More than lemonade

Online stand adds movies, sports gear

August 03, 2008|By Steve Rosen | Steve Rosen,McClatchy-Tribune

Lemonade stands are no longer just the driveway domain for youngsters hoping to squeeze out a few dimes or quarters on a hot summer day.

Just ask 16-year-old Peter Briggs.

Since last fall, the high school junior from Fairfield, Conn., has been peddling products for profit through his own lemonade business. His mother also has a stand. Same with his grandmother, and a few of his teenage friends.

Unlike the stand that Briggs ran in his neighborhood as a little boy, his new venture is actually an online outlet featured on his Facebook personal Web page. And instead of cool refreshments, Briggs is pushing sports gear, movies and video games to friends, family and others.

"It's a big step from running a lemonade stand on the corner to a lemonade stand online," said Briggs, a spunky young entrepreneur who is one of about 35,000 individuals of all ages operating these virtual kiosks.

How did the lemonade business become so hip?

Some of the credit goes to Tom Zawacki, a Princeton-educated anthropology major turned Internet marketing executive. Zawacki, 38, is chief executive and a founder of the appropriately named Lemonade Inc., a Connecticut company that launched its Lemonade.com Web site in October.

Think of Lemonade.com as a giant online catalog or database where consumers can find reviews and tips on products they might want to buy. It's another example of how retailers are relying on so-called social networking on the Internet to spread the word about products and services one person at a time.

Lemonade.com has enjoyed enough early success - including being voted Time magazine's top Web site for 2007 - to warrant a service upgrade and face-lift this month aimed at making it easier for consumers to search for product information.

Zawacki christened the business Lemonade Inc. because "the concept of a lemonade stand simply communicates what we're all about and harkens back to a warm and friendly time in our life."

Here's how it works: Users register for free at Lemonade.com and design and customize virtual lemonade stands that feature their favorite products or services. They can choose from among 1.5 million items featured by about 300 online retailers including Apple, Netflix, The Gap, Lands' End, Liz Claiborne and Wal-Mart.

After making their selections, users then click and drag those items into their "lemonade stand," which displays product images and provides brief descriptions and reviews. You can add products any time. Each stand also links shoppers to the retailer in order to make a purchase.

Once the stand is designed, users decide where they want it displayed - including profile pages on Facebook or MySpace, a blog or a personal Web page.

Lemonade stand owners earn money every time someone visits their stand and clicks to the retailer's page to make a purchase or sign up for a service. Lemonade Inc. keeps 20 percent of these commissions, and stand operators get the rest.

Commissions vary from retailer to retailer. According to Zawacki, DirecTV pays $200 if someone signs up for service through a Lemonade site, while AT&T will pay $60.

Lemonade entrepreneurs must be at least 18 years old, though parents can set up an account on behalf of younger children. According to Zawacki, the youngest member is 1 year old.

Briggs learned about Lemonade.com through an ad on Facebook. He was hooked after earning $3 his first week in business. To date, he's earned about $80.

Though he doesn't expect to get rich, he said it "definitely beats mowing lawns. ... It's kind of fun to look at your account and see money flowing in."

Zawacki said making money is far less important for youngsters than learning the values of responsibility, self-reliance and hard work.

Briggs would certainly agree. He credits the business for "opening my eyes toward advertising" and how it influences buying decisions.

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