Monday, June 17, 2013

Lessons from a Lemonade Stand

Last Thursday I let the kids try their hand at running their very first business: a lemonade stand. While this is not something I ever had the opportunity to do, it seems like something every kid should do at least once during childhood. Mia really wanted to do this at some point in the summer, and I for reasons that I can't really explain given how busy we are preparing for our vacation, (Tropical island! No kids!! Ring any bells?) decided to try to cram that into our already bursting-at-the-seams schedule.

Before agreeing to this venture, I had Mia brainstorm a list of items that we would need to buy or make before setting up shop. She came up with: table, chairs, sign, pitcher, cups, balloons, and of course, lemonade. For that, I had an interesting recipe I wanted to try: watermelon lemonade (which I found in the June 21, 2013 issue of All You magazine, page 4). And, I happened to have lemons and watermelon on hand, which meant that this was as good a time as any to test the recipe and run a lemonade stand. Two birds, one stone.

Sweet Pink Lemonade (makes 12 servings)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 cups watermelon, chopped 
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups lemon juice (from about 8 lemons)
  • ice
  1. Bring 6 cups water, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  2. Remove pan from heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes.
  3. Puree 4 cups chopped watermelon in a blender (I used my food processor for this.) along with 1 cup of water.
  4. Pour syrup and watermelon puree through a strainer into a pitcher. (This step was really messy!)
  5. Stir in 2 cups fresh lemon juice. (The kids helped with the squeezing, but this was mostly a job for Mama.)
  6. Serve over ice. (Hard to do when you're sitting outside for a couple of hours...)
Sounds pretty good, right? It is! However, this is a fair bit of work to put into a kids' lemonade stand endeavor. So, lesson #1 I learned is that when making a lemonade stand, don't knock yourself out making fresh squeezed lemonade from organic lemons and pureed watermelon. Seriously, I doubt that our customers knew or cared how much effort went into making the stuff. *If* we do this again, I will probably just use frozen lemonade concentrate or perhaps, more lazily, a powdered drink mix. For some reason it seemed important to keep it real, but in retrospect, I don't think it mattered.

Setting up a table and chairs was easy. Getting balloons blown up was trickier. I don't have that much hot air, it seems, and the kids are a bit young to be much help in this arena. Making a sign shouldn't have been as time-consuming as it was, but being perfectionistic, I decided to do it myself using my Cricut and some yellow and pink card stock. (I am not sure if this was the right choice or not. Mia could have done the lettering herself, of course, but I didn't think it would be as legible, so I wanted the cut-out letters to hopefully get more attention.) One thing I made sure to highlight on the sign was the word "fresh" because after all that effort, I wanted people to know they were buying a quality product! Is there a lesson here? I'm not sure, but I think it is still related to #1: don't overdo things; Keep it simple.

Now, came one of the more difficult decisions: what price to assign to a small paper cup of fresh squeezed lemonade? Initially, I was thinking only a quarter because the cups were small kitchen cups, but after all of the work invested in my kids' lemonade stand, (and thinking about having to hand wash my lemon juicer, large pot, and assorted food processor pieces...), I made the executive decision to charge 50 cents per cup. I figured $1 was too steep, and 50 cents was the next logical choice. Lesson #2 is that everything has value, including Mom's time. (However, Mom is also the person who makes sacrifices, so I decided not to charge the kids for my time or for the materials we used to make their lemonade. I'm still debating whether or not that was the right decision. I wanted them to see some "profits" but I also wanted them to recognize that everything came at a cost. Tough stuff, when you really think about it, and I thought it was just lemonade!) I think that *if* we run another lemonade stand, I really should let them have the true lesson in economics. This was just the intro course, and I omitted some of the critical learning.

Lesson #3 was more of a lesson for the children with regards to persistence. About half an hour into the waiting game, Mia announced that this was boring. (Shocker, I know!) I tried to remain optimistic even though I didn't think we would get many customers. We live on a paved road off of a dirt road, so we're kind of isolated. Our only hope was the neighborhood people and given that it was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, it didn't seem like we would get too much business. I reminded the kids that they had to be friendly and wave to all of the cars that passed by. Logan jumped on this idea immediately, and waved enthusiastically while yelling out out to each passerby, "Hi! We have a lemonade stand!!" Amazingly, we started getting customers right after this, so there is power in positive thinking.

There really are good people in the world. I think this lesson #4 hit home for me, perhaps, more than it did for Mia and Logan. Once the neighbors started showing up, they would buy more than one cup, so that meant $1 instead of 50 cents. I honestly did not expect that, because, again, I was worried that I was overcharging in the first place. Then, we had two people who made donations/tips to the lemonade stand, just because they were supportive. One neighbor said, "Here's a tip just for being an entrepreneur." Isn't that nice? (It made me feel like I should do a better job of supporting lemonade stands...) But the one thing that really impressed me was when the UPS delivery man stopped his truck just so he could buy two (again, not one but two!) cups of our by-then lukewarm lemonade. While I was a teensy bit upset over the people who promised to "come back later" and never did, in the end they sold 13 cups and got paid for more than that, which exceeded my expectations of what we could achieve in a two-and-one-half-hour window on a Thursday afternoon in our neighborhood, where people pretty much keep to themselves.

Mia learned a lesson in responsibility (#5). Our neighbors across the street actually set up a bouncy house while we were working at the lemonade stand. (We had been invited over to bounce earlier in the day, and had taken advantage of their hospitality for about a half hour.) This was a very tough decision for her, but ultimately, she decided to keep manning the stand instead of going off to do the thing that would have been immediately gratifying. I was, admittedly, shocked that she made this choice, especially after watching her weigh the choices in her mind, and seeing how hard it was for her to decide to stick with her business plan!

Lesson #6 is one on being prepared. Lemonade stands are a sticky, messy business so have lots of towels on hand for cleaning up all the spills. The drink dispenser may go haywire at some point from too many little hands fiddling with it, so make sure your extra cups are easily within reach because you may find yourself filling cup after cup, trying to keep up with the gushing. (Must not waste any of that fresh squeezed organic lemonade with pureed watermelon!) Oh, and don't forget a bag to hold all of the used cups, like I did. Sunscreen seemed like an obvious choice (check!), but little did I know, we would actually need an umbrella before the afternoon was over! Make sure your kids have their own water bottles so they are not tempted to drink up the lemonade supply. I made sure that we had change before heading outside, not knowing that we wouldn't really need it. (Nice people!) And I figured having hand sanitizer available couldn't hurt.

Once the rain got too hard, we shut down the lemonade stand, and headed inside, where I counted the money. When all was said and done, I gave each of the kids $3.50. As Brett pointed out, this wasn't the profits, it was the revenue. I had decided not to charge them the $3 for the lemons or the $2.50 for half of a watermelon that was used. Sugar and cups were such small amounts that I didn't know how to calculate the cost for those, and then there was the issue of my time. Undoubtedly, it is valuable, but it was all a gift, because I wanted them to have the experience. Lesson #7 was to just plain enjoy life! We had a good/exhausting/sticky afternoon, and we may have come out ahead by a dollar of so, but the real lessons had more to do with earning money. (This is fortunate, since there wasn't much money actually made when you do the math.) It was more rewarding for me just to let them enjoy the feeling of success, while we kicked back and finally enjoyed some of that sweet pink lemonade. I think we all earned it.

1 comment:

  1. cool thank you for telling me to bring out a umbrella it is good advice