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11-year-old on rocky road to success

Kendrick Keene finances Roth IRA, brokerage account selling polished rocks, geologic knowledge to tourists
Kendrick Keene sells polished rocks July 19 in Silverton. The 11-year-old says he made $250 on his best day selling rocks last year. (Patrick Armijo/Durango Herald)

SILVERTON – Not every 11-year-old knows what a profit-and-loss statement is.

But that wouldn’t be Kendrick Keene.

Kendrick has amassed a $3,000 Roth IRA, a $1,300 brokerage account, a $500 checking account and a $500 savings account all by gathering, polishing and selling rocks he collects on hikes near Silverton to tourists.

“Pretty much every day, I have a good day because for a kid, $100 a day is a lot of money,” Kendrick said, explaining his business.

Kendrick gathers rocks from the Animas River, less than a 10 minute walk from his Silverton house. He also gathers rocks from Lake Emma, Cunningham Gulch and Arrastra Gulch on OHV or truck trips with his dad, Jimmy Keene.

His highest-priced item, rhodonite, a pink-colored, block-spotted manganese silicate with opaque transparency, usually is collected around Lake Emma.

Kendrick usually sells his most common polished rocks for $2, $4, $6 or $8 depending on size, but harder-to-get minerals like rhodonite go for a premium.

Kendrick said he's saving for college and perhaps to buy a small business by selling polished rocks to tourists in Silverton. (Patrick Armijo/Durango Herald)

“My first day, I made $40,” Kendrick said.

All the equipment Kendrick needs, two rotary tumblers and a vibratory tumbler, used in polishing his rocks were purchased with money he made selling his rocks.

He also paid for a $50 wagon and went half with his dad on a $2,000 Onewheel so he can transport his wares around town.

Kendrick’s day begins greeting passengers on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Once the passengers have cleared the area, he moves his portable set up a few blocks away to Freenote Harmony Park at 12th and Greene streets.

Kendrick collects rocks on hikes and on OHV trips around Silverton with his dad, Jimmy Keene. He then polishes the rocks and sells them to tourists. He starts his day picking a spot where passengers disembark from trips on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (Patrick Armijo/Durango Herald).

“Fifty dollars is not a great day,” Kendrick said. “The most I’ve ever made in one day is $250.”

Kendrick said that $250-day came last year – without the crowd brought in by the train, which was on hiatus because of COVID-19.

Kendrick hopes he’ll top his record this year.

“Usually I sell for about four hours, and when I’m done I treat myself to an ice cream, sometimes a funnel cake or a pastry from Natalia’s,” he said. “It’s like patting myself on the back. I say, ‘Kendrick: You did a good job selling rocks today.’”

Kendrick said thrift is key in amassing a pretty impressive brokerage account and Roth IRA for an 11-year-old.

“If you make a hundred dollars, you shouldn’t go out and splurge and all, like buying 10 video games. If you make a hundred dollars, you should save most of it,” he said.

Kendrick credits his rock-selling efforts with helping his communication skills.

“I meet people from all over, and they tell me about where they live,” he said.

Jimmy says he’s told Kendrick he doesn’t have to buy him anything, but usually Kendrick will come home with a pastry or another treat for his dad.

Kendrick remembers getting a $40 tip from a family. “One woman told me, ‘That’s cute you’re selling rocks.’ I told her she could take more rocks, but she didn’t want to.

“I called my dad immediately, and told him, ‘Dad, I just made a $40 tip.’ He said, ‘What?’ Yeah, I was so happy.”

Jimmy said when his son learned Silverton has a town ordinance that allows children younger than 14 to sell rocks, he was intrigued, but also showed some early business acumen.

He talked with other kids who had tried their hand in the rock-selling business, and learned they generally made $10 to $20 a day.

Kendrick Keene bought most of the equipment he uses in his rock selling business in Silverton out of proceeds from sales, but he did go half-in with his father on his $2,000 Onewheel. (Patrick Armijo/Durango Herald)

Jimmy remembers Kendrick saying: “Dad, I don’t want to sit out there for four hours to make $10 or $20. Can I make more? Is there anything I can do to do a really good job?”

Jimmy explained the process for polishing rocks.

He said Kendrick would be more successful if he studied the minerals and could tell tourists about their geologic history and why they appear in the San Juan Mountains around Silverton.

Kendrick asked about pricing. His dad said businesses look at their competition and adjust their prices to give them a competitive advantage.

Taking his dad’s advice to heart, Kendrick studied shops in town that sell polished rocks, and he studied the competition from other kids.

“He’s very intuitive and picks up on things he hears,” Jimmy said .

Last year, Kendrick was learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and his father, a remote worker, said his son would listen in on business meetings.

When the meeting finished, Kendrick had a host of questions for his dad: “What’s a profit margin?”

Kendrick purchased several tumblers using proceeds he makes from sales of polished rocks to tourists in Silverton. (Patrick Armijo/Durango Herald)

Through his business and observing his dad at work, Kendrick now has a pretty firm command of concepts like “sunk costs,” “liabilities,” “expenses” and “a balance sheet.”

Kendrick said his father and his father’s financial adviser help him with his brokerage account.

“My goal is to turn it into a million dollars, maybe buy a small business, maybe here in Silverton,” Kendrick said.


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