Lemonade stand becomes a teaching tool of parents

An icon of summer has come under the same influences that have turned childhood into a series of structured events.


Decisions about pricing, product mix and location tumbled through Alex Waggoner's mind as he started his enterprise. His business adviser observed his interactions with potential customers and counseled him about a more aggressive sales approach.

Was he a hot-shot Wharton graduate working with a venture capitalist? No, Alex was just 6, setting up a summer lemonade stand in Seattle, and his business adviser was his mother.

Now 7 and in his second year as a lemonade salesman, Alex has decided to post signs in his neighborhood, directing people to his stand, "instead of yelling as they go by." He's also selling cookies, because his little sister likes them.

For many children, the lemonade stand has become a first entrepreneurial venture, complete with parents who coach them on business practices. "Why shouldn't he learn how to run a business?" asked Alex's mother, Angela Wu, a lawyer. "He needs to learn how to take care of himself."

In some ways, a childhood tradition may again be giving way to a modern, more structured mindset. Pickup sandlot baseball has morphed over the years into Little League. Knocking on a friend's door after school is now a "play date." Biking around with your elementary-school buddies all summer, unsupervised until dark? That might precipitate a call to child protective services for neglect.

So it seems only natural that lemonade stands are following the path of other traditions to become more closely supervised, more rigorous endeavors - and more consciously educational. Magazines aimed at parents laud lemonade stands as aids to math, literacy and social development. The neighborhood juice purveyors of yesterday are becoming the mini-Trumps of today.

For the children and their parents, help abounds - on the Internet, in bookstores and classrooms and even in summer camps. The venerable Junior Achievement organization now has an Internet student center with sample business plans, video testimonials and an online game where children can try running a business. The Sunkist Co. provides a how-to list on its Web site for youngsters setting up lemonade stands, including requisite legal coverage - get your parents' permission - and a semi-sophisticated worksheet for calculating profits.

Even preschoolers may not be too young. For those who are 3 and up, One Step Ahead, an online children's store in Lake Bluff, Ill., offers a $99.95 wooden pushcart for selling lemonade.

"It's not like when we were young and you'd just set up a folding table at the end of your driveway and sell cups of lemonade for a nickel," said Brad Kaufmann, a Junior Achievement spokesman. "More kids are eager to learn real business skills at an earlier age, and their parents are right there to help them."

In Baltimore, David Scher and his wife, Judith Schagrin, helped their 11-year-old daughter, Kate, and a friend sell lemonade to raise money for less fortunate children.

"I think it's good for kids to know that sales is not a dirty word," said Scher, a Morgan Stanley financial adviser. "It's a win-win scenario if you find out what someone wants, and you can get it for them and make a profit."

Devising a strategy that would be at home on The Apprentice, he helped the girls set up their stand in a park frequented by dog walkers and suggested bringing along dog treats as a way to drum up business.

Schagrin, a social worker, was glad that her daughter saw that she could earn money and donate it to charity. Both parents agreed that Kate had learned what is needed to prepare for a new business, as well as the importance of meeting deadlines. And all found that working together for six hours to make $40 can be exhausting.

"Parents seem to be involved more deeply in all aspects of their kids' lives these days," Kaufmann said, "so starting a new business fits right in with ballet, Little League and piano practice."

A lemonade stand tends to be a child's first business because it is simple to create, and parents can help. Although the stands are straightforward to set up and run, they can encompass all the business basics from the classic "four P's" of business school - product, place, pricing and promotion - to inventory management and profit margins.

Steve Mariotti, founder of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (www.nfte.com), said he had noticed an increase in the number of calls he received from parents seeking advice on their children's lemonade stands. He applauded the trend, saying, "The sooner a young person can put together resources and communicate a need to other human beings, the better."

Mariotti has been working with his nieces on their lemonade stands since each was 6.

Finley Tevlin, 8, and his brother, Liam, 11, have moved on from lemonade stands to delivering home-baked brownies in their Seattle neighborhood. They say their father, an entrepreneur himself, dreams out loud at the dinner table about how his sons could expand their delivery service by gathering their neighborhood friends together to create an army of brownie sellers.

"But my very favorite part of the business is bringing the brownies to people's houses," Finley said, "because I get to ride my bike."

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