Elaine Bland moved to Blanding, Utah, on a volunteer assignment to help Navajo adults rise from poverty.
Earning money is tough in this region. The children of San Juan County rank among the nation's poorest. Many families live crammed in tiny trailers with few amenities, and the adults work low-wage jobs. So when Bland arrived three years ago, she wasn't surprised to find a group of Navajo kids at her door, asking for money to go to the movies. She urged them, instead, to become entrepreneurs.
"One of the kids said, 'Why don't we make some lollipops?' and everyone thought that was a great idea," Bland recalls.
"And I said, 'Fine let's go about it. But does anyone know how to make chocolate?' 'Nope.' And I said, 'We'll have a big job ahead of us, let's see what we can do.'"
It's no ordinary company. Hubert Dayish, vice president of sales and marketing, is 10 years old. In addition to his knack for sales, "Hubie" as the other kids call him, has a huge smile and round cheeks that are often full of the Lickety Split products that didn't pass quality control.
His cousin Andrew Dayish has the same playful grin, but he's taller and more studious — well suited for his position as the company's CEO.
"I'm 15 right now," Andrew says. "I represent the company. It's a lot of pressure, a lot of responsibility. So that's why I have to sometimes go in there and supervise… make sure they're doing stuff right."
Andrew has his hands full keeping the company's 35 young owners on task. All are between the ages of 8 and 15. Bland says he's a natural executive. She recalls traveling with him to a national convention in Reno. Andrew, who had never been on a plane before, dashed to a newspaper stand to pick up a copy of Business Week to read on the plane.
"That is just the type of vision that we try to create within Lickity Split," Bland says.
While Andrew uses a rubber mallet to carve fist-sized chunks of chocolate from a huge block, Hubert holds up the company's bestseller — a lollipop in the shape of a Navajo Prayer basket.
"It's celebrated in marriages and stuff like that," the vice president of sales and marketing explains. "And it represents, like, life and why we're here on earth and stuff like that."
The Lickity Split company slogan is "Luscious Chocolate, Noble Cause" — that cause being to help these kids rise out of poverty.
All 35 of the Lickety Split children are registered with the State of Utah as company owners. Every month, they get a share of the profits, which averages about $20 each. Some have saved to buy bikes, computers and iPods. Andrew is saving for college. Hubert, on the other hand, bought flashy shoes, to the chagrin of his father, Chuck Dayish.
"They're hundred-dollar shoes," he says. "I try to encourage him to save it, but he's 10. What can you do?"
Chuck Dayish works long hours as a cook and busboy at a local restaurant. He admits he's a little envious of the skills his son is learning — skills that are paying off.
Lickety Split recently won a national award from the Small Business Administration and, this summer, the kids will fill their biggest order yet — for the Rotary International Convention. Convention organizer Paul Pugmire inked the deal after the kids traveled to Salt Lake City to make a sales presentation.
"I want to emphasize that our wanting to do business with Lickity Split is not a social service project," Pugmire says. "We want to do business with Lickity Split because they offer good chocolate."
Bland thinks the Rotary Convention will launch Lickity Split Chocolate into the big time. That's news to Hubert, who already is big time — with his own business cards. They read: Hubert Dayish, Head Scientist/VP Sales and Marketing.
Julie Rose reports for member station KCPW in Salt Lake City.