Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Short Account of My First Money-driven Enterprise Although I worked long hours around the farms, I received no wages. I think it was assumed it was in exchange for my room and board. What I now know, is that the most valuable thing I earned there was a set of life lessons that have served me exceedingly well over the years. I did, however, wish to have some money of my own, other than what I got sporadicaly from Dad or my uncle. It was this desire for financial freedom of a sort that led to my devising many ways of generating income over the years. I've been lucky in that the very worst of my efforts and ideas have resulted in breaking even. Some have provided a good return, and most a modest return. To this day I seem to always be on the lookout for a "project" of some sort. My first effort took place in the winter of my first year on the farm and, as much as I hate to admit it, my cousin "the princess" was the inspiration. She was in her early teens and had just been "discovered" by the local boys, who came in an endless line to take her places now uncle R allowed her to go on dates. One factor of these outings seemed to be more beneficial to myself and my aunt, both chocolate junkies. All these young men arrived bearing a gift, and it was invariably the same every week, a box of chocolates. This was, in my eyes, a wonderful thing, as "the princess" didn't care for chocolate and my aunt and I would have a good supply until the next "date" arrived. It got me wondering though, what else was there suitable to give a girl? On the next few trips on the milk route with my aunt, I did some quick investigating in all the local stores. They all offered the same gifts, chocolates and flowers. The flowers were far more expensive there in winter, so the chocolates were the obvious choice of those of meager means. After running it around in my head for a bit, I settled on a plan. I would offer a treat "the princess" loved in hopes others would feel the same, or want something different. I also had observed the prices of the gifts on offer and thought I could at least equal them. The first step of my plan took me to the woodpile by the sugar house in search of the right material. I finally located a good-sized log of ash, a very hard and durable wood. Then to the workshop in back of the barn to see if I could fashion what I needed. The result was a wooden knife/spatula similar to the wooden knife pictured. Mine was a bit thinner with a fairly sharp edge. I then tested my knives on a few apples from F's storage cellar below his barn. Finding them up to the task, I proceeded to produce as many as I could get from the log. Step two involved bargaining with F and Mrs F for materials. From F I got an agreement to buy, on installments with immediate delivery to me, a quantity of McIntosh apples and honey. With Mrs F I struck a similar bargain for some jars she used for selling jams and the pretty boxes she sold the jams and jellies in. Then on to my aunt for a number of leftover bows of the type used for Christmas presents. I also got some old wrapping tissue and a bottle of glue. My operation was almost complete. The boxes, having dividers splitting them into four equal parts were perfect, that, and that they were in pinks, reds, and yellows. Into each box I placed three juicy, red apples, each wrapped in tissue. Then I added one of the small jars about three-fourths full of fresh honey. Lastly, I added a wooden knife to slice the apple and spread the honey along with five paper napkins appropriated from my aunt's picnic supply chest. Then on went the box lid with a pretty bow glued in the center and tied nicely with white string "borrowed" from my aunt. Once I had fifteen of these packages ready to sell, I figured up all my expenses for the whole of my materials and arrived at a sum of $2.25 per box for the fifteen initial boxes. Then I added in fifty cents for the store owner and seventy-five cents for me. After discussing this with my aunt and Mrs F, they smiled and said it was a good idea, all the while exchanging those looks with each other that said I was a cute but silly eight-year-old boy with daydreams. This made me even more determined than ever to succeed. So, the next morning I loaded all fifteen of my "gift" boxes in the station wagon to distribute while on the milk run. My aunt was confused when I said I didn't want to go to the grocery stores to display my goods, directing her instead to the drug store of the first town on our route. After a bit of haggling and receiving even more bemused smiles, I managed to talk all the drug stores, general stores, and most importantly, beer stores, to display my boxes , one opened for display, beside their candy boxes. The next day, much to my aunt's amazement, all of my boxes, even the display boxes were sold. It seems I figured rightly that folks wanted something different, many liked apple slices and honey, and my most important calculation, it had been payday when I first displayed them. I knew from my friends that many of their fathers stopped in the beer stores payday on the way home and most got something for their moms as well. This was probably to mitigate the anger received from the moms over the beer purchase. Whatever the reason for the success, I was elated, the store owners were happy for a quick profit for almost no work, and I was planning how many boxes to place the next week. I figured that by only putting them out on paydays and special days, they'd seem more special. As I'd bought a fair quantity of materials and figured all my costs into the first fifteen boxes, it was a long time before all the sales weren't pure profit beyond the store's cut. I continued this into the late spring when I put it on hold until the next winter, when people were again cooped up in their houses and looking for something special. I think the most satisfying part was when I went to the local bank with my profits and asked, very business-like, to speak to the bank manager. He, like my aunt and others had, treated me to a bemused smile when I said I wanted to open an account. I'll never forget the look on his face, after he explained how I needed at least one dollar to open an account and asked me in a condescending manner if I had that much and ended calling me "little fella", when I pushed $312.50 across his desk and asked if this was "enough". I got my bank account and gained a bit of self esteem for being able to show people I could really do things. I'm not sure what course my life would've taken had this venture been a big flop. Thankfully, it proved to me that careful planning and attention to little things about people's behavior pays dividends. Until the next time, take care.

6 comments:

Mies said...

Hey, very nice story. But Just one thing, you say the word "Princess" like it's a bad thing...hehehe...Just kidding....

Very enterprising for a boy of eight. Don't remember any of my 8 year old pals being an entrepreneur. Probably lemonade stands would be what I would remember. Shows you had a lot of good old American gumption, which carried on in later years....Thanks again....

Patricia said...

Yep, that's the secret of success, you see a need and you fill it. Most of us didn't start quite so young, though.
Good story, Mike. Grown-up mostly don't have enough faith in kids, but yours let you go for it. I'm sure you laughed all the way to the bank.

Mike S said...

I think I was just forced by circumstances to grow up a bit too fast in some respects, although I could read the comic pages when I started kindergarten.

Linnea said...

Mike, what a wonderful story (and what a sharp kid you were)! It should serve as an inspiration to everyone - young and old - that independent ventures can be successful if only you put your mind to it. Thanks for sharing.

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