Scarborough girls in the chocolate business donating profits

SCARBOROUGH – Two Scarborough girls are proving it’s never too soon to catch the entrepreneurial spirit, or the spirit of giving.
Last year, Tansey Hughes, 10, and Naomi Sholl, 8, one-upped the usual kids’ lemonade stand by founding a business, Sweet Friends, to retail all-natural chocolates and candies. Now, they are dedicating net proceeds from an upcoming sale to Hurricane Sandy relief, as well as to the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland.

"With all the sad things that are happening, I started feeling how lucky we are to live in a safe environment," said Hughes, on Friday, as she and Sholl showed off some of the molds they use to make their chocolates. "We felt bad for the other people, so we thought it would be good to donate money to those who are in need more than us."

"We’re probably going to keep doing it more going forward, by always giving a percentage of our sales," said Sholl.

In fact, the young candy mavens have even developed a new business motto, which they’ve had printed on promotional T-shirts and banners – "Helping others, one chocolate at a time."

According to Sholl’s mother, Kim, who with her husband Ben Sholl owns the local Merry Maids housecleaning business, Sweet Friends began in "play dates" between the two girls. The backyard neighbors and BFFs transformed an afternoon churning out bookmarks handmade from recycled materials into profit by canvassing their High Point Road neighborhood, selling their creations.

That worked out so well the girls made more rounds, carting wagonloads of crafts, artwork, cookies and even painted rocks.

"The neighborhood has been very supportive, buying everything they make," said Kim Sholl.

Eventually, the girls began to focus their product line, settling, as all good businesswomen do, on meeting the demands of the marketplace. Chocolates seemed to sell the best, and, by last Christmas, the girls were buying each other molds in various shapes and sizes with the intent of expending their operations.

"We just thought it would be fun to start a small business," said Naomi, a third-grader who is homeschooled. "It started very small, but we have an office now and our friends want to join us."

Their corporate headquarters – a commandeered room in the home office of Tansey’s father, Jim Hughes – serves as the site of a weekly after-school strategy sessions. Hughes has even helped the girls write a business plan. In time, what started as Naomi’s Naturals, when the chocolate theme was first settled on, evolved into Sweet Friends, as some of the girls’ friends came board. Still, even after the name change, Hughes and Sholl maintain 50/50 ownership.

"They are really taking it all very seriously," notes Hughes’ mother, Ruth Hughes.

"They’re haven’t spent any of the money they’ve made on themselves. They’re hanging onto it and have put it all back into the business," she said.

"I’m excited for them," said Kim Sholl. "Most kids, I think, will trail off on something like this, but they’ve really kept up with it."

Ruth Hughes points out that both sets of parents are self-employed. In addition to the Sholl’s housecleaning business and John Hughes financial work, she runs Shooting Stars, a preschool program for children with special needs. Still, she admits, the Sweet Friends proprietors must be driven as much by nature as nurture.

"My boys definitely did not go down this path," she joked. "They’d rather throw the football around the back yard."

But the girls did get an example in community service from Tansey’s older brothers, Jack and Ben, both of whom have volunteered in the soup kitchen run by the Preble Street Resource Center. The Sholls also give back, regularly donating free services, what they call "the gift of clean," to families in need or in crisis.

That spirit of selflessness may have been on the girls’ minds last week, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. As Ruth Hughes explains it, a family friend in Scarborough, Susan Clark, has family whose New Jersey home was wiped out by the storm.

"I was actually gathering clothes to give to her to mail down and that started the conversation," said Ruth Hughes. "Then they started asking about other charities and we started talking about all of the different things that are out there and the various needs they fill.

"It was all their idea," she said, of the girl’s decision to give away part of their future proceeds, including all profits from their Dec. 2 sale. "And when they get an idea, they get all over it."

"Give them a project and they just run with it," said Kim Sholl.

"We just thought it might be really nice to help them because a lot of homes got washed away from what was just a tiny hurricane that we had, was a really big hurricane for them," said Naomi. "We just thought we are really lucky to live here so we wanted to help."

The so-called "superstorm" that made landfall near Atlantic City on Oct. 29 was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, with a diameter of 1,100 miles. In the U.S. it claimed 131 lives and caused an estimated $65.5 billion in damage, not counting $25 billion in lost business. In all, nearly 72,000 homes were damaged while 8.2 million lost power, some for several weeks.

"I feel lucky and I also feel very sad that there are people who have to go through that," said Tansey, a fifth-grader at Wentworth Intermediate School, noting that she and her partner will donate their Dec. 2 profits to the Red Cross, to help with relief efforts that are still ongoing.

In the near term, the girls hope to continue growing their business, maybe even to encompass a small shop of some kind, while continuing to share their success with those in need. They picked the Preble Street Resource Center as their local choice from a short list of candidates, but many others are just as worthy, they say.

"Once we figure out how much effort and how long it takes to put into selling that much chocolate, we’ll figure out a percentage we can donate on a regular basis," said Tansey, who serves as company treasurer.

"I’m just proud to have my own business," said Naomi. "I pretty much think about it most of the day,"