Lemonade Stands: Not Much Has Changed


It’s lemonade stand weather!

Do you remember this first foray into entrepreneurship? The excitement of lettering the signs? The solemn importance of making the lemonade? The prospect of being handed money by complete strangers? Dreaming of all the things you were going to buy with the money?

Never mind that mom just wanted you out of the house and dad was hoping for some sort of understanding on your part of what it takes to make an honest buck — you were in business!

There’s a flurry of activity setting up the stand, of course. Trucking the signs and the cups out to the sidewalk in your wagon with mom marching behind, lugging a card table and a pitcher containing what amounts to your entire inventory. Getting final advice from dad: “Don’t drink up all your profits!” And finally, finally settling down behind the table to serve your flood of customers.

There was no flood, of course. Mom had bought a cupful before she headed back to the house, and you, claiming some form of quality assurance, had a cup (and so had your sister), but mostly it was just a lot of sitting under the trees and waiting.

As the minutes inched slowly by, desperation set in, and you decided to do some marketing. You grabbed your sign and stepped out to the curb in an effort to flag down passing motorists with the frantic announcement “LEMONADE!” at the top of your lungs. You hadn’t realized cars moved so fast.

Then, perhaps because mom was in the house making phone calls on your behalf, a neighbor would stop by and casually ask, “How much?” The elation! The unmitigated joy! The plan was actually working!

As with any business, pricing is an art. You want to make as much money as possible without turning people off. So, prices on lemonade traditionally range from 25 cents to a dollar. The occasional youngster will upset their older sibling with the proud answer, “Nothin’!” — which generally results in a small altercation and a revised price.

I remember a thirsty telephone lineman giving me a whole dollar when I was only charging 50 cents. I poured him free refills until he begged me to stop, but the unfounded generosity of that act has stayed with me my whole life.

My grandkids, ages 5 and 3, set up a stand last weekend. Amazingly, the stand was immediately flooded by customers. I can only credit showmanship. Instead of holding up the lemonade sign and yelling, the 3-year-old had launched into a song she has been rehearsing for a school play. “A-mer-i-ca, A-mer-i-ca, you mean the world to meeeee; A-mer-i-ca, A-mer-i-ca, from sea to shining sea!” Aaaaand, a bow.

After the applause subsided, I was their first customer. “How much?” I asked.

“A dollar,” the 5-year-old answered.

“Now remember, Skippy,” his mother said. “You have to share that money with your sister.”

He paused only briefly, then turned to me and said, “Two dollars.”