Shelley Whitehouse – The Smart Chicken Coop

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Shelley Whitehouse of The Smart Chicken Coop
Shelley Whitehouse of The Smart Chicken Coop

The Smart Chicken Coop

It all started with 3 chickens on a porch, that turned into a side interest in backyard chicken keeping, that grew into a successful online business.

Shelley Whitehouse shares her story about her company, The Smart Chicken Coop as we cover various topics listed below.

Be sure to checkout The Smart Chicken Coops quality products at the link below!

The Smart Chicken Coop – https://thesmartchickencoop.com

Topics Covered

  • It all Started With 3 Chickens On A Porch
  • Craigslist & The Smart Chicken Coop’s First Customers
  • Credibility & Trust, Help Convert to Sales
  • Facebook & Google Advertising Success
  • COVID-19 Effect on Business
  • Life, Caring for Animals & The Value of Homegrown Food
  • Increase In Demand: The Start of DIY Chicken Coop Kits
  • Importance of Business Acumen & Self Discipline
  • Challenge of Developing a Marketing Plan for Nationwide Success
  • The Joy of Providing Value to Others
  • Bad Reviews & Quick Responses
  • Meeting Demand, While Maintaining Our Product Level
  • Advice for New Business Owners
  • A Joy for Indian Runner Ducks
  • The Value of Perseverance In Business

Transcription

Shelley: Just started out as a lifestyle business, do you know what I mean?

Brian: Yeah, absolutely.

Shelley: I didn’t know that it was going to become so popular. And then of course with COVID, it became ridiculous.

Brian: Yeah.

Shelley: But my husband actually took three months off of work his work, because we couldn’t get everything done, we were working full-time, all of us. We’re working.

It was crazy. It’s crazy, but really fun too, because here are these families who are stuck at home with kids pulling their hair out, and they get to build chicken coops and then get the chickens.

It’s a fun business.

Podcast Intro: If you’re someone who refuses to go along to get along, if you question whether the status quo was good enough for you and your family.

If you want to leave this world better off than you found it and you consider independence a sacred thing.

You may be a prepper, a gardener, a homesteader, a survivalist, or a farmer or rancher, an environmentalist or a rugged outdoorsman.

We are here to celebrate you whether you’re looking to improve your maverick business or to find out more about the latest products and services available to the weekend rebel.

From selling chicken eggs online, to building up your food storage or collecting handmade soap.This show is for those who choose the road less traveled the road to self-reliance for those that are living a daring adventure, life off the grid.

Brian: Shelley Whitehouse has quite a varied background. She spent many years performing as a professional orchestra flutist, raced mountain bikes for the heck of it, coached high school sports, raised three kids with her husband, then decided to go back to school to get an MBA.

After several years working as a management consultant, one of Shelley’s side interests, backyard chicken keeping, morphed into a business called, The Smart Chicken Coop, that sells fancy backyard chicken coops nationwide.

Shelley, welcome to the Off-the-Grid Biz Podcast.

Shelley: Thank you for having me.

Brian: Absolutely.

So what brought you into Backyard Chickens in the first place?

Shelley: Well, this is a funny story. So as I said in the bio, I was working as a management consultant. My daughter, who was at UC Santa Cruz at the time, decided to stop out of school and move to rural Yucatan. And so she dropped three chickens on my porch en route.

And I hate birds, but what I found is that they were really fun. And people started saying, well, what’s the latest with the chickens?

That turned into, why don’t you do a blog, that turned into me buying chicks to sell in my backyard, to people saying, where’d you get that chicken coop?

Because I had inadvertently one night I ordered 30 checks in the mail and didn’t remember. So at one point, we had 64 chickens in our backyard. And this is just suburban backyard, Orange County, California.

And that grew, it grew because my husband’s an engineer and I had already had some experience with chickens, and we’ve had made a good product that people want to so it grew.

Brian: Wow. That’s incredible.

How did you find your first customers?

Shelley: Well, there’s this thing called Craigslist.

Brian: Yeah.

Shelley: Now the thing about Craigslist is that I was just advertising, come get your baby chicks from me at $4 a pop. And so my first customers actually were the people showing up to get chicks. They saw the chicken coop that we had made and said, where’d you get that chicken coop?

Truly, that is how we got our first customers and inadvertently because they were coming for chicks not because they were coming specifically for a chicken coop.

So Craigslist was a big boon for me, at the beginning.

Brian: So that’s really cool.

So let’s take it to the present day. Where are you getting most of your new customers from right now, for people that find you right off the bat, where are they finding you?

Shelley: My biggest market now, almost my only market anymore is through a Google search.

Well that an Etsy, so we were for quite a number of years selling our coops through a very well-regarded and highly trafficked website called, MyPetChicken.com. And that gives me credibility because they’ve got the credibility.

So they sold my coupes, and then they people would also Google me, and over the years, my SEO ratings have gone up so that I might arrive on the first page on a few search topics.

But most people who are trying to purchase chicken coops are spending a lot of time combing the internet. And so again, it’s a Google search and word of mouth, but it’s nationwide, the 48 contiguous states.

Brian: Fabulous. And you’ve gotten a lot of play off of Etsy, also?

Shelley: Etsy has been wonderful too because it’s another concrete knowable door that people feel comfortable. And so sometimes I find that people will buy directly from Etsy.

Sometimes they’ll see me on Etsy and then look for my website and buy through me directly. Of course, that’s just a crapshoot, whether people want to spend a trifle bit more money for an Etsy, circumstance where they know they’re protected versus a website from some random website, The Smart Chicken Coop, who knows?

Brian: Yeah, that’s interesting, because you’ve used all of these trusted resources, you know, whether it be Craigslist, or MyPetChicken.com or Etsy, or even just google search, you’ve been able to use all those to be able to get exposure.

Have you done anything beyond that in terms of marketing and advertising to pull people in, or have you been doing well, just off that?

Shelley: I have done Facebook ads, and then I’ve done targeted Facebook ads.

The difference is that I learned more and knew how to drill down better. I also, from my MBA program, interestingly, was asked to give my business to one of the students or a group and they came up with plans, which frankly, we’re a little crazy because they were trying to target apartment therapy. Isn’t that what that websites called?

If you live in an apartment then you’re not buying chickens? Why do you think that’s a good thing? Anyway.

So that what that one didn’t work so well. But it was still good to hear, you know, what the youngsters had to say.

The targeted Facebook ads were great. They were better than for me going through just the Google AdWords.

And I don’t know why that’s the case.

But because of COVID. Last year, we actually stopped our ads because our business went through the roof at 400% over the prior year and that we couldn’t keep up.

So we actually pulled our ads last spring.

Brian: That is very interesting. It’s something we’ve seen across the whole realm when it comes to this area.

How else has COVID-19 affected you in your business?

Shelley: One factor that just happened was that my steel supplier called me and said, we’re having real troubles getting steel. So you need to figure out what you need for the whole season.

Well, that’s 1000s and 1000s of dollars worth of supplies that I’m buying, hoping that I’ll have as good a year this year as I did last. But the alternative and it has happened in the past, he can’t get hold of the steel to corrugate for us to make our rubes.

So that’s been a factor.

We’ve also seen not just COVID, but the trade wars. And I think that the steel originally was a trade war thing aside….

Brian: Because of the tarrifs, yeah, yeah.

Shelley: And then the hardware, we source our hardware out of Ohio. And I know that some of their hard work, does come directly from China.

And that, again, we run into challenges that way too.

So being here’s another way, because of COVID. And everybody doing home projects, we’ve been dinged, hardcore by the price of plywood, because everybody’s doing home projects.

Sometimes we’re having to wait weeks to get plywood.

So this year, we’ve been again, very proactive, because if we can’t ship coops, then there are people out there who can’t build their homes for their chickens and we lose credibility.

Brian: Absolutely.

Wow, that is a whole lot happening in a short period of time.

For those of you listening, we’re recording this in March of 2021. So all of these things could possibly change. But we’ve gone through quite a bit in the last year. And a little bit beyond that, especially regarding the tariff situation, which is another thing we’ve heard with other people, the trade wars and so forth.

You touched on this briefly, but who is really your ideal customer, if there was a way to paint that person, what would you say that person is?

Shelley: I find that our number one target audience.

People who have been married for years, let’s say have started a family. They have a three-year-old and a one-year-old, or a five-year-old and a seven-year-old, who want to teach their children where life comes from.

Teach them how to care for animals, teach them the value of homegrown food.

One really neat thing with a homegrown egg versus what you purchase in the store is that store-bought eggs are often quite old and still within the realm of safe. But their yokes are very pale when you grow your own chickens or support them and they grow the eggs are a mustard color, that’s the yolks.

That’s really fun. You can even, if you’re really wanting to go down that route, you can change the various foods that you provide for them. And the yolks do change color slightly.

So we find that to be big. Another time we find chickens being purchased are the kindergarten classes.

So what are those kids five? Yeah, they often will hatch eggs in their classrooms. And then the parents get wrangled into taking care of the chicks.

Then they need a house and we get calls for a while.

Much more common for it to be young families.

The second tier, if you will, is families with teenagers who’ve always wanted to have chickens. They do all the research and put it in front of their parents and say, Look what I found.

That’s our second level of customer, I would say not even 5% of our market is our older folks who don’t have children around people who are retired, want to travel. They don’t want to sit around and take care of chickens.

Brian: Yeah, no, absolutely.

What’s your top-selling product? Or what’s your top-selling coop, which one would it be?

Shelley: Now this is an interesting circumstance.

So we have this really neat, barn-style chicken coop, that we designed to be extremely easy to clean because I was busy doing the management consulting stuff.

And I didn’t have kids at home. But this I think we had one child at home. And we were building those out completely into panels.

So almost like IKEA furniture that we would ship because built this is 112 pounds.

They’re red, they’re very cute Red Barn with a tin roof.

What happened though, especially during this COVID period, is that the demand was so great that we couldn’t keep up, we were at one point now 70 doesn’t seem like a lot, but since these are all hand-built, we were 74 coops behind.

That’s a lot when you’re talking about one person me doing the business aspect, and then Kenny doing all the building.

So what then we did, as we said, we’re no longer painting them, and we’re going to provide what I mentioned at the beginning, and that is these coop kits.

What has morphed is that people love having these coop kits, because they cost the amount that Chinese chicken coop costs. But you’re getting the high quality wood that comes from Oregon and the thought process that goes into it from my husband and me to build the coop.

Brian: That’s great. And then they also get to add in a little piece of themselves into it feel like they’re part of the project. That’s pretty cool.

Shelley: Well, that’s actually a great point.

One thing I’ve also seen as customers, though this is less frequent. The one in particular that sticking into my mind is the mother and father whose 10-year-old daughter or something wanted the chickens. And for her birthday, the 14-year-old son agreed to build the coop for the daughter.

I mentioned that because that’s a theme that comes up.

This is something I want to do with our children so that we can teach them measurement so that we can teach them how to paint how and following through reading directions and getting a finished product that sometimes that’s more.

One of the wildest color combinations that I’ve enjoyed is the Seattle Seahawks colors. It was somebody up in Seattle. It was It is a crazy look at coop, it was pretty, but it was crazy.

So sometimes the elementary schools will purchase them and then they use the school colors. For their coops, somebody had always wanted a pink dollhouse. Never got one. So she painted hers, this was a young couple who didn’t have children, they painted their chicken coop, bright, Pepto Bismol pink.

Brian: Wow. Yeah, very fun, that’s really neat.

So that from a management consultant background. Had you ever owned a business as your management consultant, as a management consultant?

Were you the business owner, or is this your first foray into this realm?

Shelley: Well, I did not own my own business, I worked for a consulting firm.

But when I was a professional flutist, I was my own boss, as a freelance musician. We work to get money any way we can. So I was a contractor.

What that means is that a good example is when you go to an East or service and they’ve got an orchestra sitting in the church, all of a sudden, somebody has to hire and manage those musicians.

That was one of the things that I did.

I also taught junior college I had a flute studio teaching junior college students, I was the person who was responsible for putting together orchestras for actual concert stages.

So I have had, for many, many years, the document the business acumen, in order to survive as a freelance musician, many people do. I just happened to be more business-oriented than many.

Brian: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Commercial Break: Okay, let’s take a break from that conversation. I wanted to bring up a question for you, during these crazy times, do you feel like your business is indestructible?

Most people don’t, and if not, the real question is why, and what can you do to make it as indestructible as possible?

Well, that’s the basis of my new book, 9 Ways To Amazon-Proof Your Business.

Let me talk about what we discuss in chapter six, the sixth way, which is to offer ongoing, what does that mean?

Well, what it means is don’t just have products that are one time uses, find a way to offer some type of ongoing value to your clients, even if you can’t offer it yourself.

Even if you don’t specifically offer a service that goes on and on, find someone else who does and team up with them. Find a way to turn what you do into some form of subscription or membership and get your stuff out there more often.

Allow them a chance to get to know like and trust you via a product or service. This is a way that you can completely take Amazon’s idea and twist it into something directly for your own Amazon Prime’s a major deal in the success behind amazon.com.

You can get it to work for you, even if you just work on a local level. But I also have eight other ways to Amazon proof your business, basically the idea of making it competition proof to even someone as big as Amazon.com.

So if you’d like to get your hands on a free copy of my book, go to AmazonProofBook.com sign up and you will get a free copy and get the chance to purchase a physical copy of it for a special price. And now let’s get back to our show.

Brian: What would you say is your biggest surprise going into this style of business, looking back over it?

Shelley: Do you remember when the internet was vaguely new?

I’m not talking back into the 90s, I’m talking in the 2000s or something. And it was a fabulous commercial, where the person listed something on the internet, and they were sitting at their computer and the phone rang and rang and rang.

They just, all they did was make it and they will come basically through the internet.

It didn’t happen that way.

I was surprised, I thought oh, I just need to put it up on the internet and I’m going to end up having my phone ringing off the hook.

Not true.

There is a lot of work that goes into internet marketing that’s necessary to develop a marketing plan that successful for a business that you’re trying to service nationwide.

That was a big shock to me.

And that’s not something one learns in school, maybe in MBA program.

Now you could learn internet marketing, I’m sure you can. I was there in the mid 2000s and so it was still just more the traditional marketing plan and it is actually not really applicable anymore.

Brian: That’s a great point. Really great point.

Overall, what do you like best about your business and the industry that you’re in?

Shelley: I was just telling the gentleman who helps me so I for various reasons, no longer actually do the building of the coops. I rely on Kenneth down at a different location.

And sometimes there’s a disconnect between putting all these parts together, putting them in a big 45-pound box, and shipping them off.

What he doesn’t see are all the emails that come to me because I’m the business person, where the people say, Oh, this is the most fun thing we’ve done. It’s so great to get up in the morning and get to the chickens. You’ve made such a great product.

I told him just yesterday, I’m going to start forwarding you those messages.

It’s such a joy to provide in a little way joy for others, that in and of itself as price their chickens for heaven’s sakes, who cares, but you know what, they’re fun.

I would never have told you eight years ago, nine years ago that I would make a statement like that, but they’ve got little personalities, they follow you around. They’re just fun. Yeah, they’re fun.

Brian: It’s great.

On the other hand, if you could change one thing about your business and or your industry, what would it be?

Shelley: Bad reviews.

That is one of the big drawbacks to internet businesses.

I had a friend of mine who runs a winery, and she has it was a Yelp review that came through that was very bad. And it was because she or her co-worker or something asked for the gentleman to wear a mask.

He didn’t want to wear the mask so he trashed her company.

And I have had on two occasions, one not too long ago and on Etsy.

In fact, gentlemen, who must not be able to read directions, all that?

Well, when he and I had been communicating back and forth, I was saying, you know, I let me help you because it shouldn’t have cost you $200 to buy those pieces up at Home Depot, it’s a $30 purchase, something must be incorrect.

He ended up writing a review saying that I had not responded, I have an email trail showing nine responses to him, and that it was a horrible product. And it’s there, you know, I didn’t. And I was so upset, I didn’t respond. That was my mistake.

Once I finally came to feel comfortable with it, the time and pass for me to respond to the review and it’s just there permanently.

And that’s a shame. I mean, everybody faces that anybody who’s working, even whether it’s an internet-based or restaurants, for instance, if you get a bad review, it’s really, really hard to you just hope that people read through it and see all the other good reviews and go, that was a one-off.

Brian: Yeah, well, it’s like you said, it’s not just online business, it’s all business has the ability to collect those reviews. And if you can’t respond quickly enough and be able to spend it in a good way, it’s really difficult. So I completely understand that.

If you and I were to meet, like, let’s say we had you back on the show, like a year from now. And we were to look back over the past 12 months at everything that had happened.

What would you say would have had to have happened for you to feel happy and secure about your progress both professionally and personally?

Shelley: I believe that we have tackled the delay that we found last year, not being able to provide to our customers in a timely manner.

I mean, we had it all written all overlook, we’re so far behind, because of demand, we’re running six weeks behind.

I believe we’ve got a handle on that this year.

So that would be my number one marker, can we meet demand, maintaining our product level, which is a given. That’s why it took us so long to provide. And if we are meeting demand, can we go back to offering to the customers, what we call our ready-built coop that is painted that has a lot more of the manufacturing done by us.

It makes it more expensive for people but a lot of people don’t want to do a DIY, and those people no longer have the opportunity.

Well, we now are providing somewhere in the middle on an unpainted version. So it’s still built out. They put their own paint on because painting takes along.

So I’d say that would be my number one thing can we meet demand in a timely manner?

And then even, can we go back to providing painted chicken coops for people because they love them.

And I’ve got my pet chickens asking for them. It’s scary. I don’t want to over-commit.

And personally, I think we’re in a transition period right now where my husband and I have actually moved 400 miles north.

My manager is now the only person, the primary person doing the chicken coops and I’m doing the business from afar. So, personally, if that works, I’ll just feel great that I’ve provided more work for him and then he needs to hire people.

So it’s like providing a means to make money for people and to support themselves.

Brian: Fabulous.

What advice would you have as both a management consultant and the business owner for people who are looking to have a business thrive like, Smart Chicken Coop has?

Shelley: When I started in earnest, and that took me two years or so to get to that point.

Now mind you, I haven’t actually told you this but I’ve been a management consultants in years.

The coop business took off. The management consultant business got tanked by the drop in the economy several years ago…and I was ready to be done.

My point, though, is that it took me longer than it should have to set up the name of the business. I didn’t understand the search engine optimization.

So my most I think important advice is that, sure it’s great to get your feet wet but I had to change my name that this business was originally a shell format.

And in meeting with somebody who specializes in optimizing the internet business, said that no one’s going to search for a shell format, it doesn’t mean anything you have to have, you know, something that people will search for chicken coop, The Smart Chicken Coop, and that’s how that name came about.

So that’s one thing.

The second thing that I didn’t do, and somebody who said, you really need to sign up on these certain websites, which I don’t remember anymore, where newscasters and people like you can go and say, I need an expert who can tell me about chicken coops.

I was so early in the game, and I didn’t do it.

That’s credibility and free opportunity for advertising that I did not capitalize on, because I was just….this started out as a lifestyle business.

Do you know what I mean?

Brian: Yeah, absolutely.

Shelley: I didn’t know that it was going to become so popular. And then of course, with COVID, it became ridiculous.

Brian: Yeah.

Shelley: But my husband actually took three months off of work his work, because we couldn’t fulfill, we were working full time. All of us were working. It was crazy.

It’s crazy, but really fun, too. Because here are these families who are stuck at home with kids pulling their hair out, and they get to build chicken coops and then get the chickens and it was neat. It’s a fun business.

Brian: Very cool. And that’s really great advice.

I really appreciate the time you spent with me here, Shelley.

Is there anything I did not ask you that you’d like to answer?

Shelley: This is completely going to come out of left field.

But don’t just consider chickens.

My favorite fowl right now is Indian runner ducks.

Google them, they look like wine bottles with legs. And they are total characters.

I just love them.

They’re called the clowns of the garden.

I think too in terms of from a business standpoint, rather than just chickens. I wanted to say that this is not a smooth sailing process. I’m going to take us back to my saying I thought if I put it out in the world, they will come. That’s not true.

And slogging through it, going through the ups and downs are necessary.

I think that the businesses that don’t thrive are ones that don’t have the people running them that have the bandwidth to take hits and say, okay, that’s a setback, what can I do differently? How can I move forward?

Brian: Awesome.

That’s a really good point and something that people really need to pay attention to and you you’ve had so many great points throughout this whole conversation.

I recommend everyone go back and relisten to this.

What could a listener do, who wants to find out more about, Smart Chicken Coops?

Shelley: Go to TheSmartChickenCoop.com

Brian: Fabulous. Hey, thanks so much, Shelley Whitehouse for being on the Off-the-Grid Biz Podcast.

Shelley: Thank you for having me.

Brian’s Closing Thoughts: Had a lot of fun talking with Shelley, she provided a whole lot of great little tidbits lessons principles that come along with business ownership, and I wanted to point out a few for you.

But it’s definitely worth re listening to that whole concept of the build it and they will come myth that almost all entrepreneurs come into, you know, to some way or another, she had it when it came to internet marketing, she figured, hey, you put a website out there, people are going to find it.

And anybody that’s done any form of ecommerce, in modern day know that that’s just not true. It takes a whole lot to get attention online, let alone any other form of traditional business.

I love how she began on Craigslist, and then move from there and was able to build credibility and trust by teaming up with My Pet Chicken. And she noticed that she said specifically that it’s a credibility thing. And that’s when I hear credibility.

I know that’s trust.

More importantly, it’s a trust transfer that happens. So if you can team up with somebody that your market considers a trusted source, if you can team up with them. This is a great way to be able to introduce you to new audiences, and she did it.

I’m not sure if she realized what she was doing at the time. But she knows now how important that was to their growth, being able to go from there and jump and just be able to use mainly Google search and Etsy as sources of traffic. That’s pretty amazing.

She has a very clear cut avatar, and avatar is the term that people use for ideal prospect for your business, the ideal customer.

If you listen to go back and listen to how distinct and very specific she is about the type of person that gets one of her coops. It’s very, very interesting. Very, very good.

That’s so important to have if you have that, you know where to advertise where not to advertise what your messaging should be, when it comes to all of your marketing and sales. Very important.

I love having Shelly on and I really can’t wait to see what’s going to happen in the future.

Outro: Join us again on the next Off The Grid Biz Podcast brought to you by the team at BrianJPombo.com, helping successful but overworked entrepreneurs, transform their companies into dream assets.

That’s BrianJPombo.com.

If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on The Off The Grid Biz Podcast, offthegridbiz.com/contact. Those who appear on the show do not necessarily endorse my beliefs, suggestions, or advice or any of the services provided by our sponsor.

Our theme music is Cold Sun by Dell. Our executive producer and head researcher is Sean E Douglas. I’m Brian Pombo and until next time, I wish you peace, freedom, and success.

49 episodes