Teen business partners shake up farmers markets

Kamiak alums Rial Smith, Joey Kamp join forces to launch small business
By Nicholas Johnson | Jul 12, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson Joey Kamp, right, uses a milkshake spinner to make a milkshake Saturday, July 8, at the Edmonds Farmers Market while business partner Rial Smith cleans up.

If it weren’t for farmers markets, two Mukilteo teens say they would still be saving up money to open their own business.

“Farmers markets are a great venue to start a business,” Rial Smith, 19, said. “It gives you room to experiment because it’s on a smaller scale. If we had gotten a storefront in the mall, for example, our costs would have been a lot higher up front.”

Smith and business partner Joey Kamp, 18, are recent Kamiak High School graduates who in May opened their milkshake-making business, Mukshakes, for the first time at the Snohomish Farmers Market.

The two met while attending Explorer Middle School, but didn’t begin exploring small business ideas until high school. Both have held jobs since age 16; Smith is currently a manager at Regal Cinemas in Everett and Kamp is a barista at Starbucks in Mukilteo.

The teens came up with the idea to open a milkshake stand at farmers markets late last summer. Actually, they came up with the name first, and a business plan followed.

“I was sending a text message, and I actually misspelled the word milkshakes,” Smith said of their business’ name: Mukshakes.

They already knew they wanted to try something new at farmers markets. In fact, a year earlier they had tossed around the idea of opening a Panini stand, but due to logistical challenges, and a lack of start-up funding, that idea never took off.

“I’m glad we waited and didn’t try to start that right away,” Smith said. “I don’t think we were ready to start a market shop then.”

In the summer of 2016, Smith and Kamp worked with 2015 Kamiak alum Luke Murnan, who was operating a lemonade stand at several markets.

“We saw how the markets work, and we noticed a lack of diverse food and drink options,” Kamp said. “I don’t know if we would have been able to understand what we wanted to sell and who we were selling to if we hadn’t already done something at the market.”

Plus, by then they had saved enough money to start thinking seriously about launching a business.

“Our parents were willing to help, but it hasn’t come to that,” Smith said. “It feels a lot more empowering to be doing this on our own. It feels like it’s ours, and that’s a really good feeling.”

Once they settled on milkshakes, they created a spreadsheet of all their anticipated start-up costs, and they began thinking about applying for health and business permits. Most importantly, though, they began debating what makes a milkshake great.

“We started trying milkshakes wherever we would go out to eat, and we would talk about how to improve them,” Smith said. “We would steal things we liked from other milkshakes to make ours better.”

Initially, their shakes were too thin, made with too much milk, Smith said.

“The recipe was a challenge,” he said. “We had to figure out how to get that right consistency every time.”

Kamp said they didn’t expect equipment costs would as high as they were, and Smith said that, in hindsight, he would have applied for permits sooner than he did.

“If I could do it again knowing what I do now, I would have started everything much earlier,” Smith said. “If we had realized early on how many challenges we would face, we might not have continued with our idea.”

Nevertheless, Mukshakes can be found each week at farmers markets in Snohomish, Mukilteo, Edmonds and Bothell. Both say the venture remains a work in progress as they continue learning on the job.

“Every week we are looking at how can we improve our product and the customer experience,” Kamp said. Smith added that many logistical challenges don’t become obvious until you’re facing them in the moment, but more often than not a fellow market vendor steps up to lend a hand.

“One day, we forgot chalk to do our chalkboard menu,” Smith said. “Another vendor walked by and saw us struggling, so they lent us some chalk to use. Everyone is looking out for each other and trying to help each other do their best.”

Both said the venture is a learning experience they hope will help them with future businesses. In fact, both say they have been thinking about starting their own businesses for years, especially Kamp.

“I’ve always felt a calling to work for myself,” he said. “In the fifth grade, I sold chips and candy and soda to other kids in class. That got shut down when parents started complaining to the school.”

As summer market season continues, the duo said they expect to keep experimenting with their products. They’ve already offered weekly specials, such as a birthday cake shake and rainbow sherbet shake. They’ve also been working on a malt, and soon they hope to incorporate fresh fruit such as raspberries into their shakes.

Whatever they develop and whatever new challenges they face, both say they have learned a lot about how to collaborate.

“When you are developing everything from scratch, you have to lean on each other a lot,” Kamp said.

“We aren’t just splitting the profit, we’re splitting the workload. It feels great to have someone else invested in an idea just as much as you are.”

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