Maine squeeze: Lemonade Day aims to juice up kids' taste for business

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Lemonade stands are a childhood fixture in America.

Driven either by boredom or an entrepreneurial spirit, children for decades have been mixing and selling batches of the sweet drink from makeshift roadside stands.

Now there is an effort underway in central and southern Maine to use lemonade stands to teach children how to run profitable and sustainable businesses. The goal is to recruit more than a 1,000 children, mostly from low-income homes, to open lemonade stands on June 5 for Lemonade Day Maine.

“I’m going to be statewide with this by 2015,” said Kate Gooding, executive director of Lemonade Day Maine.

Lemonade Day Maine is an offshoot of National Lemonade Day, which started in Houston Texas in 2007. The May 1 event drew 2,600 kids in its first year and in 2008 grew to about 11,000 kids as more towns joined in.

When it expanded to Austin, Texas, and Wayne County, Indiana, in 2009, 31,000 kids got involved. And last year, the nationwide event drew more than 66,000 children.

Gooding, who publishes cookbooks, said she had always wanted to work on a project with her husband, Don Gooding, who is also an entrepreneur.

Don Gooding, executive director of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, discovered National Lemonade Day online. The Goodings were hooked on the concept after they talked with Julie Eberly, spokesperson for Prepared 4 Life, the nonprofit that founded National Lemonade Day.

Don Gooding, 52, said that many successful entrepreneurs started coming up with money-making schemes, including lemonade stands, at an early age.

“Very often there is a common thread that when they were young they had their own business,” he said.

Kate Gooding, 56, said she remembers selling Kool-Aid as a kid. “I think I made enough to take my sister to the movies,” she said.

The Goodings said kids who participate will learn all aspects of starting and operating a profitable and sustainable business.

They’ll start with product development, making and testing different lemonade recipes. Then, they’ll figure out how much each cup of lemonade costs to make, including the cost of the cup, and come up with a marketing strategy.

Last week, the couple and business and marketing students from the University of Southern Maine were recruiting kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine, Portland, Sagamore and Lewiston-Auburn.

Don Gooding told the kids at the South Portland club about how his daughter only sold $10 in lemonade when she dressed in normal clothes. But when she put on a chef’s hat and jumped up and down to get attention, she made $75.

“Little things like that can help,” he told the attentive kids. “People don’t just want to buy lemonade; they want to talk to you.”

Kids are also directed to find investors and other people to donate supplies to build their lemonade stands.

The effort has attracted the attention – and $25,000 in financing – from Bangor Savings Bank.

Carol Colson, the bank’s senior vice president and director of community development and communication, said the project seemed like a fun and exciting way to teach children about starting and running a business.

Colson said the bank invests about $1.3 million a year in community programs and was drawn to the lemonade stand idea because it’s educational and encourages kids to donate a portion of their sales to a charity.

“It’s just such a cute idea,” Colson said. “I can just picture it becoming much bigger than just greater Portland. If it works well, we’d like to take it to other parts of the state.”

The Goodings have a slate of recruiting events scheduled over the next several months, including events at local schools, sports events and a week’s worth of events at Bangor Savings’ branches in greater Portland.

In South Portland, the kids were divided into three groups and immediately began working on an “idea cactus.” They were asked to name a sport, a color and a children’s toy, each of which was placed on a cactus branch drawn on a large piece of paper.

Then they were then asked to shout out words that came to mind for each category, an exercise that escalated into an organized moment of creative chaos.

Don Gooding directed the kids to then find ways to apply those words and ideas to either the making or marketing of their lemonade.

Following that exercise, each child wrote down their best idea on a paper airplane. As Gooding counted from three, the kids threw their planes across the room, where they were picked up by another child, who then added to that idea.

Gooding said the technique is used in the budding field of innovation engineering technology, which was founded by University of Maine alumni Doug Hall.

“There’s a lot of playfulness” in innovation engineering, Gooding said. “So we thought, let’s use that playfulness on human beings who are still good at being playful.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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University of Southern Maine juniors Nevin Duffy, left, and Patric Brophy help kids at the Boys & Girls Club in South Portland complete an “idea cactus” to help them plan lemonade stands for National Lemonade Day.

Kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland, South Portland, Sagamore and Lewiston-Auburn launch a fleet of paper airplanes in South Portland last week as part of a brainstorming exercise for Lemonade Day Maine, taking place on June 5.

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