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Roadside Entrepreneurs

September 2004
Roadside Entrepreneurs

I am sure many of us remember our own summer vacations back in India. One of my memories that summarize the classic idyllic pace of those few weeks was that of crafting straws out of paper and glue so I could blow bubbles. The paper would hold up for barely a second in the soapy solution.

The thing about summer vacations here is that they are more than twice the duration and therefore, the creative juices of the kids really start to flow after week number six. The sun was blazing on one such day of week six. The air so humid you could practically slice through it. "How about we sell some froggy floats?" my daughter Varsha asked her best friend, Sara (For the clueless, "froggy floats" are scoops of lime sherbet floating in Sprite topped off with M&M's for eyes). The idea seemed like a terrific one to all concerned. After all, I, the willing victim was available to round up all that they needed. I was led to believe it would be no more than ten dollars worth: lime sherbet, Sprite, M&M's, plastic cups and spoons and napkins. As it turned out, they needed a lot more (bright signboards, markers, etc.) and called off the expanded list while I was at the store. I grumbled a bit but obliged not wanting to crush their newly formed entrepreneurial spirit.

By the time I was back, to my dismay, the little one had also gotten in on the action and decided to setup her own booth down the stall with Sara's sister, Emily. "Mom, mom, mom," Vrunda flagged me down as I was pulling in to the street, "can you please go back and get some lemonade, because that is what we have decided to sell?" When I gave a long elaborate sigh, she decided to spare me and bother Emily's mom, Anna, for the lemonade.

Anna, like me, was only too happy that the girls were out of the house and she happily brought out a jug of visually appealing iced lemonade. In the meantime, Varsha and Sara had been busily working on their poster complete with pictures of froggies and miscellaneous bug-eyed grotesque looking things. I tried to lend them some marketing expertise by sharing that not many people knew what a froggy float was, but they would have none of it. The prices were a bit on the high side too, 75 cents for each froggy float. As expected, competition was stiff with lemonade selling quickly the next driveway over for only a dime. In addition, the little ones were quite the marketing gurus giving away free samples.

The first sign of trouble came when Varsha stomped up the door and borrowed our permanent marker, slashing the price to 50 cents. "There," she said, "that will do it." I felt sorry for the two, the meeker, milder ones, who did not scream out at passersby (unlike their little sisters).

I can't believe I actually did this but I soon started calling the neighborhood kids and bribed them to come and buy those floats. Some soon started sauntering over to grab a froggy float with knowing glances cast at me every two minutes in case I forgot to fill their piggy banks. Soon I had spent fifteen dollars in enticing my neighbors to the stand. Of course, being a mom, one has to be fair so I spent the same amount of money on lemonade being dispensed by my other child.

Nearly twenty dollars later, I was spent but my kids were ecstatic. "Wow, mom," Varsha gushed when she walked in through the door, her pockets bulging with change, "I never knew starting a business could be so rewarding?I think I am ready to begin a franchise." "Oh that's sweet honey," I replied not revealing the secret behind her new-found wealth. I am hoping that the franchise idea does not take off because galvanizing even more neighbors to buy products could turn out to be quite an expensive venture.

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