Monday, May 30, 2011

Lemonade Stands

I've always liked those "Life's Instruction Book" kind of books and one of my favorites was one written by a father to his son who was going away to college, a "Dad's messages to a son who is on his way to becoming a man and how he can become a decent one". My own father--and mother, too--certainly taught me so much of that stuff, although not in writing; their method was more by unwavering example. One piece of advice from that book that I remember having come from that book and that I have always followed was a rather cute one: "Always buy from kids selling lemonade at a lemonade stand."

Why would you want to do that? Well, this world runs on commerce and making money is essential. The sooner that kids get a positive taste of that, the more successful they will be in life; it is one of the more important lessons and your participation in that is a valuable investment in the future of our country. Besides, it is very fun to do it and your involvement in the transaction is not to be concerned about whether you actually want the lemonade, or whether you think that the price is a "good deal," or even that you think that lemonade was made by their mother so the whole thing is rather artificial...your part is to enjoy being put into the role of letting young entrepreneurs know that there IS a market for their efforts and that they CAN obtain customers for their products. I actually can't imagine how it would be possible to drive on past a group of enthusiastically waving children, smiling and so hopeful that somebody will stop and buy their lemonade. You'd have to be a special sort of callous individual to think "I'm too busy now," or "I'm not really thirsty," or "A DOLLAR for that tiny paper cup of lemonade, who do they think they are fooling?" Making those kids happy feeds and refreshes you way more than the lemonade does.

And, of course, all this goes for any other similar thing that kids are doing...selling Girl Scout cookies or candy bars for some charity drive or, my parents' favorite, Boy Scouts in our neighborhood selling lightbulbs! Those Boy Scouts were our family's main supplier of lightbulbs for decades, and then in another town when my father was too old to be able to hear the low battery warnings and my mother wouldn't let him climb ladders anymore, he depended upon a service provided by the Boy Scouts, checking all their smoke alarms.

I also find it impossible to drive past high school car washes, even though I realize that getting my car washed that way will end up taking some time. But for sure you will get a thorough cleaning of your car and you also will be treated to the show of attractive teenagers having a blast and getting more soaked and soaped up than even the cars are. But they will feel supported by the adults in their community and will find their school spirit that, too, helps education.

On an LA to Mexico Carnival Cruise I took with my sister and her two children, our first destination was Catalina Island, just right across the water from Long Beach where the cruise began, but somehow going there this way, it seemed more like Naples. One of the things we did was rent a golf cart (the only vehicles allowed in the Catalina city of Avalon) so that we could take the city self-tour. My sister said to me, "I'll pay for the golf cart if you will drive it!" Such a deal...I'd want to drive it anyway!

It was quite a great tour and it took us way up into the hills above the bay with views that were outstanding. We were also getting quite hot being exposed out there in the sun and we were genuinely getting thirsty. As luck would have it, as we were coming through a residential neighborhood up there, we saw kids on the sidewalk with a card table and a pitcher of lemonade....JUST what the doctor ordered! Of course I stopped and the kids were so excited to have four customers! I am sure that based on their location up in the hills of this small town with virtually no traffic, they hadn't seen many people come by, but they sure had us and we liked their lemonade so much that all four of us had second glasses of it.

And that is an important thing, by the way; when you do this, you have to take the product (and it helps if you actually do want it!). There was a brief period in my life when, if people were selling chocolate bars for charity, I would just give them the price of the candy bar as a donation but say that they could keep the candy. I thought I was doing something good (after all, they got the money), but after a few times of doing this, it became pretty obvious to me that THEY didn't like it. Who wants to attempt to sell something that somebody doesn't really want? Of course, "in real life," you won't stay in business very long if you don't have a product (or labor skills) that people genuinely want, but that's not what we are teaching here with children entrepreneurs (or at least, maybe I should say that that is not what WE are teaching here; they're learning it more than they need by all those people who pass them by). What we are teaching is just the basic concept that a child CAN have the thrill of setting up a flow of incoming money, and the details of what product is truly desirable can be worked out as they continue to get older. (As an aside, after I booked my airline tickets for my trip to Palau this summer, I checked out on the Internet to see what the planes I was going to go on looked like. I found an Airbus website that was designed for airline purchasing agents and I thought to myself, imagine someone actually being a commercial jetliner salesman! Of course there are those, but it isn't one of the things a person normally considers, I imagine. I wonder what kind of commissions THEY get? Well, while we are at it, who is it who sells ocean liners to cruise lines?)

A couple of weeks ago, I bought some lemonade from two enthusiastic boys and one little girl who were, again, selling in what I figured was not a heavily-trafficked neighborhood. They were like explosive Jack Russell Terriers as I drove by! Lemonade is NOT on my very low-carb diet. But I did sip some of it before I got back into my car just so that I could genuinely tell them how good it was. (I wished I could drink it, and they were cleverly also offering refills for half price, but I couldn't participate in that.) Once I got home, I privately threw it away. And just last week, in another neighborhood, there were two boys selling very large and beautiful grapefruits, three of them for a dollar. Grapefruits aren't on my diet any more than lemonade is, but I raved over how beautiful those grapefruits looked and I said that three for a dollar was a great deal (even though I had absolutely no idea at all). I wondered whether those grapefruits had been grown in their back yard (citrus does grow quite well here), which would have been a good selling point, but I didn't ask them as the details of where the product came from wasn't germane to my purpose, since they didn't offer this piece of information. I mean, maybe their mother had bought all the grapefruits at the local grocery store, but to lead the kids into revealing that would have been to deflate the power of the experience I was wanting them to have.

As it so happens, I needed to go to Ralph's (a major supermarket here) to buy some more yogurt, butter, and turkey sausages for my breakfast the next morning, so I did happen to check out the grapefruit prices. Ralph's was selling grapefruits that were navel-orange-size for 79 cents each, so these three LARGE grapefruits for a dollar WAS a great deal! And the three co-workers I gave them to the next morning at work were thrilled to get them, so I received emotional rewards not only from the kids selling them, but also from my co-workers in the office!

When I was vagabonding throughout Mexico some time in the early 80s, I ran into a British couple, Rod (a partner in an estate agency, what we here call a real estate brokerage) and Judith (a second grade teacher), who had taken a year off from their respective jobs to take a trip around the world. We three liked each other so much that we spent two weeks in Mexico traveling together, and then later I visited them several times in Hurworth, where they lived. When I was alone, and obviously traveling very much on the cheap--using cross-country busses or even walking from town to town--I was pretty much left alone in Mexico, but being with very well-dressed and beautiful Judith with her striking long blond hair, we were beset constantly by people begging for money or those who wanted to touch her hair. Judith was very generous in giving money to all these beggars (which, of course, simply made even more people run over to us), but whenever people came up to us selling things, she would wave them away.

One day we were enjoying lunch and a "cerveza" (Rod's favorite Spanish word) outdoors in a beautiful plaza in Guadalajara (one of my three favorite cities in Mexico), when a young girl came by selling what looked like cute little beetles made out of walnut shells. I was kind of fascinated by this and asked the girl about them (in Spanish), and she explained to me that she had this idea of making these and since they were unique, she thought that she could make some money selling them. In English, I said to Judith, "It's kind of funny how you are very generous giving money to the people who are begging, but those who are attempting to make a real living, you wave them on." I wasn't criticizing her, and she didn't take it as a criticism, but only an interesting observation that she, herself, hadn't thought of before. She said, "You are right, I end up supporting those who are doing nothing, and turning away those who are in some measure entrepreneurial." Being the smart person that she was, she realized that her energies were at cross-purposes with her beliefs, so she studied that girl's walnut beetles and selected one of them to buy. "I think this clever hand-made item from another country would be something cute to show my students when I come home," she explained, and from then on, instead of waving the sellers on, she would look to see what they actually were selling and if it were something she could use for "classroom show and tell," she would buy it. She ended up with bags full of cute hand-made objects that she shipped back to England. This didn't stop her from giving to beggers, too, but now she was more discriminatory, reserving her charity for those who seemed to have fewer options.

As for Rod, he was fascinated by the people who would set up card tables on street corners and lay out extremely variable merchandise to sell...which could be anything: gum, bottles of Coca Cola, playing cards, a paperback book or two, razor blades, condoms, grooming items, puzzles, stockings, apparently whatever the vendor felt that people might want to buy, or he had experienced a demand for in the past. Rod said that he understood that in Mexico the concept was that anybody should have the freedom to make a living however they could without the obstacles of special licenses and other regulations, and I think the Chinese must really be into this kind of thing, too. Here in the various border states, we have Mexican immigrants all gathered around in front of the U-Haul rental agencies or Home Depot stores, hoping to be hired for day labor, which is actually illegal here if they are undocumented (although a former husband of one of my sisters says that he uses people like this all the time and you couldn't find better workers, at least on a day labor basis). Many Americans are severely bothered by their presence, but I wonder if what the illegal aliens are doing is something that is ingrained in their culture and America is proving itself to be a less free place because one isn't supposed to be able to do it. I wonder if unemployment here continues to increase if we will start to see American citizens doing the same thing in order to earn some money. It kind of makes me think of Of Mice and Men, how if we had another Great Depression, would we have groups of men walking across the country to some hoped-for promised land and desiring work along the way, such as to help bring in the harvests. In this present-day era, all that kind of work would be done by the Mexicans and the American citizens would starve to death. That is, all except those who as kids had had lemonade stands.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

It interest me how even people with otherwise fine reputations in the US, still employ illegal aliens. It seems the economy rather depends on them and political hands are now tied too tightly to do anything about it.