soda businessThe entrepreneurial spirit exists all around us in various shapes and sizes, from the neighborhood kids corner lemonade stand, to the family owned body shop, to the next million dollar startup.

For me and my college roommate it came in the form of a beverage business. We attended a small private school and before our freshman year saw the vending machines on campus raised their prices from .50 cents a can to .75 cents a can for soft drinks. This of course led to a not so happy student body. Me and my roommate spotted an opportunity.

We began searching the local stores and determined we could still make a pretty nice profit if we sold the soft drinks for .50 cents especially when we bought when they were on sale. So we developed a nightly routine of going dorm to dorm selling our drinks, putting up signs in every hallway etc. By mid first semester we didn’t even have to go to each dorm, everyone was coming to our room buying the soft drinks. By the end of the year we had made a pretty good profit, especially considering how little work it actually took. The take away lessons were ones that can be used in any business, from lemonade stand to the next facebook:

1. Find out when substitutes are just as good as the real thing. Certain drink brands (mt. dew) we could not substitute for the house brand, if we did the customers would not buy them. They were however just as happy to buy the house brand of root beer that we could buy a lot cheaper and make a greater profit on than a name brand root beer. This was key in figuring out where our market would allow us to use substitutes and where they would not. Once we found that perfect balance it was smooth sailing.

2. Find and showcase your best product/service. In our case it was clear within a few weeks that the most popular drink was Mt. Dew. We planned our inventory accordingly. Especially on the weekends we knew we had to have extra in stock. In any business it is the same. Once you know what your best product/service is show it off and make it available as much as possible. There will always be “peak” times in a business where you will have to be prepared to deliver even if you have to stretch your comfort zone to satisfy the demand.

3. Try new things but if they don’t work let them go. We thought it would be a great idea to sell iced coffee as well. It didn’t take off like we thought. Also we had to buy a lot more supplies to make the coffee and it took a lot more man hours. We thought it was a great idea but the market said no so we stopped carrying it after about a month. Listen to what the market is telling you. Don’t be afraid to try new things but if the market says no listen to it, move on, try again.

4. Have fun with it. Probably our favorite part of the business was getting to interact with a bunch of guys coming into our rooms that we may normally not have met. It was great to get those repeat customers and build a relationship from something as simple as a cold drink. The point is to enjoy what you are doing, provide great customer service and have fun with your customers. They will come back.

I believe the highlight of the year for me and my roommate was one day we overheard one of the administrators of the college talking to one of the vending machine company employees and they were trying to figure out how to get the business back that we had taken from them. It was an amazing sense of accomplishment and pride that we had been successful! This is a feeling that I want to continue to develop in new endeavors and I believe all of us can! Opportunity…is everywhere

Author: J. Matthew King – Business Opportunist


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