Author: Kevin Simpson
One of the first entry points into business for many entrepreneurs started on their own street, with their best friend. The hot sticky days of summer, stretched somewhere between the ecstasy of the last day of school and the pending sentence of the first day of the next year.
We watched our mothers make us a jug of Kool Aid, that omnipotent happy face pasted on the side of the jug, staring at us saying, and for those of us listening we could her that face saying….”Sell me”
….and so inspired and wanting to make some money – we did!
My first recollection of the calculation of profit was actually pretty complex.
Figuring out how much a pack of Kool Aid was going to cost from my allowance, and then testing and measuring how many cups we could get out of my mother’s big glass juice jug. Then multiplying that number by our forecasted sell price. Profit equaled all the money I got to keep after I paid mom for the packets.
I’m sure the health inspectors would shut us down in today’s world as we skipped the added expense of buying paper throw away cups and instead I “borrowed” plastic camping cups from our trailer parked in the back yard. We simply washed and reused them with the hose in my friend Robby’s front yard.
We started at my house on Blakiston Drive and we quickly learned our first economics lesson – location, location, location. Blakiston being a side street, had a pitiful number of cars driving by per hour and we were wasting time constantly running into my house to steal ice cubes to keep our precious elixir cold.
Then it hit me – the reason Robby and I always were at my house – was because our mothers didn’t like us playing on his – Brisbois Drive – because of the high traffic volume.
We moved, sales went crazy with dozens of cars an hour driving by and pulling over.
Henry Fords we were not, but we felt pretty good!
Our business careers had just started in the summer of 1975, but little did we know, a menace was lurking in a town I had never heard of in South America that 3 years later would devastate the Kool Aid brand and with it our first business.
In November 1978 in Guyana, what would become known to the world only as Jonestown, Reverend Jim Jones would poison and kill 918 of his followers in what is still to this today the largest mass coerced suicide the world has ever seen.
Jones’ poison – a bright colorful water juice mix called Flavor-Aid – in fact one of Kool Aids main competitors.
The world sat up and noticed, but it was Kool Aid that took the fall even though it wasn’t their finger prints on the murder weapon.
The power of Kool Aid’s international brand had caused it to become a Metonymy – its own name had been adopted and had become ubiquitous with all flavored powered drinks you could buy, like Q-Tip or Kleenex. The Brand Kool Aid was powdered drinks, regardless of the packaging.
The events of Jonestown that day cut deep into America. So much so the phrase “drinking the kool aid” was born and remains to this day. A somewhat derogatory statement regularly used in business to imply the person in question is blindly following, unquestioning, not challenging, following Jim Jones.
Kool Aid sales in the US slowly went down. Yes, there was other competition that entered the market, yes as packaging became easier to produce so more pre-made drinks came into the market, but one cannot argue that the Kool Aid Brand was damaged. So much so that even today most of Kool Aid says are outside of the United States and the company has tried re-branding several times with little or no US success.
Brand association can be a blessing and a curse. Just ask people living in Trump towers across the US who are now lobbying in many locations to have the name removed because of security concerns such as bomb threats, protests and vandalism.
When developing your brand and when picking the brands you will represent in your business you can never take events like Jonestown into account, the question you ask yourself is what do you do when a potential catastrophic event happen.
Trek, Nike and Oakley had the same decisions to make with Lance Armstrong – decisions they faced over and over for almost a decade, and for the most part all companies took it slow and steady with their responses and for the most part did not take huge image hits when everything unraveled.
As for the legions of new modern day street side entrepreneurs?
Well they are still around, but selling lemonade not Kool Aid today.
Their main worries are about civic authorities with too much time on their hands shutting them down due to lack of business licenses (seriously).
Don’t give up, and despite what they say – Drink the Kool Aid – and make some money!