How three chickens taught me how to run a business

Me and my chickens

During the summers of 1987-1989 I was temporarily the proud owner of three chickens (unfortunately I don’t remember their names), given to me as a loan/present from the mother of a childhood friend. They arrived beat up, half featherless but left a few months later well fed and in great condition after having spent the summer living the life outdoors. My father built them a chicken pen where they slept at night, safe from dogs and other creatures of the night.

I don’t recall if the original idea was for me use the chickens for anything but it got me into the egg selling business. And boy did I sell eggs. Each summer I made about 300 marks, the equivalence of just below 90 euros these days adjusted for inflation. This is what it taught me.

When there is no volume to be had, maximize your margins

I only had three chickens and that was it. So that meant that I had to feed them with anything that was free. I learned that they liked clover and that the chickens eating more meant that the eggs would keep on coming, but clover didn’t grow everywhere so I had to look for it.

A chicken only lays one egg a day at best, so you better make sure that all your eggs make it. Starting out many of them tended to break but over time I found that by grinding up the shells of the eggs and feeding it to the chickens, the shells would become hard enough to withstand the chicken laying or standing on it before I could get to it. Chickens also lay eggs in obscure places so I learned to check at different times in different places to make sure that all the eggs made it.

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Keep your core sales message simple

All of my sales and marketing was word-of-mouth and my pricing structure was simple – one egg was 1 mark. I didn’t do 3 for 2 or 10 for 8. 1 egg was 1 mark and I always sold them all, often with a tip. I offered home delivery and always within half an hour. That often meant that anyone who ordered from me could bake with warm eggs.

Add a twist to what you do, and do it better than the rest

Now in the late 80s ecologically grown food was not a big thing but that was what I was offering – free range, organically bred chicken eggs. Offering a good experience and making it easier to buy from you allows you to charge more – in my case 40 % more (eggs cost 60-70 p in the 80s (I checked)). Adding a bit of showmanship also helps.

Me - the egg salesman

It’s in the details – dressing up for the occasion.

Growing your business is tough

So I only had three chickens. But had there been more chickens and more eggs I probably would have had to store them, possible keep them cool, and in the process lose the edge I had over store bought eggs. I would also have had to broaden the search for clients. I kept my business at three chickens.

Get to know and respect the ones who are working for and with you

Since I was the one taking care of them and spending time with them, the chicken learned to trust me. This came in handy when they needed to be put in the pen for the night. I could simply walk after them and they would sit down, allowing me to pick them up. Once we got middle management in the shape of a rooster, the same thing played out. The rooster attacked anyone but me and I could still move the chickens around.

I don’t really recall what I used the money for, and I’m sure that I didn’t invest it in anything worthwhile. But I did learn a lot during those three summers. And I loved those chickens.

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