#ThingsRFLtaughtMe post 1 of 4 --The Lemonade Stand
Updated: Jun 27, 2022
Happy first day of Black History/Black Futures month!
My father, Reginald F Lewis, was an icon and trailblazer, the first African American man to build a multibillion dollar business. In honor of his memory, I will post some of my writing each Tuesday of this month about what it was like to grow up with him as a dad. For those of you who haven't yet read his book, Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun, please check it out, it's a classic! and for those who have, these writings could round out your vision of him. Here's some of what RFL taught me.
The Lemonade Stand
We lived on West 22nd Street between 8th and 9th in New York City, in what my father called a ‘brownstone’ but what others call a ‘townhouse’ or in Baltimore, maybe a row house, but anyway, a free standing home that has its neighbors right up against it on both sides. Here's a picture of it that I took from a taxi last fall, and you see just a corner of the lion that stood guard in front.
When I was about 10, I got the idea to have a lemonade stand from an essay in the children’s literature magazine called Cricket.
One summer morning, I took the low wooden table from my bedroom and brought it down three flights of stairs to the sidewalk in front of our house. I made a sign. I took the larger plastic cups from the cupboard and the smaller paper cups from the bathroom, and priced the larger at 25¢ and the smaller at 10¢. Finally I made the lemonade using a plastic pitcher from our kitchen, sugar from the pantry and ReaLemon™ from the fridge.
I went outside with some spare change from my father's huge jar of coins in his study, and I set up shop.
People walking by bought my wares! It was thrilling! But I noticed that foot traffic was not as heavy on the side street as it could have been, if I were, say, on the avenue. I filed that detail away for future use.
In the meantime, I happily sold lemonade.
A neighbor girl got curious about what I was doing and came over to ‘help.’ She was a couple of years older than me, but I welcomed my first employee.
She helped me for about an hour, and then we ran out of lemonade. I had had about enough of being in business for the day, and started to close up shop.
I counted up the money. I think I made $8! THRILLING!!
The girl, whose name I can no longer remember, asked me what I was going to do with it. She said, can I have some to buy the new Teen Beat magazine at the corner store? Uh, sure, I guess… so I gave her $3 and she happily ran off.
My father was just coming home and he caught the end of this transaction. He started to ask me some pointed questions.
As I think about it now, he must have been delighted to see his child displaying entrepreneurial tendencies.
I think, he always enjoyed when I showed initiative like this: starting a newspaper, writing a memo to get him to give me more allowance, making dinner for the family.
In this instance, I see now that he used it as a ‘teaching moment.’
So, he saw what went down, and said, ‘Leslie, do you know how much profit you made?’
‘What were your costs?’
What do you mean?
‘How much did you pay to make the lemonade?’
Umm...I just got it from inside our house?...
‘Well, the reason I ask is: you need to calculate your profit margin before you decide how much to pay your employee. You don't know if $3 is an appropriate amount to pay… just something to think about.
It WAS. I DID think about it. When the girl came back with her magazine filled with picture of the latest teen heartthrob, Rob Lowe or whoever played Ricky Stratton on Silver Spoon, I had a lot to chew on.
The next time I did it, I did it on 9th avenue. I got a lot more foot traffic. I think I made $25!
And this time, I didn't have an employee. I did the work myself. My sister, 3 or 4 at the time, may have come and sat next to me for a while. But I didn't tip her out…
As I think about it now, what struck me most at the time was the realization that there was more to think about things than I was aware of. That my father knew things about things that I didn’t even know were there to know. There’s more to this world than meets the eye.
I am still entrepreneurial. I’ve self-published all of my books (although that is mostly a thin-skinned-ness around rejection and an unwillingness to be patient with the submission process…). But still, I like creating things and putting them out there, with an eye toward profit. And now, this company, MultiGenerational.
I try to keep my eye on the prize. I got that from my dad.
What is Money? is HERE
What is Investing? is HERE
What is The Investing Starter Kit? is HERE
Sign up for The Investing Starter Kit waitlist HERE. And as always, thanks for reading this.