I always wanted to earn my own money. As a kid during the 1960’s there were just so many things I coveted (Aurora monster models, James Bond gadgets, Creepy Crawler Thingmakers, Richie Rich comics) and begging my folks for them was usually futile (they were public school teachers hardly flush with cash).
Plus, I always romanticized the idea of having a job. I really wanted the one Walt Disney had… but that seemed already taken. Plus, Disneyland wasn’t hiring seven year olds.
CURB: MY ENTHUSIASM!
So in 2nd grade I decided to build my financial empire painting street numbers on curbs. I would knock on doors genuinely excited when they answered. “Can I please paint your curb? No charge, unless you like it.” (Even then I was a proponent of giving away free samples!)
The flaw in my plan was I sucked at it. My paint smeared. I was unsteady with my stencil. And I often got people’s addresses wrong. I later found out my dad, bless him, would return hours after me to redo them correctly to cover for my mess-ups.
HOCUS POCUS WITH A FOCUS
My next scheme was to do magic shows with tricks from a magic kit I found at a thrift store. I wasn’t particularly good at executing my tricks (that required way too much practice) so I focused on my banter instead. I mixed my clumsy melding of seemingly solid metal rings with slightly risqué-yet-child-friendly jokes (“Why do street lights turn red? You would too if you had to change in front of all those people.”)
But my main innovation was marketing. I took out a classified ad in the local paper declaring “Kid Magician for Kid’s Parties!” Shockingly, people hired me. Eventually my parents got tired of spending every weekend schlepping me around. And so, my career as Crafty Ricky Kraft came to an unceremonious end.
LEARNING THE SWEET TRUTH OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND
By fourth grade I figured out that it was insanely hot during the summer in Bakersfield. No one wanted to leave their homes during the afternoon. But, what do kids always want? THEY WANT CANDY!
So, in the cool of the evening I would ride my bike to 7-11 and stock up on Red Vines, Razzles, Lemonheads, Candy Necklaces, Sweetarts and Zotz. The follow afternoon, at the peak of the heat, I would set up a TV tray in front of my house peddling candy at extraordinary mark-ups.
Sure, my customers would gripe about price gouging (I would open a nickel pack of Sugar Babies and sell them individually at 2¢ per baby!). I always made it clear they still had the option of riding their bikes a mile to 7-11 in the scorching heat. OR… they could buy from me with a slight “convenience” fee tacked on. I was like the neighborhood drug dealer (with Pixie Stix instead of cocaine). I got everyone hooked on the product and the ease in obtaining it.
I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE… AND MY PROFITS
With so much success, I decided to expand my product line into Milk Shakes. If I could get two pennies for a measly Sugar Baby during the blistering summer, imagine how much I could charge for a thick and frothy chocolate shake! With my stash of Milk Dud earnings I invested in serious equipment… a milk shaker maker. Unfortunately at nine I had yet to master food cost management and my shakes ended up costing me more to make then I was getting for selling them. And my supplies of ice cream and this business venture melted away awfully fast.
KRAFT FINDS THE CHEESE
At 14, I spent most of my time at the local mall (they had great shops, air conditioning and a cute girl working over at Kinderfoto). My favorite hang was at the cheese counter of Hickory Farms. The manager would give my me samples and stories of all sorts of “exotic” cheeses (basically anything that wasn’t Velveeta). After many samples I would pick one and buy their quarter pound minimum.
The manager was so impressed by my endless cheese enthusiasm and curiosity he offered me a job packing Christmas gift boxes in the back room. I sucked at it more than I sucked at curb painting. “Sorry, I’m going to have to let you go,” he said with genuine remorse. I had blown my first salaried employment.
“I have an idea,” I scrambled. “How about putting me behind the cheese counter as a salesman instead. We both discovered customers loved an eager kid giving away samples and reciting cheese knowledge. The manager taught me many sales tools in increasing profits including when asked for a pound of Beef Stick to instead cut it at the 1.25 pound mark figuring that after you cut and weighed it nobody was going to insist on recutting it to an exact pound.
He showed me how to upsell (“Would you like some Old Fashion Crackers to go with your Gouda?”) He made me hide the Sesame Stick samples on Saturdays and Sundays (Too many kids and lookie-loos on weekends, the serious buyers were Monday-Friday). And he show me to how to make anything seem rare and special and sophisticated (“Banana Chips liven up any family gathering”). My fromage mentor and I really enjoyed cheese, but more importantly, we enjoyed studying the psychology of why and how people shopped.
HANDLING THE BIGGEST NAMES IN HOLLYWOOD
By the time I left the cheese industry and at the age of 15, I decided it was time to focus more on my real passion, movies. So I boldly filled out an application to work at the local mall theatre and they hired me as Marque Boy (where I would often misspell the film titles and stars’ names).
It was dangerous dangling on a rickety ladder clipping on big plastic letters on a marque high up the side of the building which, looking back, was probably a violation of multiple safety and child labor laws. But damnit, I was now part of show biz and I wasn’t turning back…