REGIONALIn the earlymorning light, two boys are hard at work in a family partnership battered by international competition but still strong enough to pay its executives a decent salary.David and Jared Christensen move electrified worm probes slowly up and down a lawn south of Twin Falls, plucking earthworms out of the dirt and throwing them into two coolers.
Their business has settled into a steady sales level of $12 to $20 a day. David, 13, saved his worm money - supplemented with income from part-time baby-sitting and picking rocks off fields for a farmer - for Boy Scout camp, a knife and a scope for his rifle. "Now I'm kind of working for myself," he said.
Jared, 11, said he hopes to use his profits for a watch.
They move the probes another foot in a straight line to mine a few more worms. The boys' business has seen a dramatic increase in productivity as well as some changes in its marketing plan.
"Last year I used to sell the worms at my house for 60 cents a dozen, but I only made $20 the whole summer," David said. This summer the pair has been selling the worms to Gillaland Bait & Tackle in Twin Falls.
Mature worms had been selling for $2.50 a pound, but the worm commodity market has been battered by Canadian imports.
"Canada produces more worms in one night than Idaho does in a year," David said. The Canadian competition has driven the price of the Christensens' high-end product - mature worms with bands - down 12 percent to $2.20 a pound.
The partnership has met the foreign competition by increasing its productivity.
"The company started with one cooler and a couple of prods," David said. "Then I learned we could get two coolers and make more money."
The pair uses the second cooler to collect immature worms, which in today's market are worth as much as mature worms.
The partners also have switched their picking routine to the morning because they can pick worms longer. They now pick worms from 6 to 9 a.m. almost every day during the summer and at least once a week during school.
Like many start-up businesses, they rely on support and investments from friends and family. Their father wired the worm probes, which drive the night crawlers to the surface with electricity.
And a friend of the family, Twin Falls attorney James Glenn, provides a lawn rent free. David started the business by hiring his sisters and brothers.
"Then Jared and I got in a partnership," he said. "I think it's one of the best businesses you can have," David said. "There are no bosses to tell you you're not doing a good job."
The short-term future of the business looks rosy. David and Jared plan to continue picking and selling worms, and are optimistic about the business's potential.
But David has his eyes on a job with a national or international corporation. He said he probably only wants to work in the night crawler industry "until I'm 16 and can get a job at a fast-food place."
And Jared, the junior partner, hasn't laid any long-range plans. "I'm not sure," he said. "Maybe I'll do it for a couple more years."