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Enterprizing Kids offers a taste of entrepreneurship

WILLMAR -- The sewing machine hums as Kate Barrett-Murphy pieces together what will become the fleece lining for a child's mitten.

Pins, patterns and felted mittens in various stages of construction cover the surrounding tabletop.

The finished products will be up for sale this week at the Kandi Mall, where Kate, age 10, is among more than 100 young vendors signed up for the mall's Enterprizing Kids event.

"She loves creating," her mother, Shannon Barrett, said. "Maybe this will go somewhere. This is the starting point."

That's one of the ideas behind Enterprizing Kids, which gives school-aged entrepreneurs a chance to find out what it's like to come up with a business plan, make a product, market it, sell it and maybe even earn a profit.

"We want them to treat it like a business," said Desiree Weinandt, marketing director at the mall.

This is the 20th year the Kandi Mall has hosted Enterprizing Kids. It's open to youngsters ages 8 to 15 from Kandiyohi, Renville, Swift, Chippewa, Redwood and Yellow Medicine counties.

They'll be selling their wares from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

"We really have a wide range of items the kids are making," Weinandt said. One youngster signed up to sell handmade jewelry, she said. Another youth is making and selling custom fishing lures.

Can their parents help with some of the work? Well, yes, but only a little.

"We really do ask and stress that the product be made by the kids," Weinandt said.

This is the first year Kate Barrett-Murphy, the daughter of Shannon Barrett and Justin Murphy, has registered for Enterprizing Kids. "My mom wanted to do it and I also wanted to do it," she said.

They brainstormed together and came up with the idea of making mittens, using recycled wool sweaters that have been felted, cut apart and stitched back together. Shopping trips to Good Will and secondhand stores, along with appeals for donated sweaters, yielded a rainbow of colors -- stripes, solids, mohair and even a handknit design from Nepal.

"Kate was good at finding the wool. Now she can find a wool sweater just by feeling it," her mother said.

At first, it took Kate half an hour to complete one mitten. Now she's shaved it down to about 15 minutes.

"We make two pairs at least every day," she said.

"We've been busy on the weekends," Shannon Barrett said. "Her friends ask her to come out and play and she says, 'I have to make mittens.'"

Kate hopes to have 100 pairs of mittens ready for sale on Thursday, the day she's assigned a booth at Enterprizing Kids. At prices averaging $25, she figures she can earn a gross profit of around $2,000 -- most of which she's going to donate to the Humane Society of Kandiyohi County.

She even created her own slogan, Warm Our Paws, and a pawprint logo to advertise her wares.

This isn't Kate's first business venture. Last fall she sold apples door to door, raising more than $1,000 which she donated to the Humane Society.

"She loves the Humane Society and she's just learning so much about the dynamics of business," Shannon Barrett said. "She had a lot of fun last year. It made her feel really good."

Surveys conducted each year among the kids participating in Enterprizing Kids yield some insightful answers about what they learn, Weinandt said.

Among the lessons: It's not how much money you make, it's the friends you make. Making money comes with responsibility. You have to smile if you want to make a sale. You have to be nice to your customers. You have to know how to bargain. You have to be patient.

"We just get some of the best responses from the kids," Weinandt said.

Many of the youngsters in Enterprizing Kids gain so much from the event that they come back in following years, she said.

"We've had kids make over $200," she said. "We hope that people specially come out for the kids and buy something, even if it's just a bookmark or something small. It really helps them."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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