Teenaged brothers corner the nightcrawler market with ‘Crater Crawlers’

The boys sell European nightcrawlers for their business, “Crater Crawlers”, which sells containers of nightcrawlers in several northeast Iowa retail outlets.

By Zach Jensen,

The boys sell European nightcrawlers for their business, “Crater Crawlers”, which sells containers of nightcrawlers in several northeast Iowa retail outlets.

Supply and demand: The cornerstones of every business. Many small business owners grow into their golden years never fully understanding the concepts, while others gain a good grasp of these business fundamentals earlier in life and easily apply them to become young entrepreneurs. 

At least, that’s what Decorah brothers Jacob and Ethan Kulish have done with their nightcrawler business. 

The two boys, sons of Becca Goettle and Adam Kulish of Decorah, started “Crater Crawlers” in the summer of 2023 as a way to earn spending money during a trip to New York.

“We were going out to Buffalo, N.Y., for a football camp, and I suggested the boys find a way to earn spending money for the trip,” Becca said. “Their dad suggested they should pick and sell worms. So, we got a minifridge and put a sign out on College Drive.”

“We used to pick nightcrawlers after it rained for fishing,” added 14-year-old Jacob. “But, worms are expensive, so we wanted to undercut every price.”

Jacob added that because it rained so little in 2023, Becca was watering their yard two to three times daily so her sons could gather more nightcrawlers to sell at $2 for 15 worms. The result of these simple strategies was that the boys earned $200 in their first month of selling nightcrawlers, and that’s when Becca began considering taking the boys’ business up a notch.

In fall 2023, Becca attended a business conference led by a well-known motivational speaker, and she said that conference changed the way she looked at the boys’ pasttime of picking nightcrawlers.

“I went to this business conference basically with my kids’ hobby,” Becca said. “After the first day, I realized this could be more than just a hobby for the kids, and on the second day, I got a lot of really good feedback.”

After the business conference, Becca promptly began working on her business idea – transforming her sons’ hobby into a small home-based business. She first ordered about 10,000 baby European nightcrawlers, so they could start reproducing, and in March, she and her boys began selling their first litter of home-grown European nightcrawlers.

“This type of worm (Eisenia hortensis) is just starting to get noticed,” said Becca. “Most people in our area are used to the Canadian
nightcrawler, which is a big, giant worm. And, around here, because most people are fishing for trout, they have to cut that big worm into smaller pieces. So, because this worm is smaller, it’s the perfect size for trout and even walleye. It’s considered a red worm, and it’s a cousin to the ‘red wiggler’, which attracts fish better because of its color. They’re also a lot more active than European nightcrawlers, which also helps attract fish, and it doesn’t need to be refrigerated.”

When considering how to open the business, Becca said she was given a lot of helpful suggestions from various people. For example, Decorah native Troy Roseland suggested the name “Crater Crawlers” – paying homage to the crater in which Decorah is built and combining that with the second half of the word “nightcrawler”. Additionally, another local fisherman recommended that the business only use biodegradable containers. 

“That was something I was very adamant about – to have a container that will break down, because a lot of nightcrawlers are sold in plastic containers that don’t break down,” Becca said. “It’s a big topic for a lot of people, and it’s something that makes us stand out.”

Something else the family had to learn about was what to feed their worms.

“I ended up getting connected with Reconnected Farms, a mushroom grower out of Dorchester, and I get all their mushroom waste, which is what worms eat,” Becca said. 

“About once a month, we harvest the cocoons and hatch the worms,” she continued. “So, because we raise the worms ourselves, we don’t need to buy or pick worms to sell. Every month, I’m collecting about 50,000 cocoons.”

Currently, the company is selling through several area retailers, including three locations in Decorah, one in Bluffton and two in Cresco. 

Jacob and Ethan said they’re excited about the business’ success for different reasons.

“The other day, I was at school, and three teachers asked me about the business,” said 12-year-old Ethan. “It’s cool to be known for it.”

“I want to see it grow, so we can make more money,” added Jacob. “And, I like that Ethan and I started the whole thing.”

“It’s something the boys are passionate about,” Becca said. “Kids always want and need money, and this is a way they can buy what they want, and they have a great work ethic. It’s also something they can call their own, because the business wouldn’t have even happened without them.”

Find “Crater Crawlers” on Facebook for more information.

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Charlene Daisy
9 days ago

Whar a great business, especially for boys that age! Sounds like they are dedicated & wish them much sucess!