I started my first business when I was in fourth grade, but having grown up on a ranch in Texas, many of the usual ways a kid earns money weren’t really available to me. I couldn’t have a lemonade stand or a paper route or mow the neighbors’ lawns. What were my options? I had to work with what was available if I wanted to earn a few extra dollars. Well, along with the beef cattle, we also had a flock of chickens. I’d been taking care of them since as long as I could remember, so I thought maybe I could sell eggs in town.
After talking it over with my parents, they agreed to support my entrepreneurial initiative. Someone nearby was selling some of their older hens, and with some of my own money and an “investment” from my parents, I bought 20 of them. We set up a separate chicken coop with nests in a part of one of the barns and fenced in an adjoining new chicken yard. I went to town to find customers for my farm-fresh, free-range eggs and was able to get several people to sign up, including my school bus driver.
Every evening I gathered the eggs, cleaned them, and stored them in cartons in an old refrigerator that gave me an electrical zap every time I touched the handle. Each Saturday I’d load the eggs into the car, and one of my parents would take me on my delivery route in town. [Eventually, I would drive myself since the country lane into town was not paved, and no driver’s license was required for that.]
Naturally, those tired old hens didn’t produce for long, so I had to invest in some younger pullets in order to keep my supply coming. While replenishing my “producers” was an occasional expense, I really didn’t have too many other expenses… except for chicken feed. Skyrocketing input prices are what eventually put me out of business. While I did gradually raise my prices, I couldn’t keep pace with the increase in the price of feed. After about five years, the prices I needed to charge to break even, even considering the subsidy from my parents, were well above the prices in the grocery store. I think my price got as high as $1.25, not much higher than super market prices of just a few years ago. Alas, the chickens flew the coop, and I went out of business.
Even though I didn’t make much money over those years, I did learn some valuable lessons.
- I learned the concept of supply and demand;
- the importance of having a support network, of planning, and of monitoring competition;
- and that you don’t always have to have the best of everything to do something well.
Of course, there also is that old adage: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!