SHERIDAN — They can’t drive or vote, but that isn’t stopping several Sheridan youths from doing business at the Sheridan Farmers Market and Third Thursday street festivals this summer.
Whether baking, knitting, weaving or shining shoes, they are learning how to manage inventory, establish pricing, cooperate with business partners and put their products and services before the discerning eyes and pocketbooks of the public.
“You don’t want to mess up in front of that many people or have stuff in your cookies that shouldn’t be there or have them be bitter because you didn’t get the measurements right,” Brenna Hauf said.
The 14-year-old opened Little Luxuries with her friend Maggie Maixner, 15, at a farmers market earlier this year. The two wanted to go into business and earn money together on a more regular basis than the occasional babysitting job afforded.
One weekend, they baked treats for their church youth group, and their business idea was born.
“Everybody was raving about how these gourmet goodies were so good, so we decided to try it and do the farmers market,” Hauf said.
They bought their ingredients in bulk, splitting the cost, and baked for two days to prepare for market.
They didn’t need to worry about the quality of their little luxuries. The caramel bars, chocolate poke cake cupcakes and meringues sold like proverbial hotcakes. The cream puffs, Hauf said, will be removed from their inventory because they had the lowest sales.
When youth set up shop at local markets, they have the chance to learn such business sense — even if it must be learned the hard way.
Last year, the Willsons started selling goods out of a friend’s booth before opening their own — Wild West Woods & Goods — at the end of the summer. Even though April and Jon Willson, and their daughters, Eliza and Lorena, were in the business together, they learned sales weren’t always equal.
“I had trouble last year because I wasn’t making any money and she [Lorena] was making a ton of money, so that was annoying. But this year has been good,” Eliza Willson said.
The trick, April Willson said, was figuring out that cookies took more time than they were worth for Eliza. She changed to muffins and began making knitted wash cloths to sell. Lorena makes chocolate chip cookies; April bakes bread and Jon carves wooden spoons, enjoying the chance to demonstrate his work at the market.
The Willsons figured out how much it costs to make each batch of cookies, muffins and bread. That amount is deducted from each night’s profits. Each family member also contributes 20 percent of their earnings to a “farm fund” that is used to pay space rental and purchase needed items like tables or new chickens. On market day, the work starts early. Eliza Willson is up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. to get her muffins out of the oven before her mom needs it for her bread. The sisters also help weed, water and harvest the garden and care for the chickens and ducks.
“Learning how to do a small business is really interesting and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it this summer,” Lorena Willson said.
Sometimes business for a kid begins with helping mom and dad and blossoms into something more.
Maria Foster, 12, has been at her mom’s side at farmers markets and craft bazaars since she was 5 months old. Mariann Foster owns Big Horn Mountain Alpacas. She spins alpaca wool and crafts a variety of products from the fur of alpacas she raises on her farm near Parkman.
While Maria Foster used to ride on her mom’s hip at market, she now helps feed and sheer the animals, craft the items and has even started to sell woven hot pads and felt cat toys that she makes on her own. The hot pads are vibrantly colorful, and she gives each a name. Maria Foster enjoys everything about doing farmers markets, she said, and is particularly skilled at organizing items and saving her earnings.
“We’re a team,” Mariann Foster said. “I couldn’t do it without her. It’s our life.”