Cuesta program teaches kids how to succeed in business

Kids sell goo, ice cream sandwiches and more at Cuesta Business Fair

Kids with Cuesta College's College for Kids program sold self-made products at a business fair on July 20, 2016.
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Kids with Cuesta College's College for Kids program sold self-made products at a business fair on July 20, 2016.

Forget lemonade stands — a group of kids stepped up their entrepreneurial skills this summer with Cuesta College’s annual Kids in Business class, selling everything from note-taking supplies to tiny potted lip glosses labeled “Da Balm.”

The students, ranging in age from 10 to 14, created their products in a three-week course and then sold them Wednesday at a business fair on the community college’s San Luis Obispo campus.

“Today is the big day,” class instructor Alysha Nye said. “They create a small batch of their product, and for an hour they come out and sell it. At the end of the fair, they’ll go ahead and count their till, and they’ll see what they made. They’ll have a goal of their break-even point — that’s the minimum — and anything above that is their profit.”

The students are taught how to brainstorm a product, do market research and create marketing supplies like logo design and business cards, Nye said. They also get a basic introduction to the sorts of expenses a business could expect and how to calculate retail costs, as well as asking their “support program” — usually their parents or guardians — for a startup loan, she said.

So far it’s just been a cool environment.

Tobin Merriam, San Luis Obispo

The class is part of the “College for Kids” program, which gives fifth- through ninth-graders the opportunity to take classes at the community college over the summer. It offers courses in arts and crafts, computers, fashion and design, languages, performing arts, science and photography, among others.

“There’s so much enthusiasm from all the kids,” program director Wes Martin said. “It really kind of spices up our building on the campus during summer.”

Martin was on hand at the business fair Wednesday to buy something from each of the participating students — something he does every year. In the past, he noted there have been a lot of food items, though last year, one student made homemade cat toys, which he thought was “very creative.”

This year, the goods ranged from beaded lizard-shaped key chains at the cafeteria’s entrance to hand-scooped ice cream cookie sandwiches (with optional sprinkles or candy toppings) on the far end. In between were products like a purple-blue “galaxy goo” (think slimy, sparkly Play-Doh) and neon paracord bracelets.

The students knew how to attract attention to their products: Many had donned costumes like ketchup bottles or lizard onesies in the hopes of drawing people to their booths.

There’s so much enthusiasm from all the kids. It really kind of spices up our building on the campus during summer.

Program director Wes

One student especially stood out: Tobin Merriam, 13, of San Luis Obispo wore a mossy brown “ghillie suit” — a type of camouflage worn by hunters and people in the military in brush areas. Merriam said he thought the suit would draw attention to his team’s product, tiny animal-shaped potted plants he called Terra Pets.

“I thought if I wore this, it would get people’s attention,” he said. “You know, see what the heck is going on over there and go ‘look!’ 

The plan seemed to be working — after selling the product for 30 minutes, Merriam and his partner had nearly sold out of their stock of 30 plants. They were selling so well, in fact, that Merriam said he plans to start an account on Etsy (an online website for selling arts and crafts) to market and sell the potted plants in the future.

“So far it’s just been a cool environment,” he said of the class, which he also participated in last year. “We got to Photoshop our own logos, and make our own business cards. It was very fun just doing the stuff the teacher had planned.”

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie