Like many South Sound youths, Capital High School freshman Coleman Johnson has grown up around politics.
Johnson, 15, has volunteered on several political campaigns, including ones for Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela, county Assessor Steven Drew, and county Treasurer Shawn Myers.
And his mom, Sydney Forrester, is a staff attorney for the state Senate Democratic caucus.
All of that experience paid off earlier this month when Johnson made a mock sales pitch to judges posing as co-managers of a political campaign and won the Professional Selling event at the national DECA competition in Orlando, Fla.
“I think really what sales is about is understanding customers’ needs and customers’ desires,” Coleman said. “Since I work on political campaigns in the summer, I understand what political campaigns need.”
Formerly known as Distributive Education Clubs of America, DECA is an international association for students interested in marketing, finance, hospitality and management. More than 15,000 students, advisers, business people and others attended the association’s national conference and competition from April 30 to May 3.
Johnson competed against about 150 students in his event. Students gave a 20-minute sales pitch and took a 100-question comprehensive examination on marketing.
“For a kid to go and compete at DECA nationals, that’s a big thing,” said Angel Elam, who teaches leadership and marketing at Capital and is one of the DECA advisers. “To go and compete and be chosen a finalist, that’s another huge thing.”
To win nationals, “that’s quite a feat,” Elam added.
Johnson admits he didn’t know much about DECA until a few months ago when marketing teacher Jennifer Fabritius recommended he compete in the professional sales event at an area competition in January.
“I didn’t know a lot going into this competition about marketing or about sales,” he said.
To prepare for the event, Johnson created his own mock cellphone company named “AllConnect Wireless.” He researched extensively about the BlackBerry smartphone, and formulated a sales pitch that included security options, bundled packages and month-to-month plans for would-be clients.
He also studied marketing curriculum, took practice tests, learned techniques from local sales professionals and rehearsed his sales pitch to just about anyone who would listen.
“He was constantly presenting and practicing and, boy, it paid off,” Elam said. “He’s just a focused kid.”
Even though he’s only been in DECA since last fall, Johnson said he’s already learned skills that will help him in whatever career he goes into – whether that’s public relations, advertising, politics or something completely different.
“It really prepares students for the business world,” he said. “And it really connects what kids are learning in their marketing classes to the real world.”
Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433