Making lemonade

I’ve always been a fan of homemade lemonade stands, and all the more so as I get ready to graduate into a recession-year job market. I’m trying to figure out whether this might be a viable money-making option for me, just for the next year or two.

I got the idea over Parents’ Weekend, when my dad and I drove by these two little girls selling pink lemonade and homemade sugar cookies. They were charging only 25 cents per item, so we were able to buy about half their wares for not much at all. My dad handed over a ten dollar bill to see if they’d give us correct change. A little math problem for them, he whispered to me. My dad gets a kick out of things like this. The girls, of course, were flustered. What is this, a pop quiz? After a few minutes of frantic finger-counting and deliberation, they finally gave us a handful of quarters and dimes, within the 50-cent margin of accuracy, more or less.

See, I feel like I could do good business against mathematically challenged competitors like these. They might win in the “youthful cuteness” category, but I would dominate in numerical prowess. “Any size bill accepted, and I will give you correct and prompt change,” I will advertise. That must count for something.

Admittedly, I don’t have too much experience in the lemonade stand realm. When I was little, I made money by charging exorbitant admission to “AMAZINGLY SPECTACULAR Magic Shows,” in which I swished brightly colored scarves to distract my audience as I made household objects disappear. Sadly, the shows were always curtailed before I reached the “Saw Brother in Half” grand finale.

Despite lack of relevant background, I figure that running a successful lemonade stand won’t be beyond the grasp of someone with a liberal arts bachelor’s degree (assuming no major academic disasters in these next few weeks). What’s more, this could be the perfect opportunity to put my psychology major to good use. Fortunately for me, I still have a good grasp on the “Tricks of Persuasion” chapter of Social Psychology.
There’s the norm of reciprocity, where I would give the subjects (er, customers) something small for free so they feel indebted to return the favor and buy my lemonade. Complimentary back massages? Palm readings? I have many options here.

Another persuasion trick is the “foot-in-door” tactic, where I’d get the customer to first comply with something smaller and simpler as a means to pave the way for my actual request. Maybe the first tiny sample cup of lemonade costs only five cents, and after that (“Pretty good, huh?” I’ll remark), the full-sized cup is only 50 cents. So, basically, free.

Of course, I could go for the “door-in-face” approach (I love these names), where I’d start out with an atrociously large request and then lower it to something more reasonable, which would then look spectacular in comparison. “Lemonade: $5,” I’ll write on the sign, but when my customers start to gripe, I’ll pretend to reconsider. “You’re right,” I’ll tell them. “How about 50 cents? That seems better.”

I’m an environmental studies concentrator as well, which holds numerous possibilities for this lemonade stand. I’ll lure customers with my usage of home-grown, organic, pesticide-free, hormone-free lemons (or at least that’s what the sign will say, and I’ll be sure to mix in the CountryTime powder thoroughly). I’ll preach about the value of sustainability and ecological integrity, and my customers will use reusable CUPPS cups – which, as a bonus, would save me the cost of plastic ones. Supporting my stand is, essentially, declaring support for the planet, and I foresee booming lemonade sales.

I’m not the only one preoccupied with ludicrous pecuniary ventures. A friend recently divulged his great plan to sell swine flu face masks with little pig snouts attached. He described the product over dinner, and we all gave him advice on pricing, packaging, advertising and all that important stuff. I offered to create a promotional jingle (equally important).

“These are going to be all the rage,” gushed one friend.

“Just do it quickly,” another friend warned, “before someone steals your idea.”

Too late. That night, my entrepreneurial friend e-mailed us a link to a Japanese Web site he found that already had the mask on the market. There’s nothing like the Internet to crush all your hopes and dreams.
Lemonade stands, though, those are timeless – they can endure the rigors of the technological era, and they only improve through the years. As the weather gets warmer, I imagine that I might set up shop on Paresky Lawn. Just bring your thirst and five dollars. Oh wait, just for you, only 50 cents.

Elissa Brown ’09 is a psychology major from Palo Alto, Calif.