Ever heard of renting chickens?
This isn't just some far-fetched idea, it's a business - and a very successful one at that.
Homestead Phil and Homestead Jenn are the founders of Rent the Chicken. They specialize in renting egg-laying chickens to people looking to bring one food source closer to their table.
Join us this week as we talk about what their business is, how it works, and how they came up with this idea!
Rent the Chicken website: http://www.rentthechicken.com/
0:30 - Homestead Phil and Homestead Jenn Intro
2:00 - Where did this idea come from?
8:00 - Homesteading ... What does it involve?
17:00 - Renting vs. Adopting... What do you see?
23:00 - Running a business
28:00 - What the delivery process is and the challenges you face?
37:00 - What was the takeaway from last year?
42:00 - If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?
49:00 - Egg creations and final thoughts
Homestead Phil and Homestead Jenn Intro
Brandonandon Rollins: Hey everybody, welcome to the Marketing is the Product podcast. I'm Brandon Rollins here today with my co-host, Pierson Hibbs.
0:00:28.4 Pierson Hibbs: How's it going?
Brandon: And very special guest today from "Rent the Chicken" Homestead Phil and Homestead Jenn. How you guys doing?
0:00:37.3 Homestead Phil: Here we are.
0:00:38.2 Homestead Jenn: Hi.
Brandon: So, you guys have a really interesting service, and it is one where I actually want to read directly from your media kit to describe about what you do, if that's all right.
Homestead Phil: You bet.
Homestead Jenn: You bet.
Brandon: Okay, so right from your media kit, Rent the Chicken was founded by Phil and Jenn Tompkins of Freeport, Pennsylvania in 2013. Their objective is to help people have one food source closer to their table. We call this concept yard to table. Each location is a family-run affiliate helping families to bring one simple food source closer to their table one rental at a time. And under the about the rental section, it says that rent the chicken provides two to four egg laying hens, a coop, food dish, water dish, and food for a five to six-month rental. Also provided is a copy of the book "Fresh Eggs Daily" by Lisa Steele or "Happy Hens Fresh Eggs" by Signe Langford. At any time, the customer can adopt the chickens or chicken out and return the chickens back to the homestead. So, long story shirt... [chuckle] Long story short, basically Enterprise rents cars, Rent the Chicken rents chickens.
Homestead Jenn: That's right.
Homestead Phil: That's right, yes.
Brandon: So, I guess I'll just hop right into questions here. How did you get this idea?
Where did this idea come from?
Homestead Jenn: So, funny story. Homestead Phil and I lived in a really urban area and moved to the country, and he was determined to have a homestead. He was determined to raise some chickens and have a garden. I was like, "I don't know, we don't know anything about that stuff." And so, fast forward, we were settled in on the homestead, we had some chickens, we had some rabbits, the garden was flourishing. And my telecommuting project management job, which was a research program, was coming to an end. Homestead Phil just became Homestead Phil at that time. He was making some really crappy YouTube videos, [laughter] I mean, low quality YouTube videos. And so, he was also working remotely in the IT industry, and I knew my job was coming to an end. Knowing that, I was looking for something else that was also a work-from-home situation, but I really wasn't into any of the MLM direct sales opportunities. And so, one night, late, as we all do on our devices at bedtime, Homestead Phil was scrolling along and he did a quick Google search of "crazy business ideas."
Homestead Phil: Yes, crazy ones. And what came up was the Small Business Administration had like the seven or eight craziest business ideas, and there was a lady down in Alabama, who at the time, she's not doing it now, but she was renting chickens. And I leaned over to Homestead Jenn and I said, "What do you think about renting out some chickens?"
Homestead Jenn: And I was like, "Eh." And so, I said, "Well, we have some chickens and I can work some power tools to build some coops. Why not?"
Homestead Phil: And Rent the Chicken was hatched.
Homestead Jenn: Was hatched. But at the same time, I will say, we did have some background where we had some friends and family who were trying to get started with backyard chickens, and it was not successful. And so, between that, those options, seeing it on the website and really doing some research, we came all around with this, Rent the Chicken.
Pierson: I'm very impressed with the genius of this idea. I will circle back and ask, is the original woman that you've got this idea from, did you guys play a hand at running her off of business?
Homestead Jenn: Oh my goodness, no.
Homestead Phil: Oh, no. [laughter] No.
Pierson: I'm totally, totally kidding.
Brandon: Dude, it's a softball show.
Homestead Phil: Not really sure what happened. She kind of just exited the rental market. She was down in Alabama. We've never had an affiliate there, so...
Homestead Jenn: And I think where she was, it was banned from having backyard chickens. So she would kind of like renegade chicken rentals. [chuckle] I'm not saying that we don't do that as well, but I think when your one market doesn't allow chickens, it really makes it hard to kind of drive a business.
Pierson: Absolutely, and that was 100% me joking around. I'm not instigating...
Homestead Jenn: No, that's okay. [laughter] We like to crack people up making jokes.
Brandon: I like to think of the chicken rental business as being just extremely cutthroat, [laughter] like, you know, the mafia.
Homestead Phil: No. We actually have a really good relationship with other chicken rental companies. And every now and then, they'll send us a lead or we'll send them a lead. The way I look at it is that all of us together in this industry are raising awareness so that we can really get that yard to table happening in your local community. So, anybody that's on the news, I never feel like I'm ever, I don't know, under attack by another chicken rental company. I'm excited that they're there, because that means that the product is growing, more people want the product, more people are going to search Google or whatever search engine they're using, and they're gonna find that you can indeed have chickens in your backyard, and it is simple. We make it easy.
Pierson: For sure, and I think that that's one of the coolest parts about the service you guys have, is you guys actually provide an actionable step to take action on this.
Homestead Phil: Yes, there have been so many people where we'll deliver a coop in the spring, and maybe they're not quite ready in the fall to have chickens long term, and they chicken out, but when we go there in the spring, there's like nothing, just the chicken coop. But then we go in the fall, and all of a sudden, there's like raised garden beds, and they've done all this stuff, and they're learning how to maybe can their vegetables that they've grown, and they usually ask some more questions about it. So, it really does put us back to what our great grandparents were doing. I mean, think about what our great-grandparents from the 1940s, 1930s, what they were doing. They had chickens, they had rabbits, they had...
Homestead Jenn: Big gardens.
Homestead Phil: Big gardens.
Homestead Jenn: Yeah, yeah.
Homestead Phil: They knew how to can their food and preserve their food. So it's... We're really just re-educating the consumer on what you can do on your own without having to go to the store, and for having something that you know what the chickens eat, you know what chemicals were used on your garden, so you really know where your food is coming from.
Homestead Jenn: It's that generation gap that you talk about sometimes...
Homestead Phil: Yeah.
Homestead Jenn: Where there is this big gap, like, our niece, who was raised in a suburban area, and so, when she was asked, "Where do eggs come from?" She said, "Giant eagle." That's like, our local grocery store. They... Oh, they come from Giant Eagle, not from a chicken. And so, she now knows, she has been educated, the generation gap has been filled.
Homesteading ... What does it involve?
Homestead Phil: Yeah.
Homestead Jenn: Yeah.
Homestead Phil: She was like three or four at the time when she said that.
Homestead Jenn: Yeah.
Brandon: Yeah, and I think that homesteading, in particular, has become really topical right now, because last year, unfortunately, a lot of people got their first taste of what it's like to go to the store and things not actually be there. So with that in mind, I'm curious, what all does homesteading involve?
Homestead Phil: Sure. So, everybody probably has a different view on what they wanna homestead. You can homestead in the city on a small plot. It's really about what you wanna do. Or you can be out in the woods, backed up to a nature preserve, but...
Homestead Jenn: Or you can also participate in community gardens. If your yard space isn't suitable for some garden, or garden beds, or pots, or whatnot, then community gardens are a great way for more urban people to still have a local food source and still have a hand in growing it, and be a form of a homesteader.
Homestead Phil: Homesteading for me, is being more self-sufficient. It's being able to have that food right there, or maybe you get yourself involved with woodworking, or metal working, or something that just allows you to be more self-sufficient. And obviously with Rent the Chicken, we do that with providing chickens, but we also... We have a hatching program that we haven't talked about, where people can actually hatch baby chicks at their home, their school, their daycare. It provides a STEM education source for schools, even senior care facilities hatch chickens. And we even have some of our customers go as far as adopting those chicks that they hatch, and then raising them up. Although, the majority of our customers are like, "Hey, this is great. It was great education." After five weeks, we take everything back automatically, that's just part of our program, but some people really do jump into that homesteading and keep those baby chicks.
Brandon: And this is your hatch the chicken service, right?
Homestead Jenn: That's correct, yeah.
Brandon: Yeah, I was actually gonna ask about that, but you went right into that.
Homestead Jenn: Well, it's amazing. We have families that... You know, as a society, we've done super great making sure our pets are spayed and neutered. And so, kiddos are not seeing animals come to life, and so, with our hatch the chicken program, it still allows them to be socially responsible in regards to reproduction of animals, and it also allows for them to have this wonderful experience of watching something grow inside of an egg. We have a candling light that we provide, so they can watch for signs of life during the three weeks of incubation. They watch these amazing critters, these little chicks push their way out of the shell and hatch on hatch day. And even the youngest of children can still really get so much out of the hatch the chicken experience.
Homestead Phil: Definitely.
Homestead Jenn: And then they keep them for two weeks, right?
Homestead Phil: Yeah, then they keep them after they hatch, they keep them for two weeks.
Homestead Jenn: Just when they start to get a little stinky and not so cute, [chuckle] that's when we pick them up.
Homestead Phil: And some work with parents or the the daycare providers.
Homestead Jenn: Right.
Homestead Phil: Yeah, we take everything back to the homestead.
Brandon: So that's a really good point, what you said about kids actually not seeing baby animals born. I mean, Pierson, is a late Millennial to an early Zoomer, when was the last time that you personally knew somebody like, giving away kittens or puppies or something?
Pierson: I think maybe a couple of months ago, I had a friend who had a litter of puppies, but that's honestly the last time I could think of in years, probably.
Brandon: Yeah. 'Cause now that I think about it, it's pretty much every pet, you pick it up from the shelter. That's always a thing, they're just born out in the wild somewhere, and I guess they wind up in a shelter.
Homestead Phil: Speaking of shelter...
Brandon: You never actually see that happen.
Homestead Phil: Yeah, speaking of shelters, one of the things that our program does on both the Rent the Chicken side or the hatch the chicken side, is it keeps stray chickens from ending up in the shelter, because people will jump into this. It takes four to six weeks... Oh, sorry, four to six months before a chicken will lay its first egg or crow. And then they're sitting here and they've got these chickens, they've gotta take care of, they'll get their first egg after six months and they might be like, "Jeez, why did I do this?"
Homestead Jenn: If they even get to the six months, yeah.
Homestead Phil: Yeah, if they even get to that six months. And then what do they do with these chickens? Sometimes they just discard them, they drop them off on a street corner, or they take them to an animal shelter, so...
Homestead Jenn: Who are not set up for chickens.
Homestead Phil: Yeah, they're not set up for chickens, that's for sure.
Homestead Jenn: Yeah.
Brandon: Yeah, that's a really good point.
Pierson: Yeah, I think that's listening to what you guys were talking about early on in this show, I feel like I'm learning so much about this process and all of these different variables that I would have never considered about what the process is like to rent a chicken and how long it takes to actually see results in terms of producing eggs, and the care that it takes to go into these chickens.
Homestead Phil: When we drop off our Rent the Chicken package, there's some times where the chicken has literally laid an egg in the coop while I'm driving the coop to the customer's house. There was even this one time... Do you wanna talk about the autistic boy?
Homestead Jenn: Oh, sure. So, it's not often that I physically am making the delivery, it's just because there are so many admin things to take care of here at the homestead with all of our locations, but this particular one, I made the delivery. I knew that the mom had applied for a variance from the community, 'cause it wasn't legal to have chickens in their yard, but she was doing this for her kiddo who is autistic, and he was probably like, late elementary school at that point. And so, I deliver, introduced myself, the kiddo already has names for the chicken, I think Mrs. Feathers and Charlotte, if I recall.
Homestead Phil: Yes.
Homestead Jenn: And so, I talked about, you wanna pull this clip and open this latch, and this is where you get the eggs, and here's how you do the water, and I had said, "If you only put this clip on halfway, it's still super safe," and she's like, "No, no, for these gross motor skills, he needs to have it all the way in there to work on pulling that out." And then the chicken had laid an egg while I was there and I had opened the door and saw it. And so, I got his attention, I said, come on over. I think you need to check in the nesting box, and so he did, and he pulled that egg out and he was so, so excited. Egg-cited as we say, and his mom gave me one of those, "Oh yeah," like, you know, giving a good motion of super excited super stoked. And she came over to me and said, "I want you to know that, he does not often, barely ever... He's not able to associate accurate emotion with whatever is going on around him," and he was able to do that that day, and she said, "You could take the chickens and the coop away now and I would have my money's worth," from that small interaction with her kiddo. Yeah.
Brandon: Wow. That's incredibly powerful.
Homestead Phil: And then later on, she called... You talked to her about her boy scout troop.
Homestead Jenn: Oh, yeah. Right. So I talked to her they... I think, they adopt chicken. They have more chickens, it's called chicken math. You never start with the amount that you think you're gonna have long-term, because you always got more.
Homestead Phil: You always get more.
Homestead Jenn: Yeah, chicken math at its finest. And so, she said that... So he's in Boy Scouts, and the Scoutmaster had come over and said, "So I hear you have chickens now," and she said, "Yeah, a couple of chickens. We're renting them from Rent the Chicken," which is always a good plug. And she said that the Scoutmaster said that he was so enthusiastic about the chickens. You know, sometimes depending on where the kiddo is on the spectrum, the kiddos can say a lot of information, but the Scoutmaster was really touched by the fact that the kiddo was saying a lot of information, but with enthusiasm and with the emotion behind it, and not just regurgitating information that he knew. And that's also a big deal that he was able to really say some great facts and some great information, but it was personal to him, and not just factual information. That's so amazing. So they still have chickens. I can't tell you, they have a...
Homestead Phil: Yes. I don't know how many they have.
Homestead Jenn: A good number of chickens. Yeah, yes. And so, what a success story, wouldn't you say?
Renting vs. Adopting... What do you see?
Brandon: Yeah, that is definitely a success story.
Pierson: Now, do you start to see a lot of times when people rent a chicken from you guys, I know that there's the option that you can rent to adopt essentially. Do you guys see a lot of people that start out just as renters and are approaching it from strictly a rental perspective? Do you guys see a lot of people actually come to wanna keep them and start maybe even adding chickens to their coop or... What is that process like?
Homestead Jenn: Yeah, so we are partnered with a number of coop manufacturers, so our renters can receive a discount if they purchase one of these fantastic coops, 'cause there's a lot... If you can imagine, there's a lot of chicken coops on the market that are not of good quality, they're actually not made with the chicken keeper nor the chickens in mind. It'll say it fits like six chickens, but it actually fits like two and a half.
Homestead Phil: There's a lot of junk out there.
Homestead Jenn: There is, yeah. And so, we do some hand-holding with that, but also about 50% of our renters do one of two things, they either adopt in the fall when the rental is over, they adopt with or without the coop opting for one of the coops that we provide, maybe they build a coop, that we are partnered with rather, or they build a coop. The other part of that 50% are people who say, "Oh, Fluffy and Goldie, we can't bear to give them up, so, can you watch them for the winter, we're not quite ready for wintering." So we'll watch those chickens for the winter. We call it wintering the chickens, and then those same renters rent again in the spring, or they adopt in the spring when they're ready to be all in.
Pierson: Oh wow, that's... You guys have such an incredible business model.
Homestead Jenn: Thank you.
Homestead Phil: Thank you.
Pierson: What was the process of forming that and getting everything up and running and finding the service to match the product that you guys have?
Brandon: I'm particularly curious about how you honed your pitch too.
Homestead Jenn: Oh, well, we've been at this since 2013, so we've been at this a little while. So funny, funny story. Most of my stories are funny, funny, and I think they're hilarious, but I don't know if anyone else thinks that way. So 2013, we were building some nice summer chicken coops, and we had already kind of did a little bit of market research where we talked to some people who lived in the city and talked to some people who were in the country and kinda got a good feel for, "Okay, I think we can do this. I think that there's a market."
Homestead Phil: And there were definitely people that thought we were crazy.
Homestead Jenn: Oh my goodness. There was plenty of people who thought that we were out of our minds. So we went from that step of, "Oh yeah, that's a great idea. I know a lot of people who would do it, too", "Okay, we would like to give a rental to some people so that we can figure it out from the rental side." 'Cause we have the coop, we have the chickens. We know that the chickens are laying. We know how much feed to provide to them, but we really would like to gift this to someone. Yeah, zero. That's how many people...
Homestead Phil: Nobody would take a free rental, nobody.
Homestead Jenn: Nobody.
Homestead Phil: So we really wanted that research and development to find out more about our product.
Homestead Jenn: So my mom's friend, Jodi... My mom's friend said, "Okay, fine," and like, I don't know, my mom might have paid her.
Homestead Phil: Probably.
Homestead Jenn: Like, I don't know... Because she was like, "Okay, fine. " They lived on a legit farm that wasn't... They were not farming on it. So they had a nice barn and they lived in a farm house, but they really... They're not farmers. They just had some property. And so we took those chickens out. Laverne and Shirley were their names, and it was a short rental 'cause it was like mid-summer. But in the fall we were like, "Okay, we're ready to pick up." And she's like, "You are not. You are not picking up these chickens." And in our minds, people would only want to rent chickens. Who would want to have them in the winter if you could just rent them? And so our coop was strictly a summer coop. And she said, "You're gonna have to bring me another coop so I can have these chickens through the winter. This coop is not good for winter." We were like, "We know it's not good for winter. We only built it for summertime chicken-keeping. So we had to revamp our coop so that it would be good for year-round use. And then so she adopted Laverne and Shirley, and then before we knew it, she had like, I don't know...
Homestead Phil: All kinds of chickens.
Homestead Jenn: 50 chickens or something.
Homestead Phil: So, one of the things that entrepreneurs face is having vision for the future, and at that time in our infancy of our business, we didn't really have that big vision of what we could be. And even now, sometimes we look at things we do and we're like, "Man, if we could only do this." And now we're still developing that big vision. We're still developing where we want to take the business, but I think every entrepreneur when they start out, especially first time successful businesses, it's tough to have that vision and to really think it through.
Homestead Jenn: For sure. Yeah, we started with a summer coop. What were we thinking? We started with... And then the news got a hold of us. The media got a hold of us and said, "Hey, we hear you're renting chickens. That's great. Where all do you have renters?" And I said, "Oh, Indiana County." We legit had one person and she did not pay us money. So they came out. They did an interview. We didn't even have shirts. We had to like... Our coop sign was ridiculous, but it all worked out.
Pierson: This is a really important thing for people to hear, because sometimes you just have to get started and not really know exactly what to do. There's no way. There's no way to think out every single step that you need to go through before you start business. It's impossible. I've tried. [chuckle] People need to be comfortable, I think, with just having an idea and doing a little bit of thinking and then giving it a shot.
Running a business
Homestead Phil: Absolutely. I think the very first thing that any aspiring entrepreneur needs to do, and this is the absolute scariest step, is to quit their job. And then you're forced to go out there and make sales. It's on you. You wanna get paid? You have to go work for it.
Brandon: Absolutely. And I will say that I actually held on to a full-time job for two years while starting up the agency. And I don't know, it's a lot easier once you quit. I've actually been full-time working for myself for about two months now, and it's a night and day difference in what you're able to accomplish.
Homestead Jenn: For sure.
Brandon: It's the ability to focus on one thing at a time.
Homestead Jenn: It's a hard step. It really is a hard step. Yeah, and it took even... Homestead Phil was working part-time, but it was more like full-time on-call hours. And so when I needed his help, he could just be drawn to a phone call right away, and I'm like, "I'm holding a saw and I really need someone to hold the other end of the board [0:24:17.5] ____."
Homestead Phil: But there was one day...
Homestead Jenn: There was one day. Listen, I was out in this awful little pick-up truck that we had, and I was making Hatch the Chicken deliveries and pickups in it while I was delivering a chicken coop, and I had to pull over to answer the phone. Someone was calling from Canada that wanted to rent chickens, and I was mobile but I still had to answer 'cause I was the only one answering the phone. Homestead Phil called in the midst of this very stressful day, and he said, "I wanna quit my job," and I was like, "I'm gonna have to call you back." [laughter] I was, like, that was not what I... 'cause we had been saying I need to hire someone, but in such an infancy of the business, there's not a lot of profit to hire someone. And so I think I called back and I said, "Okay, I can hire you. I can't guarantee more than a penny an hour, but you're in."
Brandon: Yeah, hiring that first person was scary. Pearson was actually the first guy I hired, and I hired him as a contractor for low hours too, just to get a little bit of help in the door at first. And after doing that, I was like, "Oh my goodness, what do I do? Now that I've actually hired somebody, now I gotta come up with things to do." And I realize actually how incredibly difficult it is to delegate when you're not used to it as well, but eventually you live and you learn, and then you can slowly increase your workers hours and then start hiring other people as you need to as well.
Homestead Phil: Absolutely.
Homestead Jenn: Yeah, we've done it.
Pierson: And then other stuff comes with time, the steady wages and the benefits, and all that stuff.
Homestead Jenn: Mm-hmm.
Homestead Phil: And one of the things that we have as an advantage is that we've got more than 40 farmers I believe, now, throughout the United States and Canada that are also providing this service. So we can deliver to Tucson, we can deliver to Wichita, Kansas, we can deliver to British Columbia, Ontario, New York, all over the place we can deliver. Each of these farmers are independent business owners, so that really allows us to help those independent business owners grow their business as we continue to grow ours, and that has really improved our name recognition and our branding, and really has made us grow even more than ever before.
Pierson: So this is a franchise then?
Homestead Jenn: We call it an affiliate program to not have the legal term of franchise, but yeah, so basically, these farmers are subscribing to our service, they use our logo, and we list them on our website. We are their sales and support arm as well, so we support them, but we also support their renters and we answer the phone when it rings. You might know some farmers and they are fantastic, resourceful people, but at the same time when they're on a tractor, they're not able to answer the phone to take a sales call.
Pierson: Yeah, that makes sense. Well, I would hope they wouldn't take the sales call on the tractor. [laughter]
Homestead Phil: And also support, right? Because customers are gonna call for sales, but they also call for support, they have questions about their hatching or they have questions about their chickens, whatever it may be, and here out of Western Pennsylvania, we take all of those inbound calls, and that's part of the service that we provide, so if there's anybody that's listening that wants to be an affiliate for Rent the Chicken, you go to our website. On the right-hand side, you can click the link that says business opportunities, I want more information, and we'll talk to you about what it's like to be part of the Rent the Chicken family, providing chickens and hatching, and all kinds of fun.
What the delivery process is and the challenges you face?
Pierson: Link in the show notes, everybody.
Brandon: One other thing that I wanted to ask about was specifically regarding the delivery process, 'cause I know you guys have said that you're based out of Pennsylvania. Are you guys delivering from Pennsylvania or how does the delivery process work?
Homestead Jenn: So each of the individual affiliate partners, they either build or buy coops from us that are quality portable chicken coops and they raise their chickens or buy from a trusted source, and then they deliver to their local area while we are also delivering to our local area.
Homestead Phil: Yeah, so we've got our own customers here in the Greater Pittsburgh area that we deliver chickens and hatching to, and that's exactly what our affiliates do in their local areas.
Brandon: Awesome, do you guys have a... You have a whole network is what you're saying, you guys have a family of the Rent a Chicken?
Homestead Phil: Yes. In fact, if you decide to Rent the Chicken as well, the last thing that we're going to say to you on the phone is, welcome to the Rent the Chicken family.
Brandon: Yeah, you guys, I think you have done such an incredible job of creating not just a product and a service for people, but creating the environment that does feel like a family, where it's... You're doing it for the right reasons, you wanna raise awareness, you wanna help educate people on what it's like to bring food sources closer to home and actually make an impact in people's lives from that, and provide them that actionable step to take.
Homestead Phil: One of the goals with Rent the Chicken that I've said for years is that I want a single mom with two children to be able to afford any of our products, and so when you look at our pricing partially... Part of the pricing that we've researched and done is to be able to do that for that single mom, for instance. We also have a program through Rent the Chicken called Give the Chicken, where you can fill out an application and either ask for a donation or do some crowdfunding to be able to get somebody some chickens or somebody some hatching, or maybe a school or a daycare that might not have the funding available to do one of those programs, so we have that available as well.
Pierson: Wow, you've got a lot of financing options too. Now, if I can ask, what does it typically cost to rent a chicken?
Homestead Jenn: With the five to six-month rental, depending on where someone is on the state side for 2021, we start at $450, and on the Canadian side it starts at $500, and it really... That also depends on where someone lives as well. Sometimes there's some added transportation built into the rental price if the affiliate isn't quite as close to the town or the city that they are providing Rent the Chicken to, then that's just included in the price. And so that's for two chickens, portable chicken coop, high quality feed for the rental, chicken keeping book, we deliver or pick up, answer the phone when someone calls... Unless we're recording a podcast. And then we have a standard upgrade, two hens and a coop that's a little bigger, and then from there.
Pierson: Yeah, that's pretty affordable, that's cheaper than a lot of flights. [laughter]
Homestead Phil: Well, our chickens are transported on a vehicle, they don't fly to you. [laughter]
Pierson: I figured. Yeah, it says actually in your kit here that I think it's that you deliver free within 50 miles of wherever you've got a location, which covers a lot of ground.
Homestead Jenn: It does, yeah.
Homestead Phil: Yeah, we can probably reach... I haven't done the math recently, but we're probably within 50 miles of about 180 million families.
Pierson: Yeah, how many locations do you have these days?
Homestead Jenn: A lot. [laughter] It's hard to keep that number because some of our affiliates provide rent the chicken and hatch the chicken to more than one region, like our Connecticut affiliate that you provide, rent the chicken hatch the chicken to Connecticut, but also there's like the South East pocket of New York, that's East of the Hudson that they also cover, and those people don't consider themselves to be part of Connecticut at all.
Homestead Phil: And our New Hampshire affiliate also covers Boston. So I think all in all, we have about 40 farmers right now, and we can deliver to something like 32 or 33 states and three Canadian provinces.
Homestead Phil: So the pandemic was interesting, people were staying home, so they were calling up because they weren't going on vacation, they wanted to do something, and they would use their vacation money to rent chickens. 2020 was probably our best year ever, because people... They were home, they gotta spend time with chickens.
Homestead Jenn: And a number of people, when we talk about Rent the chicken they say, "Oh, we're just not home enough," and so 2020 made that not be a reason to participate. Right?
Homestead Phil: There were a few people that were concerned about food security when they would call, and there were a couple of phone calls, not many, where people would call up and they wanted chickens tomorrow, they wanted the coop tomorrow, because they were worried about what was happening with the pandemic, we had one lady in Virginia, she gave us a call, she ended up buying a really nice coop from Cutest coops, which is one of our partners, and she got six chickens and she called me, and I remember that call very specifically because she was at the store and there were no eggs there, so she wanted to have eggs for her family and she has chickens now.
Homestead Jenn: Yeah, also with the pandemic... Oh, I lost my train of thought with all of that talking... Give me just one second. Oh, so people were home, I already talked about that, but at the same time, people were outside... Right, and so people were talking to their neighbors, what an unusual phenomenon, people were talking to their neighbors, and then we're like, "Oh, you have chickens. We're not going anywhere either, we should get chickens." And it gave them something to talk about that was positive that wasn't about COVID.
Pierson: Yeah, that's really interesting, 'cause I feel like it's in that same category is when everybody just spontaneously started making bread, it was just to have something to talk about, something to do while you're stuck at home.
Homestead Jenn: Homestead Phil took up bread making, I'll be honest.
Pierson: Yeah. Yeah. You probably have a sour of starter somewhere. Yeah, I did not take that up, but a lot of people did.
Homestead Jenn: A lot of people did for sure.
Homestead Phil: No, but I definitely had a source for yeast because there was a big yeast, like nobody... You couldn't find yeast anywhere.
Homestead Jenn: Unless you knew the right people.
Homestead Phil: Unless you knew the right people, and you went to the right store in the middle of nowhere.
Homestead Jenn: That's right.
Pierson: Yeah, yeah. That was such an odd time.
Homestead Jenn: So I do want to say that we do recognize that a lot of business did not flourish, and it was the opposite actually, and a lot of people really came on tough times because of the pandemic, and so our heart certainly goes out to them because we've been through tough times previously, and we do not take lightly the fact that we had one of our biggest and best years in a time that was hard for a lot of people.
Pierson: Yeah, yeah, and that's one of the unusual things about 2020 too is 'cause it was a really terrible year in a lot of ways, and it was a really terrible year for a lot of businesses, but at the same time, you saw the other types of businesses, lucky types of businesses just having this kind of dramatic growth, and for many that's stuck around, you guys are among the lucky ones, and I think that's good, it means that you were providing a service that people just really needed right when they needed it.
What was the takeaway from last year?
Homestead Jenn: Sure, and the fact that we were able to just hold on and continue to grow because it could have been quite disastrous, and I think some... Some businesses also experienced those big growing pains that hurt a lot where because we had just been continually growing and growing and growing. It's like that we were kinda set up and we've been ready 'cause we do grow so much each year, and then last year, we grew a good amount, but our farmers were ready and we were ready, just really enjoying... Well, not really enjoy meeting people 'cause we really didn't... We did these contacts-less delivery, but even with that, we learned a pile stuff with hatch the chicken, under pre-pandemic conditions, we would go into someone's house, we would set up the incubator, we'd give an in-person tutorial, we answer any questions, and we actually... We kind of prohibited people from picking up the equipment pre-pandemic because, "No, no, we need to set it up for you, we really need to set it up. It's quite complicated." And we quickly learn that it is quite complicated, but we put a system in place very quickly that made it so we could drop off at someone's doorstep, provide a video, very thorough emails and instruction sheets for them to be able to be confident that they could set the equipment up, and that also made it so affiliates that were... It was beyond their bandwidth to be able to make these hatch the chicken deliveries that allowed them to have a farm pick up as well.
Homestead Phil: We were more efficient, if anything...
Homestead Jenn: We were, we can make more deliveries in one day, 'cause we weren't spending 45 minutes at each stop to give a tutorial, both with rent the chicken and hatch the chicken, but hatch the chicken really grew, because we were able to not have to go into people's homes and because people were really looking for something unique and interesting to do without being concerned for, "Oh my goodness, someone has to come in my house and set up? Oh my! No thank you."
Pierson: Yeah and the whole situation, it sounds like it just forced you to be creative.
Homestead Jenn: Mm-hmm.
Homestead Phil: Absolutely.
Homestead Jenn: Yeah. [laughter] Oh, and we love to talk about what's next.
Homestead Phil: I really can't talk about 2022 because we will be releasing a new product in October, it's... I don't know, I'm...
Homestead Jenn: You can't talk about it.
Homestead Phil: I can't talk about it.
Homestead Jenn: You have to stop saying words. But I'm... [laughter]
Pierson: Okay, serious question, do we need to edit that out?
Homestead Jenn: No, no that's fine.
Homestead Jenn: Well, I'll tell you what we do have upcoming. Every October, we open reservation for the following season for Rent the Chicken, and Hatch the Chicken, so come October, we will revamp the website, update all the rental packages and be ready for 2022 rentals, and we are always looking to partner with new farmers to provide our farmers in home centers to provide our service all over, and October is usually our big push for making those announcements as well. By the time this podcast airs, we will have made it through our video series of the top 10 reasons to rent the chicken on our social media, I think we're a little behind on Instagram, but at this point, at time of recording, we are behind... [laughter] by the time of publication, they will all be released, and this year we had various affiliates that also recorded the videos with us, and that was super fun.
Homestead Jenn: We might even... I think we've talked about this way off record, but I think that we're going to do a "Top 10 Reasons to Hatch the Chicken" because we haven't ever done that, and we've always focused on Top 10 Reasons to Rent the Chicken, so stay tuned for that. We're kinda taking the summer off from our "Fun with Rent the Chicken" episodes on Facebook, and we also then post that to YouTube, right? So, "Fun with Rent the Chicken" is a super fun, because it's in the name, it has to be... [laughter] super fun 15-minute episode where we interview...
Homestead Phil: You're gonna meet the farmers.
Homestead Jenn: Yeah, our local providers, and so I think we're looking to pull in some of our chicken-related partners as well to be part of the "Fun with Rent the Chicken" but quick 15-minute episode, and they're super fun, and I think people really really enjoy those, so we'll be gearing back up for those come Fall as well.
If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?
Homestead Phil: And we are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and sometimes Snapchat, just search for "Rent the Chicken".
Homestead Jenn: Mm-hmm.
Pierson: And all this again is in the show notes for everybody listening.
Homestead Jenn: Oh, super. Thank you for that.
Pierson: Well, it will be by the time we get this up. How about that?
Homestead Jenn: Yeah.
Homestead Jenn: At time of publication, right?
Pierson: At time of publication. I've got just one more question. Unless you've got anything else Pierson, you got anything else? Let's say you time travel back to 2013 and you can give yourself a piece of advice when you're just starting this up, what would you tell yourself?
Homestead Phil: The first thing I would say is, in January of 2020 buy a lot of lumber and sell it in July.
Homestead Jenn: Order more chickens in 2019, the fall of 2019, than you ever thought you would rent because chickens were hard to come by last spring. Everybody was getting into chickens.
Homestead Phil: Seriously, for me though, it's... Have more vision of what you really want to accomplish in the future. When we started this business, we said, "Hey, if we can... Ray, if we can earn enough money, have enough sales to pay for our homeowner's insurance, our local property taxes and car insurance... "
Homestead Jenn: Car insurance, like those yearly things. Yeah.
Homestead Phil: Just the big yearly stuff. If we could do that, we will be successful." That's what we thought when we started Rent the Chicken. And if we would have had bigger vision, I think we would be even larger now, if we would have really just... Both of us jumped all into it and really pushed for more than what we did that first year.
Homestead Jenn: And also to add to that, we did a lot of growing by fire, like, "Oh, we're doing this thing now?", "Oh, how about this?", "Oh, oh, a blogger talked about us, and now we have to buy 15 more incubators", that we started with five incubators in 2015, and we moved up quick, you know. Like I said, we really grew because our market was forcing us to grow and as time continues, we really try to grow... Well, we still grow that way sometimes, but like...
Homestead Jenn: But to have more structure to how we're growing, we have things in place for our affiliates, we offer live online courses for our affiliates to participate in, and we give them the tools, we give them the how-to's, and the this, and the that you know.
Homestead Phil: Just the ability to go back and say, "Put this in place now."
Homestead Jenn: Mm-hmm.
Brandon: Yeah, that actually speaks to me because I'm in a place where it is relatively early for me. I've just gotten to where I can pay my bills handsomely enough with a little left over. And now the question is, what to do next? And so it's just good to hear that from a totally different kind of industry that, that still holds constant. 'Cause, you know that I've been wrestling with it's just like, "What do I do?"
Homestead Phil: Sure.
Homestead Jenn: And sometimes things don't work.
Homestead Phil: Yeah, and you have to recognize, "Hey, it doesn't work really well."
Homestead Jenn: It's not working, let's do it a different way.
Homestead Phil: One of the things that we did in the last 12 months is we hired a personal business coach, and she is not cheap. It's a big check to write every month, but it has helped us tremendously, and I really wish we would have hired a business coach five years ago.
Homestead Jenn: We met her a number of years... We met her in 2015, but we just weren't in a place, like our budget wasn't in the place and our mindset wasn't in the place, and so.
Homestead Phil: But sometimes you just have to make it happen.
Homestead Jenn: Sometimes you have to spend the money to make the money. Same like you have Pierson and we have Miranda. She works with us on the phones and it was...
Homestead Phil: And now McKenna.
Homestead Jenn: We knew that it was time to have someone work the phones with us, and that was a little hard like, "Okay, well, I don't know if she'll be able to have hours through the winter," and so she started in October and she's still now rocking and rolling with us. And she is amazing, and we wouldn't be where we are in 2021 without her and her dedication and her abilities to help us just get a handle on some of this stuff.
Homestead Phil: You bet.
Homestead Jenn: Yeah, and when she's on, she does a lot of customer service related items, which releases me from doing that and I can focus on other things that I need to focus on, like growing the affiliates or whatever else that is on my plate that is beyond her wheelhouse. And Brandon, you kind of alluded to that. Like, okay, I really have to find things for him to do, what else can I release...
Homestead Phil: There's a lot you can release to an employee, and one of the things that you can do is take that, a list, write down 10 things that you do every day, and if you don't know what you do every day, have a notepad right next to your mouse or your computer, or when you're walking around and every time you do something, write it down. Sent a follow-up email with this person, did some billing or whatever it may be, and then go through that list and find the three things that you really need to do to make it successful and take the other seven things and move those to somebody else, because if you're not doing the three most important things in your business on a daily basis, the other things don't matter as much, in my opinion.
Homestead Jenn: And to add to that, if you're doing something that you're repeating the same process every time you do it, then certainly write down that process so that someone else can do that process.
Homestead Phil: Or automate it.
Homestead Jenn: Right, and it really was... And it does take time to be able to replicate it so that someone else can do it, but so worth that time because that releases you to be able to do something else.
Homestead Phil: When we were small, we knew all of our renters, and we could send personalized emails. Now that we've got, I don't know, a thousand plus renters? I have no idea how many renters we have this year. We have automated systems that literally send emails at key points of time during the rental period, and they feel very personal to the end user, but they are canned emails, and we get people that respond to us that say, "Oh! Thank you for letting us know." So just automating those little things.
Egg creations and final thoughts
Homestead Jenn: They're the same emails we used to send as personal emails, it's just an automated system.
Homestead Phil: It's just helped so much with our business.
Brandon: Yeah, that one's a really good one because that comes up a lot in digital marketing, is you find things that you can automate like that while still keeping the human touch, and all of a sudden, your client actually has a whole bunch of additional time that they can use to do the things that they really care about or that really need to be done. You guys are giving a ton of really good advice here.
Homestead Phil: You might have to bring us back on for...
Homestead Jenn: Part two.
Brandon: I was actually just thinking it. You guys are more than welcome to come back on season three, whenever you roll out your new service.
Homestead Phil: Oh, yes.
Homestead Jenn: Oh, perfect, great.
Brandon: Yeah, you have an open door invite.
Homestead Phil: Thank you.
Brandon: Yeah. Pearson, you got anything?
Homestead Jenn: Well, at the end of Fun with Rent the Chicken, we always ask a final question. If you don't mind, we'll ask it of you.
Homestead Phil: So Pierson, you're first.
Homestead Phil: You've got six eggs. Whatcha cooking? [laughter]
Pierson: Oof. Gosh, I'm gonna just go old school and just make scrambled eggs.
Homestead Jenn: Oh nice, so what are you gonna put in them?
Pierson: Cheese... Oh gosh, lots of spices and then a bunch of hot sauce on top.
Homestead Jenn: That's us kinda guy, sounds fun. Yeah, alright, Brandon, you already kind of have a heads up, I'm gonna throw it at you. I'm gonna ask, you've got six eggs, whatcha making? I know you saw it coming.
Brandon: Yeah, okay. I was thinking, let's get like some avocado oil and get that simmering for a little while. Chop up some onion and some and red and yellow peppers, put that in there, sautée those until the vegetables are nice and tender. Scramble the six eggs, put those on top and then add some spices, whatever seems good at the moment to that, and just have a giant omelette. Maybe you can split it between two people.
Homestead Jenn: Yeah. Well, look at you guys, didn't even see it coming.
Homestead Phil: Well, hey, I am Homestead Phil.
Homestead Jenn: And I'm Homestead Jenn.
Homestead Phil: And we are with Rent the Chicken.
Homestead Jenn: Rentthechicken.com.
Homestead Phil: That's right, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and sometimes Snapchat.
Homestead Jenn: I don't know what they're doing on there. Are they snapping? I don't know.
Homestead Phil: I don't know either. We're snapping sometimes. [chuckle]
Pierson: Well, thank you guys so much for taking the time to come on the show. It's been a pleasure talking to you and hearing about your business, and for those of you who wanna find us, we're on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, wherever you have podcasts, we're there. Leave us a five-star review and give us a like. Subscribe if you'd like, and for Homestead Phil, Homestead Jenn and Brandon, I'm Pierson, and we'll see you guys again soon.
Homestead Phil: Bye bye!
Homestead Jenn: Thank you.