An EP in the
by Lisa M. Roberts
- Last week, my third child turned six years
old. My husband, Ron, took off from work for his birthday party
and we all had a blast. Sixteen children came through our back
door, as requested, giggling in anticipation (with maybe one
or two stepping very cautiously ahead...)
- The invitations read:
- "It's a
SDRAWKCAB Party! That means everything at Jimmy's party will
be inside out, upside down and basically silly in every way!
Please come wearing something inside out and/or backwards, and
don't forget to come through our BACK door and say 'Good-Bye'
when you first see Jimmy and 'Hello' when it's time to go!"
- The kids didn't know what to
expect, except that it would be different than any other party
they had ever been to. Ron started it off by leading our young
guests in standard children's games with a backwards twist until
everyone had arrived and settled in. Then we decorated visors
that were to be worn upside down for the rest of the party, led
the kids to a playroom set up with a "What's Wrong With
This Picture?" kind of theme (where they had to name at
least five things that were "not right" with the room),
pinned the tail on the donkey's nose, and finally served all
guests a piece of cake and other assorted snacks UNDER the dining
- Why go through all that work?
Ever since our first turned three we've been holding these kind
of theme birthday parties in our home...primarily for the following
- 1) It builds memories that just
couldn't surface at the local bowling alley or roller skating
ring (which is where I finally caved in this year, holding my
son's 9th and my daughter's 12th birthday parties respectively,
with as-expected results).
- 2) It's generally less expensive
than out-of-the-home parties.
- 3) It turns our home into a
really exciting place to be...at least four times a year ;-)
4) It teaches the kids "out of the box" thinking among
their peer groups.
- I've been telling myself that
this last ulterior motive is the driving force behind all the
others. "Out of the box" thinking is what I try to
apply daily in my work for EP and various other projects here
at home. It's what I like to believe sets apart the true "entrepreneurial"
personality from other types, primarily because it's what comes
naturally to me.
- But now I'm starting to wonder
if this is a key ingredient at all. In fact, when I think about
it, creativity takes a backseat to raw salesmanship skills just
about every time. I was recently reminded of this by watching
my son -- the birthday boy himself -- in action...simply doing
what comes naturally to him.
- More than any of his siblings
at this point in time, Jimmy is rip-roaring ahead in the "entrepreneurial"
department. While currently Jessica wants to be a teacher of
some sort, William wants to be a scientist of some sort, and
Thomas (at 3) is way too young to have an inkling -- Jimmy, no
question, is on the sales track. For those of you who read my
book, you may recall that Jimmy was the "brave" one
-- my child who at two years old was fighting off the wolves
in "Beauty & the Beast" with my font ruler whenever
he heard the musical score playing in the house. Jimmy has turned
out to be my most bold, brazen, impulsive and stubborn of all,
with a dynamic, joyful personality that appeals to his peers
and often (not always!) endears his teachers. He, in actuality,
is very unlike the rest of the Roberts clan -- who are fundamentally
introspective/introverted -- albeit creative.
- Enter our first multi-family
tag sale, and Jimmy's first tag sale period. Held a week before
Jimmy's party, it involved seven out of ten families on the block
for two days straight. Before the first morning had ended, an
arrow pointing to our true-blue entrepreneur was flashing neon-like
in our collective minds. My mother was the one who noticed it
- We allowed each of the kids
to have their own spot to sell their wares (old toys and assorted
cast-aside favorites), and maintained a total hands-off policy
so they could do their own thing. William had a make-shift table
set up, while Jessica, Jimmy and even Thomas had their own sheet
they laid down on the ground. Jessica's sheet was well-organized
with each item given "space," labels in neat and clear
view, and a few wares grouped similarly together. William, who
has the makings of an absent-minded professor if I ever saw one,
was in total disarray much of the time -- his toys still half
in boxes hours into the sale, and the ones up on the table set
up with no particular rhyme or reason. And Thomas' sheet was
basically just a place for him to sit down, wrinkle up and feel
- In contrast to all, Jimmy --
my backwards/upside-down/basically-silly-in-every-way boy --
was in total control. He took a few of his old games and laid
them out, evenly-spaced, in the center of his sheet. Then he
took all the toy vehicles he could muster up -- mostly hot wheel
cars but also trains, trucks, planes and boats -- and lined them
up systematically in and around the centerpiece toys, as if they
were going somewhere...as if in action already. He then grabbed
the infant car seat we were selling, pulled it near his sheet
and promptly sat down in it, with his feet in mid-air and his
set-up proudly beside him. When our first customer came, he was
- The woman and her two-year old
son strolled slowly up our driveway. Eyes fixed directly on the
purse-holding mom, Jimmy declared from his seat, "CARS!!
CARS!! We got Cars!" It wasn't shouting, just clear and
firm vocalization. When he watched them pass by and head towards
the table where William sat quietly at attention, he tried a
different tactic. He too grew quiet...then got up and started
working on the two-year old.
- "Would you like a car?"
he asked gently, leading the child back to his sheet. "What
kind do you like? This one?" and Jimmy picked up a standard
hot wheel car. "This one?" he started flying the toy
airplane to demonstrate. Then he saw the boy touch a little fire
engine. "Oh, that one!" Jimmy smiled. By the time his
mom was done checking things out, the little boy was attached.
Jimmy made his first sale -- 20 cents! He clanged the coins in
his cup in triumph.
- It didn't take very long at
all until Jimmy's sales tactics got a bit too sophisticated for
his own good. Later on that very day, he took a walk to the other
tag sales on the block, bought a toy truck with the dollar he
had earned, and placed it on his sheet with no tag. A half-hour
later, he had sold it for THREE dollars. My mother was in stitches.
- At the end of the second day,
when we all had had enough of the hot, hot weather and the general
disarray that tag sales command, we started to move all unsold
items towards the street with the intent of putting a FREE sign
up for takers. Jimmy was disturbed at the thought, so I made
him a deal. If he sat there to "man" the merchandise,
he could sell any item for a quarter to any other stragglers
who came by.
- Hours passed and Jimmy was still
out there, shouting at the cars passing, "Everything's a
QUARTER! Twenty-five cents for everything but the house...or
the car!" Finally, a neighbor came by and took several of
the remaining baby items for an expectant niece, and poured all
kinds of change into Jimmy's cup.
- To sum it up, in one day my
just-turning six-year old was able to accomplish what I have
not in eleven years of entrepreneurship. He won a customer over
not with a quality product but with a smooth sales presentation.
He earned a tip that surpassed total sales. And he sold an item
three times its cost. Now while I'm not condoning or endorsing
my son's particular sales style, there's no denying that he's
got the knack, if you know what I mean.
- Meanwhile, I'm left with the
burning question. Will the real Entrepreneur in this household
please stand up?
- Lisa Roberts is the mother of four,
owner of The
Entrepreneurial Parent, LLC and the author of How to Raise A Family &
A Career Under One Roof: A Parent's Guide to Home Business
(Bookhaven Press, 1997). Copies of her book are available for
purchase at EP