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Loss leaders, 12-year old boys and the flea market.

You can hang out with your kids at the park. Or you can hang out with your kids at the park and (secretly) teach them about sales, marketing and economics.

I can’t help it. I’m kind of addicted to teaching my kids at every occasion where I see an opportunity. Which is pretty much all the time. We were at a (sort of) flea market this afternoon. Which, in case you didn’t know, is an entire self-contained economic ecosystem.

REQUIREMENTS: in order for your child to learn, they must want something. Children (well, adults too) usually want something, you just have to figure out what it is. It’s usually not that hard: just ask. My 12-year old wants new shoes. He has plenty of shoes, but he wants more shoes. A “luxury” expense so he has to earn his own money for it. He’s motivated.

The Economic Environment (AKA the Flea Market)

My boys can’t get of enough of Donald Duck books. We have hundreds. Well, we had hundreds. We must have sold a hundred today.

But not everyone is a fan of the Donald Duck comic books (yet!). Especially the younger kids probably don’t know about them–especially if they can’t read. But the Duck books were the bulk of what we were trying to sell today at King’s Day (a huge event which celebrates the Dutch king’s birthday, although it’s really the Queen’s birthday, but that’s yet another Dutch thing). We needed to get those kids to little kids to our books. Enter the Loss Leader.

A loss leader is a pricing strategy where a product is sold at a price below its market cost to stimulate other sales of more profitable goods or services. — Wikipedia

We just happened to have boxes (and boxes) of plastic garbage (also known as little kid toys). We had hard plastic dinosaurs, Matchbox cars, toy trains and a plethora of worthless trinkets. In other words, a little kid magnet. Their parents can’t hold them back, they’re drawn to them like a comet to the sun.

We strategically placed our ocean-polluting figurines at the edges of our blanketed shop to suck in the innocent buyers. It worked like magic. We had kids practically brawling over a plastic Godzilla that was missing a wing.

The parents had no choice but to hang around and hover over their child while they sorted through horses, whales and cars. Have you ever closely watched kids looking through toys? It’s truly a thing of joy. They are mesmerized. A meteor could strike the neighboring blanket and the jolt to the planet might only make them flinch to the point where they drop the petroleum-based giraffe and pick up the 3-wheeled train car.

Unless mom and dad are being called away to speak at the United Nations, they’re sticking around until Junior decides between the purple camel and the naturally-weapon-heavy stegosaurus. They can’t say no. In fact, you can help them to not say no by making the kid catnip absolutely … free.

Boom and just like that you understand what a Loss Leader is. Pretty fun stuff, right? This is how I explained it to my 12-year old today in play-by-play action-packed commentary. Wait, it gets better.

BONUS: if you happen to have a 10-year old around, put them to work as a “greeter.” Let them charm mom and dad by talking about how he played with the pterodactyl and it possibly altered the path of his life’s purpose. He should be cute and barely make eye contact with adults and mostly focus on doing tricks with his kendama. Gets ’em every time.

So while Junior is in a heated discussion (with himself) about which animal to take home and cherish until death do they part, mom and dad are checking out what else is on offer. What else is on offer is a huge variety of educational material that could propel Junior to reading at a high-school level after just 27 (low-cost) Donald Ducks. And guess what? We just happen to have at least 27 Donald Ducks available for immediate purchase and delivery. No shipping and handling fees!

With that free Loss Leader securely in Junior’s iron-fisted grip, the deal is just about done. A cocktail of guilt, education reform and that-10-year-old-was-so-sweet-to-Junior-we-have-to-buy-a-few-books and mom and dad are picking up their new favorite comic book series. At least two, sometimes four or five, one guy bought a box of Donald Ducks and an entire collection of Dolfje Weerwolfje.

Did you follow what happened here? We gave away a free plastic dinosaur and made a multiple-unit sale.

Let’s summarize the entire transaction. Because there’s a lot going on.

  1. The kid is thrilled with his plastic whatever that he’ll probably lose before he gets home. But he has the memory of a goldfish so he’s just inherently happy and will have forgotten about the entire day by then anyway and will just wonder when dinner is.
  2. We’ve supplied the parents with enough reading material to read to their son in bed for the next three years. Value? Eternal and limitless joy. Score!
  3. My 10-year old helped a little boy choose his gift and built his own confidence as he felt useful to the small boy. He’s smiling and proud.
  4. My 12-year old is $14 closer to the new shoes he doesn’t need.
  5. I got rid of four pounds of books we’ve read 87 times each and I got to teach my kids about economics.

Let me count: that’s win + win + win + win + win + win.

We’re not even to the best part. All of this doesn’t even come close to what really happened here.

Today I got to talk to my boys, to hang out with them in the park in the sun and drink overly sugary drinks that they’re never allowed to have. I got teach them what I know without them knowing that I was teaching them anything. We didn’t sit down and use paper or calculators. There wasn’t a textbook anywhere. We joked about which kids were going to see the dinosaurs. We were learning by experience. We were instilling knowledge into their brains by doing, through real-life situations with real money and real people. We didn’t know the outcome of any transaction beforehand so there was the element of adventure and risk.

If I improved their lives just a smidgen, it’s a good day. If they learned something through experience, it’s a great day. It’s just a single day, just a day like any other, but I taught my boys something and that’s the biggest win.

I am 100% certain my boys would have no idea what I’m going on and on about here, maybe they will when they hit university. But I have the biggest smile on my face as I write this because today was both just another day and yet it was the greatest day. It’s possible to make it both.

What are you going to do with a regular Saturday? It’s up to you.

  • Possible: sell some books at a flea market
  • Impossible: enroll your 12-year old in an economics class
  • Repossible: learn basic economics principles through experience