Archive for April, 2006

When the Cherry Trees Bloom, A Little Economy Booms

Published: Saturday, April 8, 2006 

By Ylan Q. Mui Washington Post Staff Writer

Six-year-old Scotty Lefkowitz and his big sister, Gwen, 11, had all the makings for a perfect lemonade stand. Until their neighbors came along.

The siblings had set up a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies, fresh strawberries and a cold pitcher of lemonade on a table underneath the cherry blossoms in front of their home in the tony Kenwood neighborhood of Bethesda. Their laminated signs flapped in the warm spring breeze: $1 for lemonade.

But a few houses down Dorset Avenue, the neighbors were selling for just 25 cents a cup, undercutting them by a whopping 75 percent. So Scotty and Gwen quickly rethought their business strategy — they would advertise their bigger cups and offer free refills.

“Last year we were rookies,” Gwen explained. “Now we’re kind of experienced.”

Such are the economics of the lemonade stand. Every year when the cherry blossoms peak, the normally peaceful subdivision is thronged with visitors who come to see the snowy blooms on the 1,200 Japanese Yoshino trees that line these streets. And every year, the children of Kenwood milk it for all it’s worth.

“It teaches them commerce, and it teaches them a lot about being resourceful,” said Scotty and Gwen’s mother, Lori. “They get into it because it’s their little enterprise.”

Lemonade stands, those emblems of the lazy, warm afternoons of childhood, first went up in Kenwood around 1955. Ruthanna Swann Weber, who at 90 is the oldest resident of the neighborhood, remembers her son, who was about 7 at the time, dragging the porch furniture out to the street and selling lemonade for 5 cents along with other neighborhood children. Eventually, the kids raised the price to 10 cents. They had learned about inflation.

Now, half a century later, when children carry cellphones and credit cards, the lemonade stand has evolved. Chocolate chip cookies and cold lemonade sell as well as ever, but kids now expand their product line to include coffee for caffeine-addled adults, healthy low-carb snacks and even on-site digital photography.

More than a dozen stands were up and running last weekend, and, depending on the blossoms, they could very well be back again this weekend. The business is strictly seasonal.

The prime real estate is the grassy circle in the middle of the neighborhood and the main streets that shoot off it. Sometimes, children set up stands less than 10 feet from each other. Each works a different game.

One touts “really, really addictive” butterscotch-and-wonton-noodle concoctions. Another sells pink breast cancer awareness bracelets and pink lemonade. And one boasts of “10 years of rich Kenwood tradition.”

Charles J. Sophy, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist, said children today are much more financially savvy than the generation before them. Parents increasingly are teaching kids how to manage money, and many children are exposed to finance earlier in life. Marketing consultant Gary Rudman said it’s all part of a larger movement that he calls the “mock maturity” of youth.

“They’re just that much more connected and aware of the world out there,” he said.

In Kenwood, the lemonade market has been so tight that in 1968, the neighborhood Junior Activities Committee considered creating a “central cherry blossom refreshment booth” to cut down on competition, according to committee documents. The recommendation was never passed.

“This is like a kid’s dream,” said Kenwood resident Gail Steckler, whose four children are lemonade stand veterans.

The basic principles have not changed much over the years. Lemonade is a staple, of course. Chocolate chip cookies are the most popular. And anything homemade is a sure-fire winner. 
That’s a lesson the Gellers learned this year. Eric, 14, and his sister Lisa, 12, opened for business last Saturday morning with store-bought cookies studded with M&Ms along with a batch of gooey chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven and peanut butter cookies that their grandmother made. All the homemade goodies sold out.

The kids, who donate their proceeds to Children’s Hospital, had planned carefully. Eric analyzed traffic patterns to determine the best location (between two cherry trees on their front lawn.) They provided free dog bones and water to lure customers. And they advertised “car-side service,” delivering right up to car windows, much like a drive-through Starbucks.

“We actually caused a traffic jam once, I think,” Eric said.

Amid the intense competition, some stands have embarked on strategic mergers. Two years ago, 14-year-old Ian Steckler and his sister Hannah, 16, decided to join forces with some neighbors across the street. It worked well, except that operators of another rival stand kept running over and yelling “Lemonade!” to distract their customers.

Still, the best tactic of all, Ian said, is simply “being cute.”

“We’re getting a little old,” the teen said.

So this year, his adopted siblings Annie, 9, and Jackson, 8, took over the stand. Parents Gail and Steve Steckler adopted them from Russia last year, and they hope the stand will teach them a little bit about America — and hopefully some basic math, as well.

“They’re taking over the family business,” Steve Steckler said.

The Lulli siblings truly have an entrepreneurial spirit. They set up a professional Italian ice stand in the middle of the neighborhood — and they don’t even live in Kenwood.

Fifteen-year-old Sebastian Lulli and his sisters Cristina, 12, and Carolina, 11, used to live in Somerset, a neighboring community, but now they call Rockville home. Sebastian said he bought the $4,000 Italian ice machine with his older brother, Miguel, last year with money they had saved from summer jobs. Along with Kenwood, the siblings plan to hit local pools and parks.

At the Lefkowitzes’ on Saturday afternoon, Scotty and Gwen tallied the day’s earnings so far: $95. An old cigar box served as the till. The sun was still shining brightly, and the customers kept coming.

Now the only problem was that Scotty couldn’t seem to resist the merchandise.

“I’m going to eat one of my cookies,” he said matter-of-factly, then plucked one from the display.

He ate his fill, then returned to the business at hand. Mouth covered in chocolate, he bounced up and down in front of the stand and called out to passersby:

“Hi, are you guys interested in some lemonade?”

‘Cool’ can change in IM instant for teens

Published: Saturday April. 08, 2006


Special to the Star-Telegram

“Dad, I want IMMMMMMMMMM!”

The note was from my 11-year old daughter, via e-mail, sent from her mom’s laptop in the next room. It’s how the modern family communicates.

Not really, but Samantha knew it was a sure way to get my attention and get me working on it. Things sent by e-mail get done, just as surely as putting a grocery item on the refrigerator marker board means it will get purchased on the next trip to the store.

IM stands for Instant Messaging, and it’s been around since the ’70s, when co-workers at enlightened businesses would communicate from office to office on their PCs — most likely run by floppy discs, the truly floppy kind. Remember them?

But now IM has broken out of the workspace and into the home, and I’m just a little late coming to this party because there are some 250 million IM users online, and I’m not one of them. I guess I missed the memo.

But Samantha got it, and in most homes IM is a generational thing, like MySpace and DreamLife; naturally it’s the kids that get hip to any innovation before the geezers in the house.

The only thing I knew for sure about IM was that some kids use it, in their parents’ opinions, too much. Kids can spend hours at the PC e-mailing their classmates and friends and getting instant responses in very conversational language. Conversational because IM truly is instant. The second you end your typing the other person has it, along with any goofy graphics, emoticons and photos you want to send.

So, in my mind, IM was just a modern version of the princess phone that my sister spent hours on every night talking with her girlfriends about boys, tying up the house’s single phone line — with no busy-signal answering service — from after dinner to bedtime (and, secretly, beyond bedtime).

But it turns out, the princess phone analogy is not exactly accurate. Let’s bring in the expert.

“IM doesn’t replace the telephone or cellphone,” says Gary Rudman, president and founder of GTR Consulting in San Francisco. His new yearlong study of 100 “trend-setting teens” ages 14 to 18 came out Monday in a book called The gTrend Report.

“IM is a way of continuing a conversation while doing other activities — like talking on the phone or playing video games or watching TV or maybe even hopefully doing their homework — maybe all at the same time.”

Rudman points out that teens no longer set trends — electronic devices do.

“Teens are forced to adopt, adapt and then advance,” he says. “They have to adopt whatever the thing is, adapt to it as fast as they can and then advance because the next thing is coming out and changing their world instantly.”

He calls them “the Flux Generation.” “They can never settle down and be happy with what they have; there’s always something new just around the corner,” he says.

And it’s not just “something,” it’s more than likely to be “somethings.” And new devices don’t always replace the current ones; they just get added to the pile. And that has consequences.

“IM is part of what we call a ‘brain blur,’ the idea that teens are rarely able to commit fully to any one of these activities,” says Rudman. “They have difficulty focusing on one task alone. Each new device that comes out that requires teens to manage another input increases the fragmentation of their brain’s ‘bandwidth.’ It’s kind of stressful.

“Right now you have the computer, the push-talk cellphone as well as the normal cellphone, you have the SideKick, you have the home phone, you have instant messages, e-mail, pagers, online communities, blogs, message boards and so on. And they’re trying to manage all this and be up to the minute and it’s so extraordinarily difficult and it becomes very, very stressful.”

But just try to take one of those devices away from someone who has adopted and adapted — now that causes stress. “If you go to bed before 2 a.m. and something happens after that, you’re out of the loop the next day at school,” Rudman says. “It’s changed the nature of teen development and social interaction.”

But you can’t explain this to the kids. You can try, but they won’t understand. “Teens just see this as the way things are,” he says. “They are used to the idea that new technology and communication devices are coming all the time. And they’re usually things they must have almost instantly. Look at the iPod. It was a generation before everyone had the television; it was months before everybody had the iPod. And then a month later, a new one came out.”

Is there a possibility that someone somewhere will say enough is enough, that the brain bandwidth is overloaded, that the inputs are all connected to something and there are no outlets for anything new? Can there be a backlash against all this rushing technology?

“Marketers could offer ways to unplug, but it’s got to be very safe in terms of social acceptability,” says Rudman. Not safe as in not dangerous, but a safe bet for companies looking for a niche. “It’s a balancing act. If they can give teens a way of unplugging, they have to be careful how they do it.”

In other words, it has to be cool.

Postscript: Samantha now has two IM accounts, at Yahoo! and AOL’s free AIM. Details another day as soon as she figures out which friends have compatible services.

Weekend Techie Buzz McClain writes for Video Business magazine.

Out of the Box: The Techno-Flux Effect

By Gary Rudman

Edited by Becky Ebenkamp

In an environment of accelerated change, where the evolution of technology has become the primary force behind pop culture, teen life is shifting faster today than at any other time in history.

Modern technology is reprogramming today’s teenagers, who grew up playing with integrated circuits alongside their Legos. The pace at which new must-have technologies are being introduced into popular culture demands that teens upgrade their personal operating systems at a breakneck pace. Read More