Some young Vermont entrepreneurs are earning - and learning -
April 1, 2012
Reading, writing, arithmetic ... and money management? Financial-literacy programs are popping up all over, to school kids on saving, spending and investing wisely.
But some eager young entrepreneurs don't need professional help - they're figuring out money matters on their own.
We found several local "biz kids" - between 8 and 18 years old - who are turning their hobbies and skills into fledgling business ventures. Some of them spend what they earn; others give most of their profits to charity.
School: Champlain Valley Union High School
Business venture: Distler's: Pretzels With a Kick — he makes spicy pretzel snacks.
Alec Distler loves pretzels. He grew up eating bite-sized bits of broken-up sourdough pretzels baked with spices, as per his grandmother's recipe. The secret ingredient? Cayenne pepper.
In his last year at Williston Central School, Alec had to complete the school's traditional eighth- grade challenge — a kind of capstone project. He chose to pursue entrepreneurship and started his own business, baking and packaging his grandma's spicy pretzels.
Distler says he brought an initial 50 bags of Alec's Spicy Pretzels to CVU's cafeteria thinking, I wonder how long it's going to take to sell them. The next day, Alec got a call — the school wanted another 100 bags. By that Christmas, in 2008, he was selling about 900 bags per week.
Three and a half years later, Alec's pretzels are available in local stores, including Sam Mazza's, Burlington Bay Market & Café and Shelburne Supermarket. They are, as the packages claim, "addicting."
A few things have changed as the company has grown. There are now five flavors — ranch, maple, spicy, x-tra spicy and fiery. And the baking and bagging processes have been outsourced.
The Distlers also recently changed the company name from Alec's Spicy Pretzels after coming across a similar-sounding California company. The new name, Distler's: Pretzels With a Kick, reflects the fact that the business isn't just Alec's enterprise — his mother and sisters help out a lot, too.
No one's getting rich — yet. "People think, because I have a business, I have lots of money," Alec says. Truth be told, while he draws an hourly paycheck, most of the profits are reinvested in the company, and 10 percent goes to charity.
There are some sweet perks, though. Alec gets to attend food trade shows, where he meets people from around the world. And Alec's mom, Lynn Distler, says the family has enjoyed the together-time the pretzel-making process required — often 10 to 15 hours a week in a commercial kitchen, breaking pretzels and dancing to the radio.
If your idea takes off, go with it. "I didn't really expect this to become the long-term thing that it has become," says Alec, who never guessed that his school project would turn into the family business. But the Distlers have embraced the opportunity, and it's paying off.
he business owns the business owner. Increased demand for your product is great, but if you're the owner, you have to do more work to meet the demand. Sometimes that means spending all of your free time breaking apart sourdough pretzels.
It can't just be about the money. "It takes a couple of years to start making money," Alec advises. "You've got to do something that you like to do."
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