Fruit sold by the Gross

? Fritz Gross sold $1,123 worth of fruit to help fund his trip to Prague this summer with the OPRF orchestra. He did it with savvy marketing.

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By KEN TRAINOR

Fundraising is a fact of life for cultural organizations, and that includes the Oak Park and River Forest High School Symphony Orchestra, which takes a concert tour to Europe every other year.

A trip to Prague is scheduled for this June, and in order to defray the costs, OPRF music students sell fruit in the fall and flowers in the spring.

The fruit sale is a major operation. This fall students sold 12,000 pounds of oranges and grapefruit. To put this in perspective?#34;that's one heck of a lot of fruit.

But one student sold a heck of a lot more than anyone else. You could say his fruit is sold by the gross?#34;Fritz Gross, that is.

While most students take the traditional route?#34;going door to door, cold calls over the phone?#34;Fritz produced a polished flyer, with help from his graphic designer dad, which provided personal background, his sales pitch, an order form for the fruit, and a picture of him holding his violin and wearing a tropical shirt.

There's a story behind the shirt. The photo was taken in the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Eustatius (or, as the natives call it Statia Island), where Fritz's mom was attending medical school. Fritz spent his sophomore year being home-schooled (along with his younger brother) by his father in the Caribbean. Mom is currently studying down in Carbondale at Southern Illinois and commutes up here on weekends, all of which points to the fact that family funds are in short supply, making the fundraising all the more important.

Fritz did the fruit sale last year too, his first attempt at a sales flyer, and raised $700 toward the purchase of a new violin (which cost $6,000). Funds raised go into an account and the students can use the money for specific approved purposes. They just have to show proof of purchase, etc.

But Fritz learned a few things, which made his pitch this year even more polished. One of the incentives he offered, for instance, was a concert for his customers at his house.

Fritz mailed out 60 flyers to everyone in his immediate neighborhood, so homeowners weren't taken by surprise when he showed up at their doors soliciting orders.

"The flyer was the key," he said. "People would say, 'I remember you from the flyer.' It saved time. Most people were very nice. Some you catch on a bad day."

Forty-two people purchased fruit, totaling $1,123. The cost of the trip is $2,000 per student (what you don't raise, you pay yourself), so Fritz still has about $900 to raise, which he hopes to accomplish with the spring flower sale.

To prime that pump, he sent out a follow-up flyer with his photo again on top and an exuberant "Thank you for your order of fruit!" The vertical rectangle also serves notice that "You will soon be notified for the concert in my home. As one of my customers, I wanted to remind you that you and your family members are entitled to seats at my concert." Fritz figures that number might reach 100 people, so he may have to offer several concerts. Plus, he announced that he owes the Tobins on Humphrey Avenue a personal concert for placing the largest single order.

It's a pretty labor-intensive enterprise all in all. When the fruit truck drops off the orders, students do the unloading and sorting at OPRF. Then they pile their product into their cars (Fritz had to make two trips) and bring them home. On his thank-you flyer, there is a box at the bottom. "If this box is checked," the flyer reads, "please call me and I will deliver your fruit."

It's enough to turn a budding violinist into a salesman. He's even got a line near the bottom encouraging customers to "please e-mail your comments on the fruit: violinmaster11@hotmail.com." His original e-mail began with "switchblade" (an allusion to an Eminem song), but his mother suggested he go with something a little more benign.

A future in sales or distribution, however, is not his goal. He's hoping to double major in engineering and music. Valparaiso University is his first choice.

But if that doesn't pan out, he seems to have a future in fundraising.

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