Fondling balls for money; an eight-year old’s success story
I washed & sold balls one Summer; made my friend do it too.
I was 8 when I made some real money off of balls. So much so, my business was shut down by ‘the man’ quickly and ruthlessly. This is my story.
As a kid… as an adult… well – since I’ve been breathing, I’ve been trying to find another way to make an extra buck. It was oddly important to me from such a young age, even my family will tell you – I was born with this hunger. I made, baked and sold, did chores, helped parents clean, wrap presents, clean up leaves, weed the gardens – I mean anything I could do short of sexual favors, I was ready, willing and able to give it my best shot (stay tuned for another article where I’ll be going through a myriad of things I did, both good and bad, moral and not, to make an extra buck as a literal child).
We moved to Shoreham when I was 8, on September 1st, 1999. Our 1-acre property my poor parents’ way overpaid on taxes for (forever a Realtor first), was backed up to a golf course. This golf course no longer exists but was the source of many memories, one of which was my thriving business: balls.
Despite the 6th hole being located embarrassingly far to the west in comparison to our house, our lawn collected golf balls like it was snowing. Eh, maybe it was more of a flurry – but it was enough. To be frank, most golfers simply are not good at golfing. They don’t know this. They’re very unaware. So, our yard was filled and, we went out and did what I liked to call, “Golf Ball Hunting!” My friends/neighbors and I would all inspect different sections of the yard to cover more ground at once. I like efficiency. I like plans. I LOVE carrying out said plans. I would also then go over the entire property as soon as everyone left, because I trusted no one to do the job I would do. I like control. And apparently defeating the purpose of my own planned efficiency. Oops, still working on that. Isn’t it cute when the distrust starts so young (more on that in plenty of other stories to come)? Adorable.
Eventually, my collection was ridiculous. Dad gave a few to a friend one day and it dawned on me. These had value. "Value" you say? I can sell it. Don’t mind if I do! With that, I rolled the golf balls into a snowball. And down the hill we rolled. As my mother would tell you with both pride and frustration, once I have an idea in my head there is absolutely no stopping me (annoyingly and thankfully). Not until I have every answer I am looking for, solution needed and plan in place while I create the space and execution outline paired with a marketing plan and well, I go insane. It’s a high for me. I am the definition of a goal getter and I get off on setting goals and the ever so satisfying task of checking off an item on a list. I’m getting sidetracked.
To work I went. Or, to work WE went. A friend of mine lived a few blocks away which took about 7 minutes on our bike, if you took the trail we made through a few back yards. I’d like to note here I’d hate me as a neighbor. If some kid did what I did to some of these back yards to make a short cut to my friend’s house that was at worst, 10-minute bike ride – oy. Get off my lawn you little shit kid (‘Little Shit Kid’ was a fond nickname for me from Mama, my sister was ‘Short Shit’ and we both still love the nicknames)! Anyway, since our houses backed up to the same side of the golf course we quickly figured out if we just hop the barb wire fence, we could be at each other’s houses within 3 minutes. God damn geniuses, I tell you! I found/fashioned together an old ladder and garbage picked an old rug to throw over the barb wire and BOOM. Office entry complete. My employee now had a direct route to work, to avoid time wasting. All 4 minutes I saved I am obviously still very proud of and needed each minute to be remembered and acknowledged. Is my need for credit for every little thing showing? Huh? Glaring in your eyeball? It gets worse.
With my mother’s glorious collection of old Chinese food containers, a few buckets of soapy water, various sponges with different levels of scratch risk for testing, a drying section neatly laid out, and a packaging department (presentation was very important to me) I had my company ready to rumble and eager to thrive. Picture various towels laid out on a flat lawn systematically. This was my factory, obviously. I created an assembly line for my two-child work force focused on productivity in a circle formation for maximum ease of use. Mind you, we hadn’t made it to the 4th grade yet – why would this poor friend of mine have stayed? She had every opportunity to hop that fence and go home, and not have to work (slacking was not tolerated) at her unpaid job. I remember explaining she was helping me so she could start her own business next and I’d help her with that when the time came. I made this deal knowing full well she would not being doing a thing and I would not have to help a bit. Little asshole that I was. We’re getting to that.
We had it down pat! First wash and dry but thoroughly, no half ass-ing this or any step! Then, organize by brand. Once brands were all sorted out, I took it a step further which I know by now is a huge shocker to us all – I saw a need. They needed to be categorized by condition as well. Which in turn, set off a whole new marketing scheme. DEALS FOR DUDS! Not only was I going to sell individual golf balls, and had already thought about package deals, etc. Now, I was going to give extra deals and incentives to customers who purchase x amount of the duds gets a deal on the prime balls. The mint balls. The real money makers. If you take my bad balls, I’ll get you some good balls. But these other balls, these the best! I remember being proud of the line ‘These are for practice. Then these are for hole in ones only. You can’t use them unless it’s for a hole in one. So, are you sure you want them because I’m not sure what kind of golfer you are?’ Oh, they ate it up. Yeah, I played that innocent adorable little baby business owner angle every chance I had. Isn’t my stand cute? My handmade signs? Do you like my clipboard? Check that packaging out! I’m just an innocent little girl, slinging balls. Give me all of your money.
We had already called and obtained permission from the golf course to set up a stand out front on the road, next to the driveway to the large parking lot in front of the golf course. They thought it was an adorable idea. A little girl with a stand out front? How sweet! Sweet it was! I set up and had a line within what felt like minutes. We were killing it. My spiel was being eating up quicker than I could dish it out and I was in heaven. Balls were flying off the table, my smile was way past my ears and the cash box was filling up. You can check with my father; it was a thriving success. So much so, we were quickly shut down. They had not anticipated just how successful this little cutie was going to be. A mistake most men still make about me but who has time for all of those stories? They asked us to pack up and shove out – they told us they did not anticipate the amount of distraction and sales we would end up with and that we were hurting their business and their shops were empty since we setup. Little ole me? Tell me again how I hurt your business within hours? A little louder for the back! Anyone else have those warm fuzzy feelings just reading that? Just me?
So, thinking or rather knowing how clever we are – we packed it all up and decided, right there looks good! Across the street was a sod farm. A sod farm I later was drunk on for most of middle school. But anyway, it was a big open piece of flat land. We set shop back up quickly and got back to business. People were coming back already on their way out! Repeat customers make me merry. The money was flowing, and the line was moving. I could feel my heartbeat in each fingertip as I handled the balls, then the money, and into the cash box it went. Balls, money, cash box. Balls, money, cash box. Balls and box. The box and my balls. Hehe. This is me excelling and holy hell I get a rush just recounting it. See, one of my favorite things about work, is how good I know I can be at it. Cocky jokes aside, I love to work. I have a strong work ethic and it’s somewhere I have always been able to thrive, so it is a huge source of my self worth, pride and a huge reason I’ve always been suspiciously confident. Knowing you are a capable person very young and then enjoying proving that is a very valuable trait I am thankful as all hell I seemed to of been infused with since I learned the concept of earning. If I do X, you’ll give me Y? Oh, it’s on. It’s my go to flex. Exceeding expectations can be a hobby if you make it one. Quote me on it!
Not too long after we got back into our flow, they dropped the final hammer. The golf course told my dad that the course actually owned the sod farm as well, the property we had just set back up on to sell out the rest of my stock. They made us leave. Even my already loyal customers were upset by the news. To this day my father gets all blink-y and head shaky when this part of the story is explained. He always asks, “How could they shut her down?” and confirms to any listener, “Isn’t that ridiculous!?” and yes Papa, it is/was. But in their defense, it was in their best interest. If they thought I’d stop there, they’d have been severely wrong. After my taste for success this was the only way they could have truly shut me down – it was before the internet people. Well, before the internet was what it is. I couldn’t just hop online and sell my balls like you can today. I needed the foot traffic, the store front – I needed the people. Deep in my 14-house cul-de-sac with all of two golfers total was NOT going to cut it for this business plan like all of my other business plans prior.
** Special thanks to the folks living on Heather Lane in Shoreham NY between 1999-2009 for always entertaining my shenanigans, good and bad ideas alike. You helped build this force. **
Now before I end this recap of my ball handling days, I would like to note that both the golf course and the sod farm shut down and are now solar farms. Later in middle school, before they shut down, I worked in the small bar in exchange for waffle fries. I thought it was the arrangement of a lifetime considering my diet at the time consisted of chocolate milk and waffle fries – this was an incredible deal. When I smartened up and wanted cash, I got the boot – and took my services to another golf course. So, all in all, they helped shape me and then I shipped out.
I made a good amount of money that day. Although I had already started/created at least a dozen side hustles by this time, this was the first time I got to take my show on the road. Have customers outside of my family, friends’ parents and our neighbors – this was my first true business experience with the public. It was absolutely delicious, scrumptious even! I’ve been hungry for it ever since. The plans, the carry out, the customers, the interactions, the on-the-spot thinking, the wit of a sale, the pressure, the thrill, the money in my hands and my favorite – satisfying a customer. I learned so early a satisfied customer today means more money tomorrow, which has helped shape my entire approach to life and business.
Who would think balls would lead to the person I am today with such a heavy influence? I don’t know many people who are as thankful for balls as I am, but I thank each and every ball in each and every condition for its contribution to the person I am and am not, today.
Thank you so much for reading. Although it's always a plus, I do not write or share these stories for the Tips so please do not feel obligated. The fact you made it this far means the world to me. Thank you, again!