Beck Johnson had a business plan, his startup funding a dream of opening an ice cream stand, but first he needed a variance from the Sunapee zoning board to open in a residential zone.
He admits being a bit “freaked out” before his presentation, but ultimately got the go-ahead.
That was Oct. 27, 2009 – four months shy of Beck’s 10th birthday.
Sanctuary Dairy Farm Ice Cream, which opened in May, is already a booming business under the direction of the young entrepreneur. It grossed $11,000 in May and June’s numbers looked to be even higher.
“He certainly has drive,” said Beck’s fourth-grade teacher, Katie Blewitt, who also supplies the hot fudge for his stand. “It’s his personality trait – he likes to accomplish things.”
Beck’s mom, Sue Johnson, says her son first got the notion of opening his own business when he was just 6, after a school official told him learning disabilities would probably keep him from going to college.
“My principal said I was not going to succeed with my head, so I should just learn something to do with my hands,” Beck said.
So he started working and saving – banking $5,000 from lemonade and vegetable stands outside the Wendell Veterinary Clinic. The clinic is owned by his father, Dr. Jolyon Johnson, on the family’s 750-acre farm. He made another $2,000 while the stand was under construction, primarily by breeding and selling pug puppies.
“That $7,000 got everything except the freezers,” Beck said of the five freezers needed for his stand. “I borrowed $10,000 from Dad, but we already paid him back.”
“We” includes his mother, Susan Johnson and 15-year-old sister, Maranda Deane, who now calls her younger brother “boss.” The three of them have been the backbone of the work force, joined by several cousins who are on the payroll. Family friends often volunteer time.
Beck said he’s saving up to buy a windmill – at a cost of about $6,000 – to offset the $150-plus monthly electrical cost of running the stand’s freezers and a portion of his family’s home.
He talks about homogenizing, pasteurizing and sanitation like a pro. When he talks about renovating the family’s old goat barn into an ice cream stand, he sounds more his age. “The funnest part was breaking down the walls!”
Some of his business savvy he picked up by attending the intensive “Ice Cream 101” course at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences with his mother the last weekend in January.
“It was a unique situation,” Professor Robert Roberts, director of the program, said of having a child take a course geared for adult entrepreneurs. “He was not embarrassed to ask questions and his questions were intelligent.”
Simone Robinson – Beck’s 1st grade teacher and now a regular customer at his ice cream stand – said Beck has made “tremendous progress” in his ability to process information, noting his learning method is to absorb and immediately apply new lessons.
“He’s obviously incredibly motivated and he’s incredibly charming,” Robinson said. “He’s very intuitive. Even as a little guy he had good business sense. He’d give flowers to the ladies if they bought lemonade.”
Beck’s name appears with those of his parents on every official piece of paper, from the trade name registration, meals taxes, health and licensing documents.
But Sue Johnson stresses it’s his stand.
“It wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him,” she said. “I oversee it because he is only 10. And our names are on it because he’s a minor, but it’s his business.
Beck puts in a full work week, with Tuesdays and Sundays off. The stand is open seven days a week, from noon until 8 p.m. Farm animals in pens surrounding the stand and children’s toys on the lawn are an added attraction.
The state Department of Labor strictly enforces child labor laws, but inspections administrator Cynthia Flynn said Beck’s situation violates no laws.
“We would consider him to be the business owner and our laws wouldn’t apply,” Flynn said.
Beck has even more plans for his profits.
“After we pay off the windmill, I’m saving for a bike cart so I can ride to events and popular places and sell ice cream,” Beck said.
After all, he can’t get his driver’s license for another 5-1/2 years.