When I was 8-years-old, I had my first summer job as an entrepreneur. I ran a business with my younger sister in a suburb of Brampton, Ontario.
It is only recently I’ve reflected on just how much I learned from that business, and how much still informs my life and career today. It was then, back before I really knew what an entrepreneur was that I learned the fundamentals of business — concepts that remain with me to this day.
Without further ado, here are 7 things I learned from my first business: a booming Freezie wagon.
Motivation: Save up spending money for our family road trip to Nova Scotia at the end of the summer.
Product: Giant Freezies. Feast your eyes…
Business Model: Direct sales. Sell giant freezies to the neighbourhood families. To give you a vision, imagine this cooler on top of this wagon. Then imagine one young girl pulling the wagon, and another young girl sitting on top of the cooler. This was the business in essence (with a little more jazz below).
Employees: If I were the Chief Executive Officer, my younger sister (7-years-old at the time) would have been Chief Marketing Officer, and our Dad would have been the Initial Investor/Business Mentor/Owner of our co-working space AKA our garage.
I learned a lot from that Freezie business that has stayed with me, starting with…
The first thing my Dad taught me was that we had to have initial capital to buy the first box of freezies. Being the first investor, he fronted us the $12 it took to buy the first product.
The concept I learned was very simple: you need a bit of money to make money (eg. Paying for transit to get to your job; paying tuition to yield a higher paying job later on; saving up to start your own business, etc.) I learned that you can acquire that money in all sorts of ways. We had a loan from my Dad. Interest rate: 0%.
2. Return on Investment (ROI)
Once we started making money, he taught us that we didn’t actually make a profit until the initial $12 was paid back. No, the $12 did not make or break my Dad’s bank account, but it was about principle. To make a profit faster, we had to price the product just right.
If a box of 50 Freezies cost $12 at Costco, each Freezie was 24 cents each at cost. We sold our Freezies for $2 each with the option of half a Freezie for $1. If we sold all 50 Freezies, we would make $100. Factoring in what we learned about ROI, this meant we made $88 profit for every box of Freezies we sold.
When you’re 9 years old, $88 is an unreal amount of money. At my age now, an 88% profit margin is very impressive. I still aim to find a business that yields similar returns.
I may have only had one employee, but when I look back, the tactics I used to manage my sister are quite similar to my management style today. I started by finding what my sister was good at and used her talents to our collective advantage. Then I would give her goals and deadlines, and let her figure out the rest. Autonomy and participation in the process were key to having a happy employee. I still live by these very principles today.
“Kelsey, you’re good at colouring — much better than me. We need nice colourful signs for the sides of our cooler. Do you think you could do that by the end of the day?… Great!”
The other kids on our street — and more importantly their parents — had to learn about our product. We didn’t call it this at the time, but our “marketing strategy” had two primary tactics:
- We had giant colourful signs taped to either side of our cooler. They were made from bristol board and markers. They were eye-catching, legible from across the street, told potential customers what we were selling and for how much, and even including the value proposition.
Cool off with our
1 Freezie = $2
1/2 Freezie = $1
- Our second tactic was a little more ‘disruptive’. My younger sister sat on top of the Freezie wagon yelling for everyone to hear. Speaking of what my sister is good at (haha), she was always more outgoing than I was and didn’t care if she was the centre of attention. She was perfect for the job! This was a most effective marketing tactic if I’ve ever seen one.
“Come and get your Freezies. Giant, cool Freezies. Only $2, or $1 for half. COME AND GET YOUR FREEZIES. FREEZIES. FREEZIES!!!”
To this day, I try to make my marketing efforts quite similar: eye-catching, clear, complete with what the customer gets out of it, and most importantly, effective.
Once we had people paying attention because of our ever-so-advanced marketing, that’s where I stepped in with our “sales strategy”.
From a young age, I could be very persuasive. That talent made sales easier for me than Kelsey. While playing the ‘young sweet girls’ card to our advantage, my spiels sounded something like this:
“It’s summer. It’s so hot out here. You COULD wait for the unpredictable ice cream truck to come around. You COULD walk 10 minutes to the nearest convenience store. In both cases, you will waste time and spend more money because they mark your Freezies up to $3. The BEST choice is for you to buy a cool, refreshing Freezie from us.”
We won every time.
Could I have run the Freezie business alone? Probably. In doing that, I would have kept 100% of the profits. So why didn’t we?
Besides the fact that my parents made me play with my sister, there was another benefit I’m now better able to see. For one, my fondest memories of that summer had a lot to do with my sister making me laugh with her screaming from the back of the wagon. Secondly, I know that it wouldn’t have been as fun if I had done it alone. Who would I have shared those wins with? Finally, Kelsey really did have skills that I didn’t have. We stood to make more as a team than I did by myself.[Yeah, yeah, I get it. My parents knew this stuff all along.]
7. The Feeling
The last thing the Freezie business taught me was about “the feeling”. To this day for me, nothing beats the feeling of landing a sale and earning your money doing something you enjoy.
My sister and I each made $350 profit by the end of the summer, $700 total or about a box a week. So maybe it wasn’t a booming business as I’d describe one today, but we were kids — we needed time to play too. Plus, at that age, it felt like more money than we knew what to do with. No matter how much we made, the way my sister and I felt at the end of that summer was priceless. It mimics how I feel now when my business, SkillsCamp, lands a contract or significantly improves a student’s life through skills development.
The concepts I learned through my Freezie business are all still hyper-relevant to me as a business owner. However, even if I weren’t an entrepreneur, they still would inform who I am today. Concepts like the value of money, working in a team, working hard and earning your living were important skills ingrained in me very young.
If you’re a peer, you might be laughing because you can relate. If you’re a parent, perhaps hearing what one summer experience did for me will encourage you with your kids. Whether it’s a lemonade stand or selling pumpkins (like my nieces do now), I think all kids should at one point have a booming Freezie business.