Each year on the first Sunday in May, over 150,000 elementary and middle school kids set up lemonade stands in 31 states for Lemonade Day. The founder of the program, Michael Holthouse, who was named Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year, developed Lemonade Day to help kids learn how to run a business. He had this idea that economic messes could be avoided if kids were taught basic business skills and financial common sense that they can use when they are running the country.
Watching my own kids run their business made realize me how far many salespeople stray from the selling basics that my elementary school kids are learning. Here are a few things I noticed on Lemonade Day:
- Attitude is everything! Early in the day when they were just starting out, my little salespeoples' enthusiasm was catching. Jumping up and down, waving at people, and yelling, “Homemade cookies and lemonade!,” their energy was infectious. People came to look at and buy their product because they were so excited. Sales remained brisk until they started to get tired, hungry and cranky. When they lost enthusiasm, so did their potential customers... and we saw a rapid decline in sales. How often do we approach a prospect, in person or on the phone, without that enthusiasm flowing? And how often does our own lack of enthusiasm contribute to a prospect's lack of interest?
- It’s all about timing! Catching people when they are relaxed and in an open frame of mind always results in better success than when they are rushed. Waiting until people were walking out of the grocery store, shopping done, and offering them a glass of lemonade as a “reward” for getting this chore out of the way, was amazingly successful. Timing your introduction for when people are most receptive increases your chances of a sale. And of course, dangling cookies in front of their young children never hurts either!
- Cause and Effect. My kids learned an important lesson on how weather affects what people want to buy. On a chilly, rainy day, homemade chocolate chip cookies like Mom or Grandma used to make were extremely popular and sold out quickly, while we had a lot of lemonade left over. On a hot, dry day, we ran out of lemonade three times (lucky for them, Mommy ran home and made more) before the end of our three hour selling period, but we had dozens of cookies left over. Sometimes we forget that our buyers are influenced by things that we have no control over, weather, the economy, family issues, etc., and it can change both their interest in buying and how we approach them.
- Ask for Help! It’s amazing how much support you can get by just asking for it. Sure, Mom and Dad have to help with the lemonade stand, but the promotions manager at the local grocery store is good for a $20 gift card, which really helps with expenses, if you just have the courage to ask him. And friends—and especially grandparents—can really help with advertising (or Grandpa building a lemonade stand) if you just ask. Sometimes we forget that sales managers, coworkers and even friends and family can help with ideas and support. But you won’t know unless you work up the courage and ASK.
So many other issues, some that we don’t stop to think about, are being tackled by these pint-sized business people in training: the importance of location, business loans (usually from Mom and Dad, but we are told to charge interest), profit margin (Did you know that you make a lot more money on cookies than on lemonade? Hook them with the lemonade and then push cookies!) and having a reliable supply line. I have seen adult business owners sometimes forget to take these basics into account... and then wonder why their business failed. There's a lot you can learn about improving sales performance from these little lemonade sellers!
Next time you are out shopping on Lemonade Day, look for a local lemonade stand, and ask these tiny salespeople what they are learning. Their answers may shock you. You may find that the adorable little six-year-old in a cute apron may have a better grasp on running a small business than the 40-year-old who just opened up a store or restaurant down the street. Or may have better business sense than the salesperson that you just hired. Hmmm…
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on September 17, 2012, and has been updated.