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An EP in the Making

© 1999, 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 room table.
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 reasons:
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 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 first.
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 justified in.
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 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 ready.
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 and through Amazon.

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