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South Kitsap sophomore a published author
While other boys his age were learning to read and playing with Tonka Trucks, Ethan Kalkwarf was developing a business strategy.
As a 6-year-old, Kalkwarf found himself looking at gift tags on the computer around Thanksgiving. That experience birthed the concept to create and print his own stickers.
He sold sheets of eight tags for $1.25 each to family members, and his business, Ethan’s Paper Products, was up and running.
These days, Kalkwarf, now 16 and a sophomore at South Kitsap High School, also runs Phase 5 Designs, which focuses on building and upgrading Web sites for companies, out of his bedroom to save overhead expenses. He chronicled recently chronicled those experiences in his self-published book, “Teen Entrepreneur.”
“I’ve encountered adults, teachers and coaches telling our generation that we’re the future leaders,” Kalkwarf said. “That sounds great, but that means we have to wait to unleash our leadership potential. I hate that altogether.”
He said the book aims to get others his age to do “something extraordinary with their lives.”
Kalkwarf began cultivating his business acumen even before discovering the desktop publishing software to create the gift tags. He ran lemonade stands and posted signs advertising for Ethan’s Vacuuming Service on neighbors’ doors in hopes of earning money. Kalkwarf acknowledged it was not traditional for someone his age, but that the experiences have allowed him to develop business strategies.
He upgraded the quality of the Christmas stickers he sold for several years — Kalkwarf even attended holiday conventions to find new ideas — and created a catalog. When his concept became popular, he hired friends to assist him.
But the allure of tags eventually faded and he said the thought of selling them became embarrassing. Two years ago, he decided to transition Ethan’s Paper Products to a company that focuses on business cards and other items focused on professionals.
Then came the 160-page book. The first printing produced 150 books, which he sells for $12. Kalkwarf has had two books signings in the community, but said he generates more sales through South Kitsap’s student store.
“It’s not on their iPhone or MySpace,” said Kalkwarf, adding that he is thankful that administrators have been supportive of his venture. “I’m having to take it to them and push it here.”
Steve Phillips, the Distributive Education Clubs of America director at South Kitsap, is helping Kalkwarf market the book. He hopes to eventually have the book listed on Amazon. In addition to the student store, the book also is available at the Bethel Avenue Book Company in Port Orchard and Phase5Designs.com.
One aspect of his experience that Kalkwarf refuses to discuss is profits. He said he does not want his peers to judge him on that.
“I make more than your typical high schooler, but I couldn’t live on my own,” said Kalkwarf, who has filed a tax return since 2007.
Phillips invited Kalkwarf to speak with one of his classes last year. He said Kalkwarf got their attention at the end of his presentation when he offered each student a job that pays $9.50 per hour at the end.
Earlier this month, Kalkwarf placed first in the state DECA’s Area 7 Competitions in Advertising Campaign Event. He is one of 10 South Kitsap students who will advance to the March 4-6 state competition in Bellevue.
“Here’s a kid right out of nowhere who is beating everyone,” said Phillips, adding that another student opted to focus on another category when he saw Kalkwarf decided on Advertising Campaign Event.
Kalkwarf also said he does not view business as profit first. He said some of his fondest memories come from adults who offered encouragement or even left a tip at the lemonade stand. He supports a couple of different charities — Relay for Life, an event he helped raise $3,000 for last year, and Compassion International, through which he sponsors a child in Bolivia.
“As a business owner who generates profit, I can use that to turn around and save lives,” Kalkwarf said. “I want to give back to the community.”
He plans to head to college after he graduates, but Kalkwarf isn’t yet sure of his next plan.
He does, however, have an idea of how he wants to be viewed when his 10-year reunion arrives.
“I want my name to be fresh in people’s minds ... for being a major entrepreneur,” Kalkwarf said. “Not in an egotistical way. I want people to see what I’ve done and for them to go out and try something.”