Sweet business success — Youth learn selling skills in Lemonade Day

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Nala Johnson serves a customer at her Lemonade Day stand at Fred Meyer on Saturday.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Nala Johnson serves a customer at her Lemonade Day stand at Fred Meyer on Saturday.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

This isn’t your average lemonade. No grainy, oversweetened, unnatural-colored powder, mostly diluted in tepid tap water. More like hand-squeezed, ice-chilled, fresh-ingredient culinary masterpieces worthy of Le Cordon Bleu — or pink, when swirled with muddled strawberries, or purple when marbled with a streak of grape flavoring.

There was sugar-free, for a more health-conscious option, blended with crushed ice for a more festive presentation, available in several sizes and with a diverse menu of sweet treats also available from the participants of Lemonade Day, with stands set up in front of businesses across the central Kenai Peninsula on Saturday.

As if the quality and variety weren’t enough to move pints of product, the pint-sized purveyors had additional sales strategies up their little sleeves — one stand had a big painted sign on the highway advertising its acceptance of credit cards; another “sold” lemonade for a donation, often getting more cash than if they’d listed a price of a dollar or two; and most had options for upselling, like an extra 50 cents for flavoring, or another buck for a drink to be blended with crushed ice.

Anya, right, and Truly Hondel attend to a customer at their stand outside Sweeney's.

Anya, right, and Truly Hondel attend to a customer at their stand outside Sweeney’s.

The purveyors of Anya and Truly’s Lemon A-Peel stand in front of Sweeney’s had perhaps the most sure-fire sales strategy of all — “I try to always smile and wave,” said 10-year-old Anya Hondel.

Few were the passers-by to resist that approach, as she and her sister, 4-year-old Truly, enthusiastically grinned and greeted customers in matching lemon aprons, with their lemonade-colored hair held back by yellow-and-white hats knitted by their grandmother, Terri Burdick.

Their menu included homestyle lemonade, strawberry-flavored lemonade, sugar-free lemonade and lemon cookies, and their

Anya said her strategy to business at her Lemon A-Peel stand was to keep on smiling.

Anya said her strategy to business at her Lemon A-Peel stand was to keep on smiling.

yellow- and green-striped stand was equipped with a tip jar to capitalize on any feelings of generosity in their customers. A family at their school, Grace Lutheran, had participated in Lemonade Day last year, so this year the Hondel girls decided to give it a try.

As of noon Saturday the novelty was still fueling their venture. Even 4-year-old Truly wasn’t dampened by the drizzly weather, as she excitedly pointed out her favorite parts of the operation — “My princess chair!” she said of her Disney-themed assigned seat, and, “This is where we keep all the money!” of the secured cash box.

Anya said she was enjoying meeting all the new people, and that even the work part of the job wasn’t getting her down.

“I like making the lemonade. With the sugar we made a syrup, and then we poured lemon juice in it, and it’s pretty fun,” she said.

A little way up the Kenai Spur Highway, in front of Beemun’s, sat The Tree Stand, manned by brothers Joshua Tree, 10, and Ethan Tree, 7. After hearing about the project on the radio last year, mom Julie Tree decided to bring home an information packet and check it out.

The nationwide program, in its second year on the Kenai, sounded like an enriching activity for her boys, with its purpose to teach kids about being entrepreneurs by having them open their own lemonade stand. So they planned their approach — secured a location, set their menu, got supplies, made their products and set everything up. All the while Tree was unsure how the actual day would go.

“Last year I was worried because he’s quiet,” she said of Joshua, nervous that her son wouldn’t be gregarious enough to interact with customers.

Scratch that. For everything the boys were learning about business, Tree learned a few new things about the boys.

“He was calling out, ‘Lemonade! Lemonade for sale!’ Someone would come over and say, ‘I’ll take a lemonade,’ and he’d say, ‘We have flavored lemonade (for 50 cents more).’ He was a little salesman — I didn’t know that,” Tree said. “Also counting the change, he did great at it. I was really impressed with that.”

Business was booming last year.

“We made $20 an hour,” Joshua said.

At the Tree Stand outside Beemun’s, Joshua Tree, 10, handled the customers while little brother, Ethan, 7, attracted traffic.

At the Tree Stand outside Beemun’s, Joshua Tree, 10, handled the customers while little brother, Ethan, 7, attracted traffic.

This year he had his eye on a new race-car track, so was hoping for repeated success. They had regular and flavored lemonade for sale, plus homemade cookies, cake pops and chocolate-covered pretzels. They used a team approach, with Joshua serving customers and making change. Ethan stood out by the road attracting attention to the stand, in his too-big hat, blue sanitary gloves and neon green lemonade shirt holding a cardboard sign that was about as wide as he was tall.

First get the customers. Next, get them to spend.

“You’ve got to buy stuff cheaper than you sell it,” Joshua said. “The hardest part is standing out here in the cold. But it’s pretty fun.”

In front of Fred Meyer, Nala Johnson, 11, was using a multipronged approach to attracting customers. One was variety, offering three flavors of fresh-squeezed lemonade in two sizes of cups with an option to blend any drink with ice. But her main tactic was in attracting attention, which was done by greeting passers by and asking if they’d like some lemonade. Even louder than her greeting was her stand’s motif — a riot of bright colors visible far across the parking lot.

“My stand is rainbow-themed, as you can see. It’s called Nala’s Rainbow Lemon Splash,” she said.

Customers consider their many options at Nala Johnson’s Rainbow Lemon Splash stand.

Customers consider their many options at Nala Johnson’s Rainbow Lemon Splash stand.

The stand and signage was all done in rainbow colors, the lemonade dispensers were arranged by color, the Rice Krispies Treats — ahem, “Rainbow Delights” — were food colored into appropriate hues, and Nala herself was splashed with color.

“When she decided she wanted a rainbow theme she came and said I needed to make her a rainbow skirt,” said Lupine Orlob, Nala’s mom. “Rainbows are her thing. She has a bank account with (Wells Fargo). She named it Rainbows and Unicorns.”

“I thought it would be fun to mix it up a little bit and give people different choices, and also it represents the theme,” said Nala of her flavor options.

This was Nala’s first Lemonade Day.

“I just thought it would be fun to make a stand and meet new people, learn new things to become a grown-up and an entrepreneur, to learn how to be a business owner,” she said.

She wants to be a large-animal vet when she grows up, and figures she’ll need business sense for that. Plus, the lemonade business was a chance to earn some money for more immediate concerns — namely, saving up for a trip to Disneyland.

But then her long-term goal started factoring in, too, as evidenced by a sign on her stand telling customers that half of Nala’s profits would be donated to a local animal shelter.

“She approached me and said, ‘Mom, maybe I can donate some of my money to the animal shelter.’ That was with no prompting at all,” Orlob said.

The program, facilitated locally by the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce, provides kids with a workbook and packet of information to help them prepare for the experience, and encourages that they find a mentor to help them through the process. Nala worked with Ali Woodard, a friend of Orlob’s and a small business specialist with Wells Fargo.

“We went through the packet, created her theme and how her stand was going to be different from everyone else’s and how she would bring in customers that way, how to be creative but sticking with her theme. And then we worked on budgeting together, her shopping list, coming prepared today and putting her stand together,” Woodard said.

They talked about finding investors, and got donations of lemons from Three Bears and strawberries from IGA, and wrote letters to the Elks to help with costs of supplies and recycling her stand.

“I think this is a wonderful way for them to learn what entrepreneurship is and how to be creative and put their ideas and their passions into their lemonade stand,” Woodard said. “I think it’s a wonderful way for them to learn to talk to people about what they’re working towards, to ask for donations and investors, to learn that process and learn the budgeting side, which really can help with their math skills.

“So I love that part, and then it’s fun. That’s probably the best part is it’s a lot of fun for them so it keeps them motivated through the whole process, and then they feel the success at the end of the day,” she said.

It has been a lot of work, they all acknowledged, about two months of planning and a long night and early morning of squeezing lemons and mixing up 45 gallons of lemonade.

“We were up until midnight because we wanted to pre-make it so we wouldn’t have to be adding and stirring or squeezing today. And then we were up today at 7 a.m. The less we had to do here, the better,” Orlob said.

But it has all been time well spent, she said. Orlob owns and operates a day care, and so it was a special thrill seeing her daughter learn a little about what Orlob does as a businesswoman.

“What we get out of it is seeing her succeed and be friendly and wonderful and social and learn. And as a mom, or just as a woman, to see that is absolutely wonderful,” Orlob said.

She remembers running her own lemonade stand as a kid in the 1980s, though it was nothing as elaborate or well-supported as Lemonade Day.

“It was a card table, putting it out in front of my apartment building and selling Kool-Aid and water,” she said.

It wasn’t always fun or glamorous or easy — more like tedious, at times. But the successes were sweeter than the siren song of giving up.

“I remember one guy, he came up in this Lamborghini — all snazzy — and said, ‘I will take a lemonade.’ And I said, ‘OK, 50 cents.’ And he hands me a 20-dollar bill. And I went, ‘Oh, OK, change for that. All right, hold on a second.’ And he said, ‘No, honey, keep the change.’ I will never forget the feeling that I had, ‘Oh man! I made 20 bucks! I’m rich!’ I was so excited for my daughter to have that feeling, to remember that experience I had as a child,” Orlob said.

That mission was accomplished within the first hour of opening, as people overpaid for their beverages, or just donated when they didn’t feel like taking a treat.

Whatever Nala’s final take for the day would be or how much she would donate to the animal shelter, she clearly was going to retain something more than just monetary evidence of the experience.

“No, not that one,” Nala said, rescuing a single bill from being handed back to a customer in change.

“That’s her first dollar,” Orlob said. “She wants to keep it. She was so excited to get it.”

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