Sunday, June 8, 2008

Charitable entrepreneurship

I knew this was coming. For years, beleaguered parents had come to work with boxes of charity chocolates that their children had committed to sell. It was usually good value and if placed well in the workplace could be sold quickly. But it was clearly a chore and I suspected many other parents just stocked up themselves. Last week, our 9 year old daughter came back from Taekwondo with 2 boxes (96 bars) to sell. The cause was to help send one of their club's members to the 2008 Olympics.

We had some time so rather than foist the chocolates on my work colleagues, I encouraged my daughter to think about how she might sell them. Instantly, she came up with the idea of setting up shop right outside of the movie theatre. Then surely customers would buy from her rather than the expensive offerings in door.

It was an excellent thought but I figured that this was just the sort of thing that might cause a spot of bother -- perhaps with the authorities.

Her next idea was to ring the father of one of her school friend's who, as it happened, ran a chain of chocolate shops. She would ask his advice. He suggested door-to-door selling. I, on the other hand, decided I'd rather take the 'work option' than supervise that activity.

So I restricted any opening to 'right outside our house.' I also pointed out that being across from a park, she would face little competition in the overall food market.

To organise herself I suggested that she think of this like a task from The Apprentice. Our family watches this regularly and our daughter is a big fan. I figured this would be a good opportunity to put all of the wisdom she has learned from Donald Trump to the test. She quickly anointed herself as project manager and put her younger brother to work on signage. He is easily the expert on the computer and they wanted a professional look. They must have put a day of work on the sign and you can see the result. (This idea to profess a love for chocolate was her brother's idea.)

Now you might also notice the pricing policy. The club had instructed a price of $1 per bar. But I suggested that perhaps she should think about pricing -- remember The Apprentice. She decided that to move greater volume, she needed a discount for quantity. But she figured that it couldn't be below $1 per bar or she would be losing money. So she decided to jack to price of single bars up to $1.50. "That way, if you buy a second bar you think you are getting it for 50 cents. A bargain," she explained. Sounded like an excellent plan to me.

It was Sunday afternoon by the time all this had been worked out. It was cold outside and 4pm. She desperately wanted to try the shop out and so I, figured, why not. If there aren't any customers, there aren't any. There will be other days.

Now it is true that there are very few people walking past our house of a Sunday afternoon. But everyone who passed and had money, bought a couple of bars. I think it was the effort of the signage that did the trick.

But there was more. There were cars stopping and eager customers picking up bars for the kids. Suffice it to say, there may have been low traffic but her conversion rate would have impressed Donald Trump immensely. By 5pm, when I decided it was too cold to stay out longer, she had sold 34 bars. The next day, she was out earlier, at 3pm, and is doing reasonable business despite the public holiday, even colder day and occasional rain. She even sold a few at $1.50!

So much to my surprise, there appears to be a retail opportunity right outside our door. No need to go door-to-door. And my guess is that in a few short hours my work colleagues will be safe.