My First Business Lesson: Nobody Wants to Buy the Last Sno-Kone

I grew up close to the Milwaukee airport, which hosted an enormous air show every summer.

When I was 12 years old, I sold Sno-Kones at the event—a memory jogged this weekend by the metallic grind of a flea-market vendor’s ice-crushing machine.

As I remember it, the Milwaukee air show concessionaires concocted a pretty cool deal for themselves: I got to pocket all 50 cents from every Sno-Kone I sold; but I had to pay 25 cents for every one in advance.

The challenge, of course, was that you had to sell the Sno-Kones before they liquified. And on a blistering summer day, criss-crossing a blacktop airfield that could melt your Converse, that could be pretty tough. 

So you had to be smart: 1) Inspect your inventory before leaving the tent, rejecting “pre-melts”; 2) Sell only where crowds of hot, tired people were waiting for events or aircraft tours; and 3) Load up on the “blue flavor,” because kids love to see their tongues turn weird colors.

The most important lesson was harder to learn: No one wants to buy the last Sno-Kone in your tray. It’s always just a little bit melted. Not quite round or icy enough. Most times, there’s gooey syrup leaking from the bottom.

I watched other kids march anxiously in circles, trying fruitlessly to sell cups of colored water. But it was far more productive to dump the last Kone, cut your losses, and run back to get a fresh tray.

Not a bad lesson for a lot of business owners today, come to think of it.