Last summer during the pandemic, 11-year-old Reese Neu, a fifth grader at Prairie Queen Elementary in Papillion, wanted a project she could do at home. Her neighbor kept tiny buckets of nuts on a picnic table to feed the squirrels, and it sparked an idea. Reese set out to make picnic table-style feeders for squirrels, calling her construction “Reese’s Critter Tables,” with 75 happy customers to date.
Edge: How did you come up with the design for the table?
Neu: I saw some on Amazon and decided to figure out how to make one myself.
Edge: Had you ever done wood working before?
Neu: No, so when I started my dad showed me how to use all the tools. We used small pieces of wood to make measurements. We made some changes after the first one so it looked better.
Edge: Were you nervous to use power tools?
Neu: I was a little nervous at first but then jumped right into it. I didn’t use the table saw until later on, but I used the nail gun right away.
Edge: How long does it take you to make one table?
Neu: It only takes about 10 minutes to make one, but I pre-cut everything and have an assembly line. First, I chop up the wood, then put the back and table together, then the legs, which is the hardest part, then the bench holders, the benches, and finally the screws for the corn. I usually spend a whole Saturday making about 30 at once.
Edge: When did you decide to turn it into a business?
Neu: I made two tables before turning it into a business. I put the first one on our tree, and then our neighbor saw it and wanted one. People love feeding squirrels, so I knew they’d buy them.
Edge: How did you set up your business?
Neu: We thought about the name a lot. My dad suggested Critter Tables, and then we added Reese’s Critter Tables. My mom set up a Facebook page, and we found someone on Fiverr to make the logo.
Edge: What is the most challenging part of having your own business?
Neu: Keeping track of sales and making sure everyone gets what they ordered. Plus knowing how much material to buy. Last Christmas, we didn’t know how much wood to buy, so we bought extra to get us through. I had the most sales over Christmas.
Edge: What is the most rewarding part?
Neu: Once I got money, that was nice. I bought an electric scooter and paid it off on my own.
Brian Neu (Reese’s father): She’s learned a lot of responsibility, and the economics of buying material with her own money and then building something with it to make a profit. She’s also had to learn about spending more on materials so the product lasts, such as using galvanized nails and more expensive wood. It’s hard for an 11-year-old to make those decisions.
Edge: What else do you like to do when you’re not making tables?
Neu: I do martial arts twice a week at Chung Shin Warrior. I like the Tang Soo Do discipline because it teaches you to listen to other people and to defend yourself. I also like to hang out with my friends or Facetime them.
Edge: How can someone order a critter table?
Neu: You can just send a message on the Facebook page, and we’ll deliver it to you within a week. We include corn—my grandpa and grandma let me walk their field after harvest and pick up the cobs—but you can also buy corn from Fareway or Tractor Supply. And you can send us photos of squirrels at your table and we’ll put them on the Facebook page! facebook.com/reesescrittertables