Social media and kids don’t always mix well, but TikTok is a secret ingredient inspiring one young Valley kidpreneur. Marlee Rae Cuff is well on her way to becoming a successful business owner – at the tender age of 6.
As an active social media user and influencer, Marlee’s mom, LaNea Barnes Cuff, is keenly aware of the downside of social media, but she’s also well versed in the light-hearted, inspiring content that can make the platforms so much fun.
Scrolling Tik Tok together, the duo came across videos of girls making lemonade. The creative editing and energy caught Marlee’s attention. She was captivated by the lively shots of mashing, mixing, and shaking.
“It was kind of exciting to see something that wasn’t a traditional TikTok dance. That’s what made her intrigued,” LaNea explains.
Together, they took a deeper dive into the young creators’ stories and learned these enterprising girls weren’t just making lemonade to sell out of their driveways; some were selling their products at markets and at parties.
One day, out of the blue, Marlee asked, “Can we make lemonade?”
LaNea recalls being intimidated, but she channeled that apprehension into action and started taking notes. As they kept watching, she began listing equipment they might need and listened for recipe ideas to borrow.
They went to a few discount stores near their home in Maricopa and cobbled together an assortment of equipment and supplies. It wasn’t exactly the professional mashers and other tools the influencers were using, but it was good enough to get their start.
“We found whatever we could, and we made some lemonade. And it was really good,” LaNea says.
They invited dad, Marcus, to sample the first batch, and like LaNea, he was surprised by just how good Marlee’s recipe tasted. Next, she made a batch to share with extended relatives at a weekly family dinner. Consensus: “That’s really, really good!”
A week later, Marlee approached LaNea in her home office and said, “I want to make lemonade for everybody.”
That was three months ago. Now, the mother-daughter team is up to their eyeballs in all of the minutiae that comes with launching a business, securing permits, and preparing to tackle Marlee’s first big business goal: selling her lemonade at local farmers’ markets.
“I shared it with family and friends, and then I made it a business to share with everyone,” Marlee explains.
So far, Marlee’s Lemonade has been sold at local parks and local community events, and Marlee got her first taste of the farmer’s market experience by participating in the Children’s Entrepreneur Market at the Fountain Hills Farmers Market.
While they work through permitting requirements to gain access to bigger markets and venues, Marlee takes her role in product development seriously. Her menu currently spans 17 different flavors, from popular fruity additions like strawberry to more exotic enhancements like lavender or matcha.
To complement the organic lemons and flavored syrups (all sourced from natural ingredients), the Cuffs are also working on making their own purees to elevate the fruity flavor profiles. Inspiration for all these flavors comes in part from her original source – TikTok – but she’s also dedicated to creating her own unique blends.
Most evenings, after her schoolwork is done, you’ll find her in the kitchen concocting what LaNea calls “mystery cups” of lemonade.
Fortunately, Marlee’s flexible school schedule allows her to dedicate plenty of time to her lemonade passion. She’s a first grader at ASU Prep Digital, an accredited online school that her pediatrician recommended back when Marlee was just a toddler. His nephew, an avid youth tennis player, was enrolled, and LaNea saw parallels in how the school could fit for their busy virtual-inclined family.
Marlee started the program as a kindergartener and continues to flourish. She attends scheduled sessions with her classmates in the morning but has the freedom to complete her assignments through the week.
That gives her the flexibility to take an active role in product development and business planning (look for tasting flights when Marlee’s Lemonade makes its official market debut!). She also joins LaNea on trips to city offices and other errands necessary for operating a small business.
In their ‘spare time,’ LaNea and Marlee also joined forces to write, illustrate, and publish a book based on Marlee’s experiences. “Marlee’s Lemonade Venture” is a refreshing tale of Marlee, an ambitious young girl with a zest for entrepreneurship; it’s sold on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com.
Looking long term, Marlee has big plans for her brand. “In one year, I want to be in very big markets and then in five years, I want to be in stores like Target, Walmart, and Fry’s,” she says.
That may sound ambitious for a 6-year-old, but LaNea takes her role of supporting Marlee’s dreams seriously.
“If she says, ‘I wanna go to the moon,’ I’m calling NASA,” LaNea says with a laugh.
To learn more about Marlee’s Lemonade, visit marleehere.com or search @marleeslemonade on social media. Families interested in exploring flexible education options for ambitious young learners can learn more at asuprepdigital.com.