At 13, Jackson Cadle has a wealth of sales experience, starting with a lemonade stand.
“From the time he was about 2, he was selling lemonade at garage sales, and he would end up making more money selling lemonade than we did,” said Jackson’s mother, Jama.
“My husband built a little lemonade stand, and he would stand on a stool and he would ask every customer if they’d like lemonade. He made a lot of tips,” Jama said about Jackson’s early efforts.
Today, he makes and sells homemade canine fare through his business Max + Bella’s Gourmet Dog Treats.
Jackson and his younger brother, Hunter, will be among the about 30 youngsters between ages 6 and 14 flexing their budding entrepreneurial aspirations at the Acton Children’s Business Fair, scheduled for 10 a.m.-noon Saturday at Matera Gardens, 833 South First St.
The pop-up market is a way to foster an entrepreneurship ecosystem in Abilene and give children the opportunity to learn what is involved in owning businesses, said Laurin Kocurek, vice president for operations and communications at the Abilene Chamber of Commerce, which is organizing the event in partnership with Austin-based Acton School of Business.
The vendors develop a brand, set up their booths and handle the money transactions, whether cash or through debit and credit cards.
Jackson and Hunter have teamed to make tie-dyed shirts and take custom orders at the fair. The name of their business is Tie Dyed Bros.
At a similar event the chamber held in May at Frontier Texas!, youngsters offered a variety of products, including lemonade, popsicles, handsewn items, bookmarks, succulent plants and baked goods, including special dietary options such as gluten free and vegan, Kocurek said.
“I was just blown away by the talent that we have in Abilene in our young little entrepreneurs,” said Kocurek in recalling the May vendors.
She expects a similar mix of products at Saturday’s event.
Children interested in participating can apply at https://www.childrensbusinessfair.org/abilene-texas.
The Cadle brothers’ entrepreneurial drive is a surprise to their mom and dad, Mike. The boys attend Abilene Christian School, where Jackson is in eighth grade and Hunter in second.
“My husband and I were laughing because they both have such entrepreneurial spirits that we did not have at their age,” Jama said.
As he grew, Jackson also would set up at the garage sales a table to sell his toys.
He started his gourmet dog treats business four years ago after learning of a children’s business fair hosted at Abilene Christian University by the College of Business Administration. Jama works at the university.
The venture is named for the family’s yellow Labrador retriever Bella, who died of cancer a few years ago, and current companion Max, a goldendoodle. The business reflects two of Jackson’s passions.
“I’ve always cooked with my mom, like for dinner and stuff. And, I love animals and especially dogs,” he said.
What is the attraction to having a business?
“I really enjoy providing stuff for other people and making stuff,” Jackson said.
A secondary benefit is the income.
“I like being able to buy my own stuff with money,” he said.
One of the first steps in starting the business was researching recipes and experimenting on how to make them healthy.
“Most of the things that were in the dog treats that were bad for them were things to make it flavorful. So I took most of that out and added baby food for some of the flavoring,” Jackson said.
His treats have evolved through the years based on customer feedback. A bacon-flavored variety was discontinued because of low sales, and peanut butter snacks were phased out when the family discovered Hunter had a peanut allergy.
Current offerings are beefy vegetable, pumpkin and sweet potato.
“It’s something when he was 9 that we could do together and I’d helped with the oven, but now that he’s 13 he does it on his own,” Jama said.
Running a business also means being savvy about packaging, marketing and sales. Jackson cooks his treats in bone and pawprint silicone molds, and they are bundled in clear wrap that includes a decorative ribbon with a business card attached.
Jackson sought the help of a graphic designer to develop a logo and design the business card. He also is saving his proceeds to invest in the business with the purchase of a laptop.
Six treats are bundled in a package and cost $6.
Hunter wanted to participate in the fair and had to think of a business different from what was already registered at the fair. After exploring a few ideas that included a trip to the craft store, he settled on tie dying shirts.
“It’s something that the boys really enjoyed doing together,” Jama said, then added with a laugh, “Our bathroom hasn’t fully recovered.”
But working with the boys on their businesses is fun, she said.
“I wish I knew more about business,” she said, “but fortunately, we know people that have the knowledge and are willing to help the boys learn and grow and we want to do all we can to foster that.”
Learning business lessons
After sponsoring a fair in May, the chamber added a component for the fall event: a business tips program in advance for the vendors.
Representatives from event sponsor Abilene Teachers Federal Credit Union will discuss some basic business principles, such as how to set up a business bank account and present themselves at their booths on fair day, Kocurek said.
Other sponsors are Bible Hardware, Karson’s, Potter’s Pizza and 3rd Street Printing and Sign Co., who will be overseeing sections of the vendors.
At the May event, Kocurek said she was impressed with the sales skills of some of the vendors.
“They were very much into selling, and they would be like, here’s some earrings I made. These ones are lightweight so you can wear them all day to your business meetings and it won’t hurt your ears,” Kocurek said.
In addition to trying to makes sales, the vendors also will be competing for prizes, such as best customer service, best quality product, best presentation and highest potential business, which Jackson won in May.
Jackson said he’s learned some important skills by doing the business fairs and getting feedback from customers who buy treats throughout the year.
“You have to know a lot about your product and know how to present about it. And, you have to have a good personality and be social with all your customers,” Jackson said.
As a self-described social person, talking with customers comes naturally, he said.
“I’ve also been taught to be polite to everybody.” Jackson said.
Some of the best business advice he said he has received is learning to balance customer feedback to improve the product and presentation with not letting detractors derail his commitment.
“No matter what people say, keep going, because people are going to say bad things about your stuff, but just keep going no matter what,” Jackson said.
While Saturday will be Hunter’s first business fair, he said the best advice he has received so far is “don’t wait until the last minute,” he said.
“I don’t know where he’s heard that,” Jama quipped.
Jackson has plans for his business beyond Saturday’s event. He is working with McCoy’s Pharmacy on sourcing a preservative to add to the treats to increase their self life for retail displays and shipping.
“I’m hoping for it to grow over the years,” enough to generate passive income and be able to hire other people, he said.
Laura Gutschke is a general assignment reporter and food columnist and manages online content for the Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.