By Josh Heath

While many middle schoolers are content to play video games or hang out with friends, Madi Graham, who turns 13 on October 27, is already a budding entrepreneur. Graham works as a Neighborhood Partner for King of Pops, an Atlanta-based popsicle company. Specifically, she sells the frozen treats at various locations in Augusta, Martinez, Evans and Appling, including car dealerships, churches and even her own driveway. Graham just started her job in July and typically works about nine hours a week, mostly on weekends. She says Fridays and Saturdays are her busiest days because she sets up her cart at local events, such as the Bookbag Giveaway at Miracle Nissan of Augusta and movie nights at Recteq Grills in Evans.

The popsicles come in a variety of creative flavor combinations, including Cookies n’ Cream (Graham’s favorite), Chocolate Sea Salt and Strawberry Lemonade, and normally sell for $4 each. The best-sellers change each week, but the Passion Fruit Raspberry Swirl and Blueberry Lemonade varieties have recently been a hit with her customers, she says. Graham says she feels good about selling them because they are made with natural ingredients. “I like the expressions people make when they try a popsicle for the first time,” she says.

Graham, who enjoys playing tennis, is a seventh grader at Episcopal Day School and currently enrolled in distance learning classes. She manages her busy schedule by prioritizing her activities. “School comes first, then tennis practice and then my job,” Graham says. With her busy weeks, she takes advantage of any rare downtime by reading, playing the Animal Crossing video game or spending time with her friends. “I have a new appreciation for being bored because it means I don’t have anything to do,” Graham says.

King of Pops was founded by two brothers, Steven and Nick Carse, in 2010. She first tried the popsicles in Atlanta when she was three years old and has been enjoying them ever since. For many years, Graham only ate the Cookies n’ Cream popsicles, but once she started working for the company, she’s sampled a variety of flavors. Graham says people in Augusta might not be familiar with the brand name. The only local grocery store she found that sold the popsicles was Whole Foods Market, which closed its Augusta store in 2017.

King of Pops usually sells popsicles at outdoor festivals, but many have been canceled this year due to COVID-19 concerns. That is why the company shifted its focus to hiring Neighborhood Partners. Her mother, Kendrall, who works as a speech therapist for the Richmond County School System, saw an online job advertisement and Graham was excited about the opportunity because she wanted her own popsicle cart for many years. Since Graham is under the age of 18, her mother had to sign the paperwork with the company to start the business. The hiring process involved submitting an application and participating in virtual interviews with the company’s CEO and Sales Manager.

 Managing the business has been a learning experience for both Graham and her mother. For example, she says they had a very hectic first week because they didn’t know how to take inventory. Graham has also learned valuable lessons that adults already know: Making money is hard and a dollar does not go very far, she says. Of course, a good portion of Graham’s sales proceeds must be spent on buying more popsicles.

She’s also learned that making sales involves more than the exchange of money and products. “Connecting with customers is really important to me,” Graham says. She wants to know how her customers have been doing, and the flavors they enjoy. For other teens who may be interested in starting a business, Graham offers this advice: “Don’t expect everything to be easy.” The opportunity to make money is alluring, but it takes a great deal of hard work in creating and maintaining a successful business. Graham says young entrepreneurs can’t expect money to be handed to them without working for it. Despite the work involved, she is having fun selling popsicles.

As young people often do, Graham has changed her mind a few times when it comes to what she would like to do when she grows up. Her favorite subject is English. She has considered pursuing a career as an artist or an author, but for now, Graham likes sharing the popsicles she loves with the people of Augusta’s River Region.