Staples AP Economics: Full Of Beans

Advanced Placement Economics is an intense, hands-on course.

In the hands of a gifted teacher like Staples High School’s Drew Coyne, it can also be a handy one.

Students examine small and large companies, to understand both micro and macroeconomics. Last fall, for example, the COO of Bow Tie Cinemas spoke with them about the evolution, competition and business models of movie chains.

L.L. Bean is far bigger than Bow Tie. Coyne’s class studied supply and demand of boots around the holiday season, then evaluated the cost structure and used marginal thinking to look at feasible options the company could consider.

In most schools, the lesson would end there. But this is Westport — where 1) Bean boots are incredibly popular, and 2) it’s not unusual to have a connection to someone who runs a huge business.

Thanks to a student whose father went to college with L.L. Bean CEO Steve Smith, Coyne arranged a Zoom conference call for his class.

AP Economics students pay rapt attention to L.L. Bean CEO Steve Smith.

Smith began the recent intimate, wide-ranging discussion with background on his route to the top (including AT&T, Hannaford and Walmart International). Then he asked for questions.

Michael Loucas wanted to know “what drives success, particularly for students who are looking at a business path in college and beyond?”

Smith said the #1 key is “intellectual curiosity.” He encouraged the teenagers to explore as many topics as possible, and expand their knowledge of a variety of subjects. He used a “backpack” analogy: bring one through life, to stow away experiences, lessons and skills.

George Englehart asked Smith, “what resource is most important in making a decision?”

The CEO described the need to look at data and current research when facing challenges. He advised against making solo decisions; instead, assemble diverse teams to support open, constructive debate.

“I want a contrarian at my side, a financial-oriented person in another corner, pessimists and optimists all lending their voices” to a conversation, he said.

Yet, he added, once a meeting is over, everyone must have “clarity in the direction of the team.”

Popular footwear at Staples

Ethan Fass — wearing holiday-gift Bean boots — asked about changes in the company’s return policy.

Smith noted its history, including how some customers took advantage of it. Returns without proof of purchase cost Bean nearly $65 million a year.

The conversation even had an international — yet typically Westport — connection.

A couple of weeks ago, Coyne saw former student Kenji Goto at Barnes & Noble. Just before heading to a semester abroad in Switzerland, Kenji — a junior at Emory University — was filling out an internship application for L.L. Bean.

Coyne told him about the upcoming conference call. Kenji joined in from Europe.

And casually mentioned to Smith that he hoped to work for the company this summer.

FUN FACT: This is hardly the first time Staples students have had a chance to talk with an important figure. When physics teacher Nick Georgis ran the Ham Radio Club (the call letters were K1UAT), he arranged sessions with King Hussein of Jordan, and US Senator Barry Goldwater.

11 responses to “Staples AP Economics: Full Of Beans

  1. Great article Dan! How come we don’t see any girls in this class? Also, does Staples offer an entrepreneurship class? This could be a way to fold in more young women into the conversation.

    • Good observation! It would be very interesting to know what the guidance counselors (who work with students on course selection) response would be. I hope Staples makes the conference available for all interested students to watch and learn. Thanks Dan, great story –

  2. Hi Allie – We actually did have a female student attending. You might have just missed her on the far side. Do to scheduling with LL Bean, this was not offered during one of our core class periods and students were able to attend during one of their free periods – so that did influence who was able to attend the day’s event. Hope this helps clarify your question!

  3. Do you think you could teach some in the US Congress economics? Just maybe Amazon would be still coming to NY and help drive economic growth in our area. Which is clearly needed in CT.

    • They could also study the effects of the Trump tax cuts on people of varying income brackets, as well as what it means to have a $22 trillion national debt.

      • William Strittmatter

        That would be an excellent subject for analysis. Unfortunately, the data to fully and accurately do that won’t be available before probably another year.

        In the meantime, what might be useful for the class to study is the difference between what one actually pays in income taxes versus the size of one’s refund with respect to whether one’s taxes actually went up or down. Plenty of historical data on that, in particular for periods where tax laws and/or withholding tables changed. A number of journalists seem to not fully understand the relationship (or lack thereof) as evidenced by the number of soundbites/headlines of early refunds being down 17% with the implication that on average folks were significantly hurt by the tax law change.

        They might also study the incentives or disincentives both at a micro and macro level of CT state tax policy. Mr. Shuldman might be an interesting micro case study – I gather he will be getting a massive reduction in Connecticut income taxes in 2019 even though tax rates have neither increased nor decreased. I would imagine he would be more than happy to talk to the class by video chat.

        Maybe they could follow that up with an analysis of certain politician’s claims that booting Amazon from Long Island City was a wonderful thing for the good citizens of NY.

        • It would be my pleasure to discuss with any class of high school students the effect of tax changes on a business and personal life. I would spend much of the time on the impaCT to a business while also highlighting how taxes can change the location of a business from one state to another. The economic impaCT can be quite severe or positive.

          The topic of taxes and economics and the effect on people’s lives would be quite important to the students as they look to enter college and then the workforce. They will be embarking on life’s decisions as they leave the nest.

          Just let me know.

      • Dan. Since I am paying higher fed income tax I appreciate the response. But while we are at the conversation about the Fed debt, which is horrible, we should add in the fiscal crisis facing CT with its energies debt and pension and medical plan liabilities. I am sure our wonderful economics professor could education Steinberg and just maybe he will learn something. Just maybe.

  4. Drew, this sounds like a great class. I don’t recall having anything like this decades ago.

    I was wondering, with the contacts you now have with LL Bean, if you could find out about another possible Westport link here. Long story short: my wife was recently looking online at ankle boots at the LL Bean site and discovered—and was seriously considering—the Westport boots.

    It turns out there are several other types of shoes with the Westport “brand.”

    I looked up to see if there is a Westport, Maine; and there is a tiny town named Westport Island.

    So, is there any way to readily find out the inspiration for this line of shoes?
    PS—I discovered a street named Westport Way in an upscale gated community in a nearby town here in southern California where we are spending the winter. A couple of the other streets are named Marin Way and Rockport Drive. So I suspect it is Westport, CT that provided the inspiration here.