Mik Bushinski's life revolves around ice -- ice time and ice cream, that is. When he's not playing hockey, he's driving an ice cream truck for the business he started.
The teen entrepreneur couldn't think of a summer job that would be flexible enough for him to fit in twice-daily workout sessions as well as hockey practice, and was surprised that there wasn't someone peddling the sweet treat daily through the streets of his Woodbury subdivison. So he took an interest-free loan from an uncle, bought a used minivan and some freezers, set up an order with an ice cream distributor in Minneapolis, and started Mik Mart Ice Cream. Start-up costs? About $6,000.
Last year, his first in the business, he made enough to pay for the minivan he converted into his first Mik-mobile. After buying another van and investing in more freezers and equipment, Bushinski expects the business will be in the black before summer is over. He wouldn't share revenue, "but I will say that if you run a truck consistently and wisely, then you could expect $15,000 in sales."
With teen unemployment at a staggering 25.7 percent among 16- to 19-year-olds nationally, go-getter teenagers may think starting a business is a sure way to make spending money or save for college. But Bushinski said it's a lot of work: "It seems that you would just hop into the truck and sell ice cream, but all the power stuff [to keep the ice cream cold], getting the money to start it up, placing the orders every night .... A lot more little things go into it than you would expect."
He spends 40 hours in the truck and another 10 or so hours behind the scenes weekly.
At 17, Bushinski already has experience in sales. Aside from the typical lemonade stand he set up on his driveway in the suburbs, Mik also used to sell items at boarding school "to make an extra couple dollars." Ping pong paddles with a $3 mark-up, candy, mini-hockey sticks. One of his coaches coined the name "Mik Mart" for his fledgling business.
Today, Mik Mart is a family venture, with everyone pitching in. His mom helps with stocking the freezers and placing orders. His younger brother, who recently turned 16, has driven the truck a couple of times; both parents also drive. His younger sister will ride along to keep Mik entertained during his marathon weekend shifts.
In addition to covering 90 percent of Woodbury and Cottage Grove most weeks, he's branching out, offering his services to businesses and block parties. He's also working on getting a website up and running, but for now you can find Mik Mart Ice Cream on Facebook.
The effort helps pay for tuition at Shattuck-St. Mary's, a Faribault, Minn., boarding school well-known for its hockey program. The sticker price rivals private college tuition, not to mention the thousands of dollars it costs to play hockey -- from $200 hockey sticks to the $4,000 team fee. "I wasn't going to be able to go ahead and write that check as I had in the past," said his father, Scott Bushinski, who was downsized from his job as an executive for a trucking company and now works in construction.
"I wish I could say that I'm saving up, for like, college, but I'm using it all right now in hope that college will come free," Mik said, hoping for a scholarship if he keeps his grades up and his game strong. He loves economics and thinks a career in business might be a good fit long-term.
So what has Mik learned while running his ice cream enterprise that other would-be entrepreneurs should know?
Find a business that speaks to the times: "People are struggling for money, but it's like 'Oh, wow, I have a dollar to give to the ice cream man.'"
Don't spend all of your profits: Mik says some new business owners might be tempted to spend the cold, hard cash coming in. But his priorities have been to pay off his loans, keep the freezers stocked and buy gas. He even pays himself the retail price for the up to five ice creams he eats per day (His favorite? Lemon Chill frozen lemonade).
Smiles and thank yous create repeat customers: On a recent ride-along, Mik's "There you go. Thank you." competed with the music loop playing from his truck. Mik waited patiently as eager children fumbled for change and weighed their selections (Choco Taco is a top seller, but Shrek on a stick catches kids' eyes, too). Mik says he makes a point to "be sociable." His young buyers may not notice, but their parents do.
Mik thinks running a business has taught him a thing or two that will serve him well for when he runs his personal balance sheet. "If I manage my money wisely about bills and costs along with the things I need, then it gives me the choice to save for what I want in the future or to do some of the things I want now," he explained.
Think you're a budding entrepreneur? There are several websites that offer resources geared toward teens who want to start a business. See if you have what it takes with Junior Achievement's JA Titan, an online business simulation where you make decisions at the helm of your own company. While you're at http:// studentcenter.ja.org, check out dozens of entrepreneur-related resources. Or profit from the business leaders that came before you by attending a free business seminar offered by SCORE, a nonprofit devoted to counseling new small-business owners. There are SCORE locations around Minnesota. Visit www.score.org for more. The "Young Entrepreneur" section of the Web companion to Entrepreneur Magazine is also worth a look: www.entrepreneur.com/tsu.
Reach Kara McGuire at 612-673-7293 or firstname.lastname@example.org and share your advice on starting a business: www.startribune.com/kablog.