Alpine resident and small business owner Justin Johnston is helping the four young boys in his family start a business that at first glance appears charming — kids selling birdhouse kits — but is actually intended to teach them, he said, that running a business “is about being able to sustain yourself by being helpful to others.”
The birdhouse kits were a small project Johnston dabbled with about a year ago.
“I sort of prototyped the cuts, created a jig, tried it out and boom, boom, boom, knocked out a dozen in an hour,” Johnston said.
He considered whether they were something he could add to his family’s lifestyle but set the project aside.
“This all started up because I was putting my son to bed and he told me he wanted to start a business to help the family. We’re not struggling but we definitely keep a budget. I remembered the birdhouse thing. I realized, if he has that interest, I have to feed it,” Johnston said.
He pulled out the jig again, decided with his son they could put together template kits sold for $18, something “very simple, everything is pre-drilled, you can drop the nails in and hit it with the hammer a couple of times and it’s put together.”
As the owner of a small accessory dwelling units construction company, Johnston said he wears a lot of different hats even with his small team of installers and estimators.
“I talked to my son Dylan and told him people are interested in the birdhouse kits so he’s going to have to learn the intake of orders, how to accumulate cost, time and materials spent so you can realize profit. Obviously we can’t produce factory-made birdhouses like you can buy on Amazon, but the kids need something to do and this is an education I can give them while we’re homeschooling,” Johnston said.
Attempting to run his own business as a child resonated with him early on, he said, “I tried to mow lawns but it didn’t work out so I ended up painting house numbers on curbs. That early experience of the full-cycle business, where you offer your services and learn about the market, I want to pass that on to my kids.”
The other night, Johnston said his son Dylan cornered him and confided, “Mommy wants some fleece leggings for Christmas,” well a business like this gives a kid the ability to make spending decisions.”
Johnston grew up “below average income” but went on to college and acquired bookkeeping skills and wants to pass that sense of capability on to his sons as well as teach them they have the ability to start a business.
Even his 2-year old, he said, is “a member of the tribe.”
“I want them to gather business skills that will someday get passed on to the next generation, just like my grandfather did with me in his shop,” Johnston said.
You never know how much kids are taking in, he said, like “I read my son Moby Dick two years ago and he just sat there and listened. I really feel when they’re at that age they’re innocent but also so powerful, we’re a product of our past generations so at a certain point let’s just see how much they can take. You know, we still have like four chapters left but we got to the point where he would ask me, are we reading Moby Dick tonight?”
He’s currently using his business line to take orders for birdhouse kits but said the money is all going to the boys so they learn “how to manage it, how to allocate and spend it wisely” so they are empowered to make their own decisions.
“I don’t want to sell a product, I want to sell encouragement to the kids.”