It was late Friday afternoon. The time had come for my sisters and I to grab our pads of paper and go door to door.
Kids everywhere have different ways of making money. In my childhood home, cash flow was scarce; if us kids wanted to earn money, we had to get out of the house and work for it in some sort of way.
There were a couple of jobs we could do for a dollar or two from my parents, but they didn’t dish out regular allowances to their 12 kids.
Makes sense. That could really add up. And they didn’t have a lot of extra cash lying around.
There were multiple things I remember doing during my childhood that helped rake in spending and saving money.
One particular money making venture comes to mind and consisted of selling donuts.
My eldest sister was usually the fearless one to head up sales ideas. The funny thing is, she rarely showed her face to our “customers” when it came to door to door selling, but she was the supportive, behind the scenes boss.
We lived in a low-middle class neighborhood, and in the 80’s to early 90’s Crestview Drive residents had a good amount of camaraderie.
The neighbor kids would visit our house and if they were lucky, my eldest sister Becky would fry up donuts and share them with the lot of us. They made an impression on the kids’ mind, and the donuts started getting a positive reputation.
Becky came up with the idea that maybe we should get the donuts OUT the door and into other peoples’ homes.
So we planned our first sales run:
We’d walk around the whole neighborhood late Friday afternoon with our notepads and take orders for delivery of hot donuts for the following Saturday morning at the time of the customer’s choice.
We thought “Hot and fresh donuts delivered to your door on Saturday morning” may be right up the neighbors’ alley.
And it was!
We made homemade order form slips and went from door to door, offering 3 varieties of donuts and selling them by the half dozen and up.
Our customers picked what time of the morning they wanted their donuts delivered, we put their names, address, donuts variety/amount, and time of delivery on our order forms and kept moving from street to street.
It was scary though.
I hated walking up to the doors on the 3rd, 4th and 5th block over from our house to people’s homes who knew nothing about who we were. Somehow, going two by two, and with my sister Becky’s voice in the back of my head pushing us to face our fears for the sake of profit and that we were offering something to people that they might totally be thrilled with kept my siblings and I on the move.
After an hour or two of wandering our neighborhood streets, we brought the filled out order forms home to see how we had made out.
We had a pretty good turnout for our first sales run!
Becky totaled up the dozens ordered, and it was somewhere in the ballpark of 30 dozen! She figured in all of the supplies we’d need: Oil, donut ingredients, plates and wrap for delivery, etc.
We then headed to the store which was right up the road from us and bought what we needed.
We waited with excitement and nervousness for the early morning deliveries.
We decided to split up into 2 delivery groups and return as quickly as possible to get our fresh plate for the next customer in line.
Saturday morning arrived, Becky was at the fryer, we pulled out our order forms and she fried up the donuts for the earliest orders. We dipped them in the glaze or sprinkled them with sugar, and plate by plate we wrapped them up and headed out on foot as fast as we could without dropping any.
Becky wanted to make it extra special, so every dozen that a customer ordered would be a baker’s dozen. 13 donuts ended up on every plate with a little paper in between two layers of wrap that we wrote in our best handwriting possible, “Baker’s Dozen”.
We showed up at the “customer’s” door, knocked, and they sleepily opened the door; their eyes lit up as the smell of the fresh donuts wafted inside. They shuffled around for their money and we pocketed it, thanked them for their order and tore back to the house as fast as we could to pick up the next plate.
One customer sticks out in my mind. It was the Friday of taking orders and we walked up to their well manicured yard (vastly different from our own).
Becky’s orders were that we couldn’t skip any house unless we knew they didn’t want us there, or we had some other specific reason that it wasn’t a good idea to stroll up unawares. (There were a couple of houses we came up with some childish, but possibly very good excuse that caused us to refrain from walking up to the door.)
Regardless of our possible ragamuffin appearance (I imagine I DID brush my hair and put on shoes for this occasion though), we strolled timidly up to the “Greenes’ Residence” and knocked on the door.
We hear a couple of barks coming from inside. We wait. And just when we are about to turn and rush away, the door opens and one of the kindliest elderly faces I’ve ever seen peers out and greets us warmly.
She hushed the dogs, and I give our childish sales pitch. “Hello, my name is Leilani and I live one block over. My sisters and I are selling donuts and we wondered if you’d like to have fresh, hot donuts delivered to your door tomorrow morning at the time of your choice?”
“Oh my! That sounds divine. What kind do you have?”
“Glazed, sugar, or cinnamon/sugar”
“Hmmm, do you sell plain ones?”
“Uh, yes, we could do that.”
“Okay, I’d like 2 dozen plain donuts, and 1 dozen glazed.”
Wow! We scored. We didn’t expect 3 dozen from an elderly couple, but this was awesome; and Mrs. Greene was so kind and sweet that I couldn’t wait to deliver her the donuts the following morning.
I didn’t understand the desire for plain, or the desire for so many, but whatever the customer wants, the customer gets.
We showed up the following morning at 8am with 3 dozen donuts, and Mr. and Mrs. Greene informed us that “Bosco” and “Daisy” were very, very excited about breakfast.
Ohhh, so the plain donuts were for their dogs.
They paid us, and with a generous tip we went on our way. They said to come back whenever we planned on selling again.
You can’t go wrong there. That’s a way to boost a child’s confidence and make them think that they may actually like door to door sales after all.
These were the experiences that kept us going despite the not so enjoyable moments- You know, the ones where we’d get a grumpy, blank stare and then a definitive ‘no’ and a slammed door from a customer. Or the time where the lady with a shrill voice said, “Don’t you pay attention to signs?” and with her long finger pointed at the “No soliciting” sign on her porch wall.
I always wondered what “soliciting” meant. My 9 yr. old self finally figured it out.
Back to our Saturday morning donut run.
It was about 10:30am, and we made our last delivery. We gathered all the cash together and counted out the total. After paying Becky back for the ingredients, we ended up with about $30 profit.
It may seem like chump change, but to us, it was more than worth the efforts and we were pretty excited.
After counting the costs, and if I remember correctly, we made about $1 profit on each dozen that were sold. At a selling price of $2 a dozen, we were pretty happy with the profit margins. (I mean, c’mon, food profit margins are generally pretty low-50% profit was a good number for us.)
We did these sales runs a few times every year for a few years.
A year or two after our first sales run we raised our prices to $3 a dozen.
It’s experiences like these that give me an appreciation for the childhood that was given to me. How my parents gave us the freedom and the independence to do this entirely on our own. Not a penny from them, only a nod from their heads and a grin from their faces.
It gave me a sense of responsibility and the feeling that what I did had value and actually mattered.