From selling slime to marketing macaroons, DL teen is a business – InForum
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in the Kid Bosses Forum series, which spotlights teens and kids who have started their own businesses.
DETROIT LAKES, Minnesota — Olivia Mae Smith’s first business venture began in the schoolyard.
In fourth grade, she learned the recipe for making slime – that ectoplasmic goo that sickens parents and fascinates children.
Upon learning of Olivia’s “Ghostbusters” slime-making abilities, other kids began asking her if she would make slime for them.
But the ingredients were expensive, and her parents weren’t prepared to fund an entire school.
So Olivia Mae learned to respond to their demands by saying, “Sure, but it’s going to cost you.”
By the time she finished mixing slime and selling it, Olivia had made $50, she recalls today, smiling at the memory as she sits on a sofa next to her mother, Jen, at the Thunder Coffee in West Fargo.
It was a sticky sign of things to come.
Olivia, now 15, specializes in a job that is much more appealing these days. Working from the rural home in Detroit Lakes where she lives with her parents, Dr. Stacey and Jen Smith, and her three older sisters, she makes and sells macarons and sometimes other types of cookies.
She takes orders for fancy French cookies through her Facebook site Olivia Mae’s Bowtique and Bakery or sells them at craft fairs and other venues.
Mom Jen describes her youngest daughter as a driven, organized and self-reliant teenager who doesn’t just follow the pack.
Instead, the girl jokingly called “big boss” by her family seems to have an entrepreneurial spirit of her own.
“She’s not afraid to take matters into her own hands. She knows what she wants,” says Jen.
For her part, Olivia says she was motivated more by the love of selling than the pursuit of money.
“I didn’t start selling stuff for the money, it just happened,” she says. “I like to be busy and I was also good at selling things and being a businesswoman. In the beginning it was just about making and selling what people wanted. I had to make sure that I could cover my costs and there was a profit.”
At only 15, she created three companies
The bakery business is actually the third that Olivia has started in 15 years.
Somewhere between The Great Slime Sell-out and mastering wayward French baking, Olivia started selling headbands and hair bows.
She was about 10 years old when her mother noticed that she was wrapping her American Girl doll in fabric to make her a dress.
Jen suggested she learn how to make a real dress, so Olivia created one with a sketchy pattern. After that, she wanted to add a matching hair bow.
From there, she made the jump to sewing and selling hair accessories for real girls.
This is where the “Bowtique” part of its trade name comes from, although bows have now been supplanted by macaroons.
“I don’t really make or sell hair anymore, because what I have to sell it for to make a profit, people can buy it cheaper,” Olivia explains, showing that she already knows the results.
It’s not that hard to sell her macaroons, which come in a pastel rainbow of hues and flavors like red velvet, lemon, vanilla, chocolate-mint, salted caramel, cotton candy to dad and the birthday cake.
Especially when she sells the labor-intensive cookies at the low end of the macaroon scale: six for $10.
“I should raise my prices a bit,” she admits, as her mother reminds her of the rising grocery prices.
In search of the magnificent macaron
Olivia’s macaroon business started as innocently as her previous endeavors.
Olivia and a friend wanted to bake something for fun, so they decided to find a macaroon recipe and try baking them.
The purple sandwich cookies they made were edible, “but they were very lumpy and not the cutest,” she says. “Once I did them once, I said, ‘I know I can improve them.'”
Olivia still had a lot to learn about insightful baking, including that it should be made with almond flour rather than wheat flour.
Intrigued by the challenge, she kept practicing with different recipes on the internet. Olivia estimates that she made at least 20 batches and threw away a lot of badly shaped macarons before she really started to understand.
“I had to do a lot of research because they weren’t coming out at first,” she says.
When Olivia’s mother bought Natalie Wong’s book, “French Macarons for Beginners,” that changed everything. Armed with a great basic recipe and some valuable tips, Olivia’s macaroons just got a whole lot better.
She was able to produce cookies that met all the macaroon standards of excellence. They were uniform with a shiny, smooth, slightly domed top. The outside of the cookie was slightly crispy, while the inside had a chewy angel-like texture.
More importantly, her macaroons sprouted “feet.” As strange as it may seem, macaroon feet are the telltale sign of a successful cookie execution. They refer to the little ruffles around the edge of the shell – showing that the batter was the perfect ratio of wet to dry ingredients, the egg whites weren’t over-beaten, and they were cooked just right.
Olivia’s experience and hard work come through when she talks about the intricacies of creating meringue cookies. “They’re very particular about everything,” she says. “Like the temperature, it took me a while to figure out the perfect temperature for my oven and if I go somewhere else I have to figure out the temperature for that oven…Same as the weather, if it’s humid, I sometimes don’t bake because it affects the macaroons. Or if it’s very hot. Before they go in the oven, I dry them with a fan, so when it’s very hot they don’t dry properly.
Olivia Mae is now so good at making macarons that she can tell if they’re right by breaking a cookie in half. She doesn’t even need to taste them.
In fact, she admits she’s tasted so many cookies that she doesn’t like them like she used to. “I still like them, but I like buying other people’s and comparing them,” says Olivia, still a market researcher.
When Olivia decided to turn macaron making into a business, her parents offered a reality check.
“We warned her that there would be times when it wouldn’t be fun,” Jen says. “Or deadlines. Now it’s great fun getting all these orders, but now I have to fulfill them.”
Indeed, producing consistent cookies under time constraints has proven to be the hardest part of all.
In the beginning, “There was a lot of ‘Don’t give up,'” says Jen. “And a few tears, especially when there’s a deadline and they’re not coming out and she said, ‘What do I do now?
When Olivia was completely overwhelmed, the family offered to participate. But Olivia knew how special each step of the process was, so it took a trained person to do it.
In the end, Olivia handled the situation by placing a second message on her Facebook page stating that she had received more orders than expected and would therefore need a little more time to complete them all.
“I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and do your best,” she says. “I went in order of who ordered first and then went through the list. It went well and didn’t take me too long.”
Olivia also carefully monitors expenses and profits and reimburses her parents for groceries purchased for macaroons.
“A lot of it was, if you want to do this, the reality is mom and dad aren’t going to fund it,” Jen says. “A lot of times parents will pay for everything, and that’s not a good idea of what a business is,” says Jen.
She also knows what she can and can’t do under her cottage food license, which includes specifying that her products weren’t made in a commercial kitchen and presenting ingredient lists. .
And she learned that selling through Facebook is much easier than seller shows. The advantage of craft fairs is that people can taste them if they are not familiar with macaroons. And in most cases, once they’ve tasted them, they buy them.
On the other hand, it is difficult to estimate how many cookies to pre-bake for a craft sale.
By cooking to order, she found there was less waste.
Although she still has time before embarking on a career, Olivia Mae thinks it might be good to run a cafe/bakery one day. But first, she would like to get a degree, either in business and marketing or possibly in culinary arts.
“That’s what I’m leaning towards, but you never know,” she says.
Either way, we suspect that Olivia will take care of business.
“I still love him. I haven’t had enough of it yet.”