We kick off today's recap with a letter I recently received. I'm sure that you'll find it as entertaining as I do.
Dear Misters Gardner,
My brother, sister and I watched your show on PBS. I am 12, my sister is 11, and my brother is 9. We thought it was really neat that you are brothers and you work together.
We wondered if you used to be like us. We have wanted to make money for a long long time. We have tried harvesting ice from our stream to sell to our parents and neighbors, but it kept melting before we could deliver it. We tried selling vegetables from our garden, but we hardly have any soil so we don't get very good crops. We do jobs other than our regular chores for money. We have put on plays and bicycle stunt shows and sold tickets. We collected wild leeks from our woods to sell (not many people like those). We even started our own company, making wooden figures. First we called them "action figures," but we were afraid we would get sued if they broke when people moved them too much, so we changed it to "folk figures." We started out making Civil War figures (because we were studying the Civil War and had gone to Gettysburg and loved it). We had displays in several local libraries and called the newspapers to see if they wanted to feature an up-and-coming local business, and they did! Then we decided we needed to make figures that people wanted to buy. For instance, we made Belgian Flag Throwers to sell at Ommegang Brewery, but then the flag throwers ended up not performing at the festival so people weren't sure what they were. When the owner introduced us and called them "puppets" we sold more because it was a Puppets and Waffles Festival. We did REALLY well when we made little Nutcrackers to sell at a fair before Christmas.
We like your program a lot. We want to start investing. I get $4, Hannah gets $3 and Jacob gets $2 a week for allowance. Can we start investing even though we are just kids and don't have much money? How would we start? You said to think about things that we like anyway. I like a company called Vision Forum that publishes really good books and I was wondering about that microbrewery in Cooperstown called Ommegang. My sister likes horses and a company called American Girl that sells dolls. My brother likes his V-Tech laptop and his Sony cd player. Other companies we thought of were Hess gas stations, Hannaford grocery stores, Hasbro games, Panasonic, Dove chocolates (M&M Mars) and many more. When can you use the money you make because you invested? If you just leave it there and don't use it so it will grow and grow what good is it to you? Is there a better time of year to start? How do you find out how much shares cost and if a company is a leader or if it borrowed too much like you said?
Sincerely, Ian S. Lamont
(on behalf of Hannah and Jacob Lamont as well)
P.S. We were also wondering if we should invest the $80.00 we have in our company treasury or if we should leave it there to pay for what we need to buy to make whatever we sell at our next show. Or should we invest part of it? But that is why we were wondering when you can use it. What if you need to use it?
My mother thought the best part of your show was at the end when you said nice things about your parents!
Dear Ian, Hannah, and Jacob,
I loved your letter, and have read and reread it, and shared it with many others (and now a few hundred thousand more). Thank you for writing. It's fascinating to meet three Rule Breakers at such early stages of your lives.
In tomorrow's column, I will send you a full response. But I don't want to pretend as if I'm the only fellow capable of helping. The longer I work at The Motley Fool, the more I'm reminded that we have many customers smarter than I am, people whose knowledge, experience, and insight well exceed my own. So I'm also initiating a short contest to our community readership. I invite anyone reading this to write, in 1000 words or less, a response to the Lamonts. Then post it to our Rule Breaker Beginners discussion board or email it to us at RuleBreakers@Fool.com. Submissions need to be in pronto by 9 AM ET Thursday morning to get them published tomorrow. To the writers of the three best, Tom and I will send a signed copy of Rule Breakers, Rule Makers, along with a few additional Foolish trinkets. And we'll feature those and my own response to you in this space tomorrow. (I'll mail copies to you Lamonts, as well.)
Before I sign off, there was one noteworthy occurrence in the RB portfolio today. Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) struck a deal essentially to take over the online business of Borders (NYSE: BGP), the nation's second-largest bookstore. Unlike the Toys 'R' Us (NYSE: TOY) deal, in which Toys 'R' Us takes on inventory management and risk, the Borders deal calls for Amazon to assume control of all elements of the business. Borders.com will still exist as an online destination (again unlike toysrus.com), co-branded with Amazon. It will provide information on Borders stores, but all orders will be transacted as though they were from Amazon.
The deal won't have a meaningful impact on either company's financials in the short term, but it demonstrates Amazon's competitive position. Offline companies have begun to find it easier to concede online sales to Amazon and to send their customers its way. Books are profitable for Amazon, so that business is welcome. We anticipate more such deals in the future.
Note to regular Rule Breaker readers: Starting next week, we will run three Rule Breaker articles per week. They will appear on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For a full explanation for the change, see our letter to the community.
David Gardner, April 11, 2001
David Gardner is co-founder of The Motley Fool. At the time of this writing, he owned shares in Amazon.com. For a complete list of his holdings, see his profile. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.