Had I known when I was 10 years old that, 20 years later, I'd be running craft fairs and my own business, I'm pretty sure I would have loved some lessons in how to be a tiny entrepreneur. While I missed out, the fifth-graders at Keller Elementary in Royal Oak are now more than ready to take on the crafty business world – thanks to Free Market Day.
For the past four years, Free Market Day has wrapped up a six-week economics course for the class. As they learn what it takes to run their own business – as a sole proprietor, with business partners, or as a small corporation – they're also working on "manufacturing" the goods they'll sell at the fair that day. Students are encouraged to use natural resources to create the items or services they plan on providing, says fifth-grade teacher Deborah Pawlowski.
From origami and comic books to baked goods and cleaning services (again, I REALLY could have used a clean desk in fifth grade!), the students learn how to advertise and market their product to their fellow classmates, as well figuring out the basics of bookkeeping and supply-and-demand.
Armed with a full wallet and sensible shoes for power shopping, I got to visit Free Market Day last week. As I'm a grown-up (yikes!), I spent real U.S. currency – while the students spent pretend money they designed as a class and had been earning all year. For me, some lovely tissue paper flowers were 75 cents; for the students, they cost about 100 of their classroom dollars. All of the "real" money was collected – $522.32 in just two hours; not bad at all! – and donated to Beaumont Royal Oak Campus, a charity chosen by the students.
I was blown away by the variety of goods and services the students had to offer. Duct-tape wallets were huge this year, and a hot commodity with the kids. It's a good thing I was hungry when I arrived, as I had my choice of treats, from "Shocking Shortbread" to chocolate popcorn, to keep my stomach happy. And if I needed a new evening bag, I had a whole rack of jean-pockets-turned-glittery-clutches to choose from.
Oliver G. of Royal Oak was a busy business owner that afternoon as he sold T-shirt shopping bags. Using some basic sewing skills he learned at Maker Faire Detroit, he recycled the old shirts by simply cutting off the sleeves and neck, turning the bag inside out, and sewing a straight line across the bottom of the bag. Turn it back and you've got a handy, green-inspired shopping bag for all your Free Market Day purchases.
In between updating his ledger with sales, Oliver shared that his favorite part of Free Market Day was selling his product to his friends. Many crafters love these sorts of fairs because they get to interact with customers and talk about the passion behind their creations.
It wasn't a surprise that Oliver quickly sold out. Thank goodness he took pre-orders for custom designs before Free Market Day, just like many of the other students did once word of their inventory began to circulate at recess. By the end of my shopping trip, I saw many "SOLD OUT!" signs popping up on desks where "open" signs once stood.
While picking up some bookmarks for my new quilting books, I chatted with Sammy O., also of Royal Oak. She made a whopping 149 bookmarks for Free Market Day and was moving inventory quickly. She really liked making the bookmarks with her business partners (and friends) and enjoyed selling them, too.
As we chatted about having to craft so many bookmarks, she told me, "It's kinda hard to run a business!" I couldn't agree more!
Once my shopping budget dwindled and power shoes started to break down a bit, I headed home with a bag filled with goodies. Congratulations to the fifth-grade class and staff for another successful Free Market Day. (And thanks to Mrs. Pawlowski for letting me come shop!) I saw so many talented crafters in the making that I'll be keeping an eye on these guys for my upcoming craft fairs.