Learning by Doing: Manning a Table at a Local Artisan Fair

My 8-year-old manning his booth at the artisan fair.

Last year, my elder son made a family friend a series of four bead ornaments depicting the life-cycle of a caterpillar (an egg, a caterpillar, a chrysalis, and a butterfly).  She loved them, and suggested that he start a business selling them.  My then 7-year-old leaped on this idea and began to make ornaments to sell.


The problem arose when we couldn’t find a venue through which he could sell them.  We tried contacting our local farmer’s market, but the cost for a booth for a week was more than my son was likely to make, and they didn’t have an exception for kids.  We tried our city’s small business development center.  They had a great program for teens, but nothing for younger kids.  Strike two.


But my son kept asking people.  This, in and of itself, was a lesson in persistence and how to search out the right opportunity.  Then one day a couple months ago, his art teacher responded with a prospect geared directly at kids: a local handmade art fair was going to have a special section for junior artisans in addition to its normal adult-artisan offerings.


Now that we had found a possible venue, the next step was to fill out and file an application.  This forced my 8-year-old to articulate a basic business plan, which was another great learning experience.  He had to state what he was going to sell and how he was going to price his goods.  He also had to explain why he wanted to sell at the fair, as well as where he found the inspiration for his art.  It was an online application, so I helped him type everything into the computer, but the words were all his.  His responses were earnest and direct: “I want to sell art to make money, because there are things I want to buy and I only get $2 a week for an allowance,” “I’m selling my ornaments for $3 each or 2 for $5 because I’m hoping the discount will make people buy two,” and so on.


Then came the preparations for the fair itself.  While we helped him gather some necessary supplies (he and I looked together through my scrap fabric and found a piece of black velour to cover the table), he did almost everything himself.  He decided to add woven baskets and organic skin salve to his product line in order to “sell to more people, who might not want ornaments.”  He made his own sign.  He thought about his display.  And with each decision, he learned a little bit more about running a small business.


Finally, the weekend of the show arrived.  After weeks of preparation, it was time to sell his creations.  We discussed as we went along that his things might sell really well, or they might not sell at all.  We would just have to see.  I knew that he would learn a lot either way, but I also know that some lessons are more difficult to learn than others.


He worked hard all weekend.  He learned to make eye contact with people who were browsing his booth, to say hello to those walking past, and certain basic etiquette such as: you should stop eating when someone wants to talk with you about your art (just because it’s lunch time, doesn’t mean you can eat while selling something!).  I watched his confidence grow throughout the weekend.  And while talking with strangers was still unnerving at times, he improved in his salesmanship and general social interactions with unknown people.  That aspect alone was worth spending two days outside in 95-degree heat.


Then, there was the money he made.  He’s good at counting and calculating dollar amounts, but it was good practice for him to count change back to people.  And by the end of the weekend, he had grossed over $100.  We spoke with him, as we always do when we discuss money, about the importance of paying himself first.  So he first calculated and then deposited 25% of his earnings into his bank account.  Then, he had the rest to spend as he pleased.


What he’ll spend it on, is still to be determined.  He hasn’t decided yet, though he’s floated several possibilities.  And, of course, that provides yet another opportunity to learn.  It’s not often that he has such a large sum of money at his immediate disposal.


This was such a great learning opportunity for my child.  I had a friend tell me, “I would pay my child $100 of my money so I would not have to sit outside in the 95+ degree heat all weekend.”  This was not a relaxing weekend for me, but I think that figuring out whether you want to spend your life working outside at a festival in all weather is part of the learning process.  If your child has the interest, I highly recommend seeking out a similar event in which your kid can participate.  Even my 4-year-old is excited by the prospect.  And, if they continue the same program, next year he’ll be old enough to have a table of his own.  Both of my boys are already making plans.  I love it.



How do you encourage entrepreneurship in your children?

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