Every now and again you hear about police of health inspectors shutting down lemonaid stands. Conservatives like to point to this as a case of regulation gone amuck. The former libertarian in me agrees wholeheartedly, enthusiastic for bottom-up business in general, whether a taco truck or shrimp sold out of the back of a GMC Jimmy. On the other hand, people like to know where their food is coming from, that it has been safely handled, and so on. And I get that, too.
But what I really think of when I read stories like this is: lemonaid stands suck. I mean, the whole point of it is to give kids a chance at learning about business and making a little bit of money and all that. But seriously, lemonaid stands suck. You typically end up making less than minimum wage. And in the south, you’re burning up while doing so (probably anywhere else, since you typically sell lemonaid in hot weather). So the lesson you learn is that hard work is for chumps. Which of course, may be a valuable lesson in itself, I suppose. But it’s not the lesson that the parents are trying to teach.
Of course, our kids are being taught salesmanship in any event, if they belong to the scouts, a sports team, a band, or pretty much any organization that needs fundraisers. As Bill Engvall says, we’re raising a generation of Amway salesmen. Except Amway products have more value than what you’re charged to sell, and you’re allowed to develop your own markets (more on this later). It started off with candy bars, which was ingenious because we would want to eat them all. And spoiled parents would let their kids do just that (mine wouldn’t). I suspect that the problem here came to be that the candy bars would melt, parents wouldn’t want to pay for them, and the company didn’t want them back. So they shifted to beef jerky, which was actually kind of cool. I loved (and love!) beef jerky and I would use my lunch or paper-route money to buy them. You can imagine my irritation one year when, after I was done, Dad bought the rest of them for me. “Now you’re going to be generous? The year I already bought half of them?” I wonder if he just had a spurt of generosity, or if he was impressed at my salesmanship (not knowing who my primary customer was). The primary problem with the beef jerky was that you didn’t have your own market. Suddenly everybody on the little league team was selling beef jerky at once. So the people that don’t want to buy it just say that tbey bought it from somebody else, and those that do want it have to choose who they’re going to buy it from. It becomes a popularity contest. Which, come to think of it, may be a valuable lesson in itself.
The last few years they moved on to something really, really worthless. Mail-order meals. Because everybody wants nachos sent to them by some company in Des Moines. It saves us from the hazard of having to handle this food. But how do you sell nachos with 6-8 weeks of delivery time? You don’t. And you begin to hate the sales process. And capitalism. Which, come to think of it, may be…