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home : top news : top news September 15, 2014

4/16/2011 9:10:00 AM
Look Out World, Here Comes Kent
PHOTO BY JAMES JARDINEKent Melville and the Next Big Thing: St. Johnsbury’s original and only soda pop.
+ click to enlarge

PHOTO BY JAMES JARDINE

Kent Melville and the Next Big Thing: St. Johnsbury’s original and only soda pop.

James Jardine
Staff Writer

ST. JOHNSBURY -- When people from throughout the Kingdom and tourists from everywhere else gather today for the 2011 St. Johnsbury World Maple Festival, they'll be introduced to a brand-new product developed and marketed right here in the Kingdom: Kent's bottled classics soda pop.

Kent Melville is the driving force behind Kent's soda and is the inspiration for the newest product. The remarkable part is that the developer of Kent's soda is 9 years old. Kent, who is autistic, came up with an idea to sell his own soda pop and to share the money from sales with other children who are autistic.

This weekend will be the first time Kent's soda will be on sale to the public, although it is already sold by Kahm's Thai Cuisine in St. Johnsbury Center and at Goodrich's Maple Farm in Marshfield. At the Maple Festival in downtown St. Johnsbury, Kent's will be on sale with a choice of six flavors: lemonade, orange, raspberry-lime, root beer, cream soda and grape. The flavors were chosen by Kent himself, who picked his own personal favorites.

Kent's soda began last summer when Kent ran a lemonade stand and did quite well selling lemonade. When the stand closed down for the season, his parents, Aaron and Michelle Melville, asked him what he'd like to do next. Kent said he had saved his money from the lemonade stand and he wanted to take all of his money and use it to make more money -- and share his money with other children with autism.

He said he wanted to start a restaurant, but didn't quite have enough money for that, so he figured he could make soda and sell it, and take some of the profit and share it.

He came up with his own flavors and, as he developed his idea in earnest, his parents were captivated by the idea their son could launch a business that could generate money to help children with autism.

Aaron Melville, a St. Johnsbury attorney, has taught business courses at Lyndon State College and Champlain College in Burlington. Working with his son, the two decided they'd go to an LSC business class and talk about Kent's plans. The idea evolved into a class assignment, with small groups of students developing business plans as an academic exercise, but using Kent and his soda pop as the subject. When the business plans were finished, Kent listened to the proposals and critiqued each one.



Go Green

One proposal suggested targeting a market of soda pop buyers in an age group from 13 to 24. Kent's response was, "What? Are you stupid? That would mean I couldn't drink my own soda."

Next, Kent's father took Kent and his soda pop idea to a business "incubator without walls" project at the college. Kent got help from faculty members Ann Nygard with the incubator project, Rodney Jacobs with a business plan and Barclay Tucker, whose students helped with graphic arts and the design of a bottle label.

As the 9-year-old came up with more ideas and more plans, his parents began to realize this was something that could actually work.

Aaron Melville cited as a model Paul Newman, who established very successful, very profitable businesses with a social mission. Those businesses ended up accomplishing a great deal of good. He also cited Tom's Shoes, a company that donates a pair of shoes every time it sells a pair of shoes.

A bottler was signed up and the first 24 cases of Kent's soda was turned out by the Walpole, N.H., company, which says he can keep up with 25,000 bottles at a time, but may have to rework things if sales really take off.

For every bottle sold, a portion of the proceeds will go to a social club that helps area families and children with autism by providing such social interaction as bowling, movies, whale-watching excursions and going to the Montshire Museum in Norwich. In the long term, if Kent's soda really takes off, the Melvilles will be ready.

Kent hopes to come up with a special soda once a year, and his first pick will be orange and root beer mixed, since those are his favorite flavors.

"I tried it," he said. "It was delicious." He knows the project has to keep some of the money, Kent says, "because I have employees I have to pay." Another of Kent's marketing plans is a giant root-beer volcano.

Kent has four brothers and sisters who are not autistic, but Kent's autism can be isolating for him. The social club helps Kent and others who are isolated by their autism by bringing the children and families together.

"Having a social club has been a lifesaver for Kent and for us," Arron Melville said. His family has been given so much by the autism community that he's really excited by the opportunity to give back. For several months, Kent has worked with Michael Spence, a St. Johnsbury Academy student who will be going away to college this fall. Jean Metivier is is a psychotherapist who is the director of the Integrated Therapy Institute in St. Johnsbury. She's helped Kent and has encouraged him as he works on his business ideas. Kent's soda has a Facebook page and the Integrated Therapy Institute has a web page at itihealth.org.

On April 29, there will be a conference on autism held at Catamount Arts on Eastern Avenue with about 75 people. The theme of the conference will be how to manage a crisis with someone with autism.

And Kent's soda will be served.





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