Just one thing stood between content marketer Ann Handley and a blissful week of reading at the beach on the coast of Maine: kids.
So when her “tween” daughter asked permission to set up a lemonade stand with a few of her friends, Handley couldn’t say “yes” fast enough—hardly realizing that she’d just signed on for that most classic of small business seminars: Lemonade Stand 101. The lessons they learned can easily be applied to your self-storage business.
“As it evolved, it almost became like a family business,” recalled Handley, chief content officer at Boston-based MarketingProfs. “They’d ask to go to the store for ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies (they bombed) or real lemons because the powdered stuff didn’t work out (genius). I felt very pulled into it.”
‘Last stop before the beach!’
There would be no Charlie Brown-style sit-behind-the-counter passiveness for these eager entrepreneurs.
“They had this multipronged marketing effort that involved outdoor fliers on telephone poles and bulletin boards throughout this tiny town. They even had a broadcast component: a kid who rode around on his bike shouting, ‘Lemonade!’” Handley recalled with a chuckle.
The kids not only hightailed it to the beach after initially setting up across from the only soda shop in town, but they instinctively knew how to optimize their new location.
“Their slogan, ‘Last stop before the beach!’ was really brilliant because it’s from the customer’s point of view, telling them what’s in it for them,” Handley said. “That’s Marketing 101. They got that immediately.”
The tweens even managed to bridge the language barrier with their French-Canadian customers, thanks to a team member who spoke French.
“They had ‘hello’ written on their sign in two languages, and they would wait for the customer to say hello first to figure out who was going to communicate with them,” Handley recalled.
Learning from lemonade
The Handleys returned home to Boston with seven lessons every self-storage operator would be wise to incorporate:
1. Select a good location (or the make the most of the one you have): The old real estate mantra, “Location, location, location” holds true for lemonade stands as well as storage facilities.
2. Develop an integrated marketing plan: Coordinate print, billboard, broadcast, online and face-to-face opportunities to maximize your marketing.
3. Don’t dilute your brand with irrelevant products: Nobody wants to be served a chocolate chip cookie with a cup of lemonade.
4. Speak your customer’s language: This applies to both the literal and figurative sense of the phrase.
5. Sell from the customer’s perspective: Oh, no! Last stand before the beach! Lemonade time!
6. Offer the best product possible: Customers will balk if you switch to a powdered mix.
7. Keep it human: No one wants to deal with a sales robot.
Diane Helbig, author of “Lemonade Stand Selling” as well as a radio host and business consultant with Seize This Day Coaching in Lakewood, OH, said the joys of human interaction that are so readily apparent at a lemonade stand drive most businesses at some level.
“An adult running a lemonade stand would say customers buy their lemonade because they’re thirsty, when a kid knows they buy the lemonade because they want to help a neighborhood kid,” she said.
Helbig’s key takeaway from a lemonade stand? Build those community relationships in the same way kids do—without regard for future sales.
“Kids don’t do it for the money; they do it because it’s fun,” she said. “When adults chase money, they don’t get it, because everyone knows they’re all about the vendor, not the customer. When they wake up and do it because they enjoy it, then the money comes. You end up getting what you need when you’re helping other people get what they need. Like storage.”
Helbig had to look no further than her two children for proof that community relationships beat the hard sell every time.
“When my daughter set up her stand, her older brother said, ‘You should charge 10 cents a cup,’ and she said, ‘Nope, I’m charging 2 cents.’ He looked at her and said, ‘You’re insane.’ But she came home with $15. People just kept giving her a dollar bill and saying, ‘Keep the change,’” Helbig recalled.
The lore of the lemonade stand has become so great that the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota now offers an undergraduate class focusing on the entrepreneurship of lemonade stands.
“In the class, students are required to start a business and reach revenue by the end of the semester,” said Jay Ebben, an associate professor who helps teach the course. “The biggest thing students take away from the project is an understanding the importance of value proposition and execution. Until you try to sell something to someone, it is difficult to have a true appreciation for this.”
Handley said there’s one additional lesson all adults can learn from her daughter’s beachfront business.
“Adults? We’d talk about it. Kids? They’re doers,” she said. “Instead of just talking about, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be fun if’ or ‘You know what we should do,’ they just did it. I was really impressed by that.”
Photo of Ann Handley courtesy of impactbnd.com; photo of Diane Helbig courtesy of Lakewood Patch; photo of Jay Ebben courtesy of startaj.si
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