Selling to the fickle tastes of children -- who one minute want a peanut butter sandwich and the next minute aren't hungry -- can be a tricky business.

In a recession, targeting children -- and their parents -- can be a learning experience.

At least it was for Mark Chipkin, a retired middle school science teacher, and his brother, Larry Chipkin, who run TickleMe Plant Company, a Pawling, N.Y. business that sells the TickleMe Plant, or Mimosa pudica plant native to Brazil. The plant, also called shy grass or sensitive plant, moves its leaves when touched.

Here's a video of the plant:


Larry Chipkin, now 50, started the online business in January 2007. Sales were going well until about nine months ago, when customers started asking for less expensive kits of seed packets with small greenhouses. Instead of multiple flower pots, he started selling single flower pots and party favors so kids could grow their own plants.

It was a lesson all businesses strive for: Listen to your customers.

Entertainment sells well during a recession, especially cheap entertainment, as people look for something fun to forget their troubles. For the Chipkin brothers, who started growing these plants as children in the Bronx, where there isn't much plant life, they're a way to relive the enjoyment of their youth and pass it along to other generations.

"It's much more fun than growing a lima bean," Larry Chipkin said in a telephone interview.

Unlike a Venus Flytrap, which is carnivorous and closes its leaves to catch prey and reopens a month later, the TickleMe Plant is reacting to protect itself and reopens within 20 minutes, said Mark Chipkin, who retired last year after 30 years as a teacher and works part-time with his brother.

"It may be a reaction just to spook animals away," he said.

The leaves of the tropical plant close at night and when and when it's cold. It's one of most interactive plants around, which is why children like it, he said.

"There aren't any other plants that I can think of that are this reactive," said Mark, 56.

"Everyone knows about the Venus Flytrap from 'Little Shop of Horrors.' It's not a horror," he said of the TickleMe Plant. "This is really for sensitive people. It's a really sensitive plant."

As a bonus to WalletPop readers, TickleMe Plant Company is offering $2 off each order by entering "Wallet" as a promotion code during checkout.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.AaronCrowe.net


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