Lemonade stand teaches mixed lesson

My kids have been teasing for a lot of things lately. Their requests run the gamut from the typical candy and gum to the more specific nail polish colors and expensive reading materials. Price is never an object when you’re spending your mom’s money.

Rather than saying my usual “No,” I thought to capitalize on the summer season with a capitalistic proposition: “You want it, you earn it.” Enter my kids’ first lemonade stand, an opportunity to equate hard work with profit.

Squeeze lemons, not Mom. A lemonade stand on a warm afternoon somehow appealed to the pair. Kate immediately began making a sign, while Connor started planning how to spend the profits.

Product development followed. They created a kind of lemonade not offered by most young proprietors: Raspberry lemonade with real lemon pulp, garnished with black raspberries floating on top (until they became lemonade-logged, disgusting and sank).

We mixed the lemonade in a large glass beverage dispenser. This showcased the lemonade’s deep pink color and the fruit, but more importantly prevented pitcher pouring spills and subsequent ant patronage. The fact the dispenser also kept out other bugs was an unintentional benefit.

Proper placement of the stand was an issue. Repeating “location, location, location” to myself, I lugged a card table toward the road. The kids needed to be close enough to the road to be visible, but not so close as to risk getting flattened by the occasional car that careens off the road.

We settled for a spot 10 feet from the road under a shade tree. I taped on Kate’s “LEMONADE: 25 Cents” sign and the kids placed the lemonade, a stack of yellow cups, and a bowl of pretzels on the table. The pretzels were my idea, the equivalent of salty tavern snacks to make potential customers thirsty.

“Good thinking, Mom!” Connor praised. And it would have been had the kids not eaten all the pretzels themselves. I went back into the house and positioned myself for subtle spying on the operation. Unfortunately, I could only see, not hear, their transactions.

Within five minutes of setting up shop, the first customer called on them. I missed it because nature had called me. “Mom, mom!” the kids came bursting into the bathroom, waving a $5 bill. “A lady stopped and gave us this and didn’t even want any lemonade!”

I went outside and checked to make sure they didn’t have a frog or turtle floating in the lemonade dispenser. Nope. The woman had just been promoting junior commerce.

“Not all customers will be so generous,” I said at their beginners’ luck. “It won’t happen again.” Until it did. Repeatedly. The next carload of people purchased three cups of lemonade and handed them two $5 bills. Just to further weaken my credibility.

I got on the horn to my sister Kerry. “Quit your day job,” I instructed. “We’re opening a lemonade stand.”  Where else could you take in small bills at that rate while remaining fully clothed?

Next, a couple stopped and paid $2 for two cups of lemonade. Instead of being grateful for the 400% voluntary mark-up, the kids were greatly disappointed. Business history indicated greater generosity to be the norm. Plus, they were itching to make change with the quarters they’d assembled for that purpose.

They got a few more customers, but closed up shop after a business-blocking black raspberry clogged the lemonade dispenser tap and the neighbor kids showed up to play. Predictably, someone stopped right at closing time to make a purchase. In all, they grossed $25.75 for an hour’s work.

I suggested framing their first $5 bill, but Kate offered it to me for supplies. What instinctive business ethics! Didn’t she know I couldn’t possibly accept it? Maybe she did, which is why she offered it. I accepted only a nickel, to even the amount they had to divide.

Connor bought a book and Kate bought some candy with the first few dollars of their respective shares. They saved the rest. I saved my nickel to toss into the next wishing well I encounter, along with this plea: “Please let the next lemonade stand experience teach a more realistic business lesson.”

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