Niagara Gazette

July 10, 2013

DELUCA: Business lessons from a lemonade stand

Michele DeLuca commentary
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — William John White, III is learning about business on a Niagara Street corner this summer.

In a city that sometimes offers its young people an alluring view of the low road, the 13-year-old honor society student has stepped upon another route this summer.

The inspiration came when the LaSalle Prep student had a need. He wanted some new things — a couple more baseball caps and a few necklaces. He’s a newly minted teen and developing his own sense of style. 

Billy, like all the rest of us, had to make some choices about how to obtain those things he desired. He decided to get to work. 

He and his neighbor, Jaquayla Harpham, 10, have been selling cool drinks at the end of their street, on Niagara and Seventh, since last Saturday, taking advantage of the fireworks traffic. Theirs is not a glamorous location. And the lemonade stand is not some big production. It’s just a little white plastic table with a tattered purple cover.  

But, the pair have earned about $100 in quarters since they began waving their signs.

As those of us in the news media spend much time telling stories about those who make the wrong choices, I always enjoy the opportunity to meet young people seeking a better way. So, I stopped by their little business on Tuesday, and chatted with these two. It got me to thinking about just what the two are learning as they holler and wave their sign at passing cars.

Between them, and Jaquayla’s brother, Jayquan, 12, who sometimes helps out, the kids are getting some hands-on experience in business, which I expect will serve them lifelong.  Such as: 

• Marketing:  When selling a product, it’s always important to consider the cuteness factor. Billy’s little step-sister, Destiny, 11 months, is sometimes recruited to coo and wave from her stroller, while a parent watches from a porch down the block. I got to see her in action. I must say that she’s darned good at customer relations. And she seems to really enjoy the work.

• Profit and loss:  Every morning Billy and Jaquayla determine what they’ll need for the day, and head to the corner store to stock up. Tuesday, as rain threatened, they took a delivery from Billy’s sister’s boyfriend, who brought them fresh ice in a cooler after they lost a pitcher of product in an accidental spill.

• Innovation: Billy says they make the lemonade and Kool-aid with just a little more sugar than the recipes call for, which the young entrepreneurs are certain makes the drinks tastier.  

• Supply and demand: The kids believe that by asking only a quarter, people are more likely to buy their product.  To their surprise, many customers are paying a lot more. One guy paid $20 and change for two drinks. It appears that people want to help kids who are trying to help themselves. Especially if they have cuteness.

• Sales: As we all know, pitching product is not easy. But, Billy is learning the language and behavior of commercial exchange.  “I think I’m learning how to sell,” he told me. “I’m learning how to say stuff and how to get over the fear of being embarrassed.”  

So, to review, we have here a couple of city kids, living in a neighborhood where crime and drugs are rampant, choosing another way. They’re also gathering experience to enhance their resumes when they head out to get their first jobs at 16.

Jaquayla and Jayquan’s mom, Pearl Harpham, says it’s nice to see her children doing something productive. “There’s nothing for kids to do in this city,” she told me when I phoned her. “Nothing at all.”

Billy’s stepdad, Roger Miller, is pretty proud of them, too. “I want other kids to see these guys are out working for something.”

As a fan of the whole “it takes a village” theory on raising children, I can’t help but interject here that if you are driving by 7th and Niagara streets any time soon, try to swing by Billy and Jaquayla’s stand and purchase a cool, sweet drink.  A quarter is a pretty cheap price to pay to fortify the business acumen of some ambitious city kids. 

Remember though, because they’re kids, they might not always be there. 

“I think we’ll probably stick with it most of the summer, but not all,” Billy told me. 

Which is fine. Because it is summer vacation, after all. And knowing when to open and when to close is probably the most important business lesson of all.

Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.

Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.