to pick up my fiancée, a brilliant idea sprang from the recesses of my mind. I’d start a publication for local businesses to advertise to my fellow college students, and I’d call it the Student Super-Saver. Sure, why not? I once had a journalism teacher tell me that I was one of the best salespeople he’d ever known. I was going to do it. Before you could blink, I was off to the races. And what a race it was.

I contracted with the local newspaper to be my printer and hired a typesetter. That evening I laid out the advertising on my makeshift light table—a large cigar box with a glass-covered hole and a lightbulb underneath. During the day, between classes, I’d head down to Main Street to sell ads to the shop owners there. I was so enthusiastic about my plan that I could barely sleep. I knew Main Street wasn’t a good target spot, but I thought it would be a good place to start. I could practice my sales pitch and perfect it before going after the businesses I had earmarked as top priority—those places where I knew the college crowd would hang out.

Even though some of those Main Street shop owners said no with comments like, “I got a son your age. He mows lawns. What’s the matter, boy? You too good to mow lawns?” I persevered, and it paid off. I spent extra money to have an artsy graphic design made in full color for the front and back covers. My life was on the line. And I felt that I was ready.

The big day for distribution on campus came, and I rented space in the student union for fall registration. My fiancée and I were met by a tidal wave of students. The more copies of the publication we unbundled, the more we gave away. The minutes turned into hours, and before we knew it, the day was over. We were exhausted, yet thrilled by our sense of accomplishment.

When we left the student union for the first time that evening, we were horrified by what we saw. Student Super-Saver papers were strewn from one end of the campus to the other, and none too gracefully. The wind had scattered them over lawns, bushes and sidewalks. Of the 5,000 copies we distributed that day, it seemed like 4,999 had been tossed. We spent the rest of that evening cleaning up the campus and licking our wounds.

With each paper I threw into the Dumpster, my vision of the good life as an entrepreneur vanished. My brief career as a business owner was over. A few months later, the little pot of profit that I did make ran out. Needless to say, my advertisers were not eager to renew. I had to quit school.

Some months passed, and I got married. We managed to rent a little place and even buy some used furniture. But there was no money to finish college, and I needed to work to support my family. My brief publishing career landed me a day job as an advertising rep at a new local radio station, and at night I waited tables.

But I wanted more. I knew that if I tried again, I could make my idea work. I wanted to be a success and finish college and get my degree. The sobering words of one of my college professors haunted my thoughts daily: “The true education of college is to teach you to finish what you start.”

My wife and I scrimped and saved and by the summer of 1984, we had enough money to cover the start-up costs for another issue of the Student Super-Saver. I was determined to learn from my mistakes. This time I went after businesses who offered something to the students and I hit the favorites first. I approached every pizza place, hamburger joint and brew pub in town, the places most often frequented by starving college students. I didn’t step a foot onto Main Street. The cover said it all: “Over $589 of valuable coupons and discounts valid all semester long.”

The Student Super-Saver Volume II was an overwhelming success. My company grew and allowed me to maintain my status as a full-time student. In 1988, my senior year, the Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs awarded me the ”Outstanding Student Entrepreneur of the Year.” I had graduated college, and I had fulfilled my dream of making my paper a success.

Fifteen years later the Student Super-Saver continues to dominate its market and has never had a semester that didn’t surpass the last in revenues and profits. It has truly been the cornerstone upon which my business empire has been built.

Since then I’ve started dozens of companies, most successful, a few not. I’ve traveled the world teaching people how to be entrepreneurial. Teaching them what I learned: Believe in yourself, follow your dreams and don’t ever give up.

Kevin Van Gundy

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