KANKAKEE — Dressed in a tuxedo jacket and jeans, 9-year-old Harper Sexton, of Kankakee, shows that he means business when it comes to his newly created small business of candy machines called Harper’s Candy Machines.
“It makes people happy,” Harper said.
And he’s right. So happy, that the U.S. (nonchocolate) candy market is set to reach about $12.5 billion in sales by 2023, according to a report from Packaged Facts.
This business got started because Harper wanted to start an ice cream truck, but with his dad, Marc, having his job as an administrator at Asbury of Kankakee, and Harper not being old enough to drive an ice cream truck, they downsized the idea into something more realistic and age-appropriate.
Marc found the candy machines on Craigslist in the Aurora area.
“[Harper] rode with me to go get them, and on the way we saw a Jamba Juice, and he loves juice, so I suggested that we stop and get something, and he says ‘Business first, dad. We can get the juice later.’”
Currently, Harper and his dad are cleaning and restoring nine candy machines at their home in Kankakee, getting them ready for any potential businesses that will have them.
Harper and his dad fill the machines with smaller candies such as M&M’s, Mike & Ikes and Skittles, but they’ll soon add gumballs to the machines.
When Harper goes to check on his candy machine, he gets to eat some of the merchandise — his favorite part of the job.
“I like the peanut M&M’s,” Harper said.
“We keep a little extra candy around the house now,” Marc added.
“Right now, we’re taking them apart and getting them nice and clean and making sure the moving parts are working,” Marc said.
Since the machines are older and gray, Harper and Marc are planning on giving them a fresh coat of paint. The first and only candy machine that’s been placed in a business so far, at Urban Barbershop Co. inside the Majestic in downtown Kankakee, was painted red and blue.
Harper wanted to give a personal shout-out to Urban Barbershop Co. Hopefully, Harper can get a machine at Sunrise Farms Inc. (in St. Anne), where he does riding therapy, and at the Merchant Street Art Gallery for Artists with Autism, in Kankakee.
“He was interested in doing something, so I wanted to foster his entrepreneurial spirit,” Marc said.
“I’m interested in doing something, instead of playing video games all night — but I still do it,” said Harper in all seriousness.
Harper’s short-term goal is to try to find five more businesses to put the vending machines in by the end of summer.
With the money that’s made from the business, Harper plans to save up enough money to adopt a new cat named Duncan (from the cat shelter at Sunrise Farms Inc.), much to his dad’s surprise.
“That’s new information to me,” Marc said jokingly.
Marc would like to donate a portion of the money made from the machines to different organizations in the community.
While Harper is on the autism spectrum, that isn’t stopping him from running a small business.
“This gives him the opportunity for socialization,” Marc said. “I’d really like for him to be able to learn the mechanics for business. And if he has that desire to turn this into something else later on in life if he wants to continue on the entrepreneurial track.”
Any businesses that would like to have Harper’s vending machines in their store can contact Harper and his dad via Facebook by searching ”Harper’s Vending Machines.”