They Started A Family Business When They Were Looking For Ways To Quit The 9-5 But They Didn't Expect To Become Chicken Farmers
Paul Greive's family story is not that of your average family business, in fact very few existing family-run farms could say that they have had a similar journey to the Seattle born accountant's family.
The self-confessed "City Boy" has freely admitted that during his formative years he had no interest in the occupation that has now taken over his life and who would? Only a handful of people grow up aspiring to look after chickens for a living.
Not only has 'Farmer Paul' helped build an operation that provides thousands of customers in California with high quality meat and dairy but he and has family have done it with a focus on the environment and keeping things as natural as possible.
"No drugs, just bugs" is the family motto of this ethically driven operation which was born out of the frustration with the lack of transparency in the meat industry and their standards.
How did they start? With a mistaken purchase online.
In April 2012, Greive's time as an officer in the Marine Core was coming to an end due to his physical health. At only 22 years of age he suffered from arthritis in his knees and experience chronic pain all over his body with just the simplest of movements.
He knew he couldn't let his health deteriorate anymore so he started to really pay attention to what sort of foods he was putting in his body. He believed that the predominant reason for his ailments were due to his casual attitude to the rubbish he was eating...mainly takeaways and fast food - the usual culprits.
A devout Christian farmer Paul described how his family went on a food "adventure" together to discover where they were going wrong. They realised just how much a poor diet can affect your day to day mental and physical wellbeing. This journey led the family to experimenting with the 'Paleo' diet which basically restricts processed foods and focuses on organic produce.
It worked like a charm and they saw vast improvements in the health as they lost weight and all their injury pain had vanished virtually overnight.
They knew the key to optimal health was a good organic healthy diet and they started to search for suppliers online and locally.
To their dismay they couldn't find 100% organic meats from the grocery store as they became increasingly frustrated with the meat labelling industry. A major concern for them was the claim made by mass producers that their poultry was "free-range" when after closer inspection it turned out they were just battery hens but they were exploiting a loophole on the legislation to claim they were organic.
Taking It Into Their Own Hands
In true entrepreneurial fashion the family saw no other alternative than to do something about the lack of available true organic, pasture raised poultry.
Or it least that's what they said they would do.
At a family get together in Easter 2013 Paul jokingly said to his in-laws "wouldn't be funny to get some chickens and put them in the backyard". Unbeknown to him his brother-in-law Rob thought he was being serious and ordered 50 chicks there and then.
Like a lot of successful entrepreneurs the group had identified something that was missing in the marketplace, true organic raised poultry and although they had a tentative start, Robs actions would throw them all into the deep end and they would have to see if they would sink or swim.
Paul freely admits that at the start "we didn't know what we were doing at all" but they had a vision of what they wanted the end result to be. They didn't buy the drugs that are usually required to keep battery chickens healthy, they wanted everything to be completely organic even when they were working from their backyard.
The family put together a makeshift chicken coup before the delivery arrived and within the week the now Chartered accountant was a part time chicken farmer.
Growing Chickens and a Business
What do you do when you have fifty chicks and no reputation as a farmer? Just sell them on Facebook?
It turns out that yes just sell them on Facebook.
The family planned to keep some of the chicks for themselves and put the rest for sale on Facebook once they had been harvested. However, to their complete surprise within the space of two weeks all 50 had been sold and the deposit money collected before the chicken had even been delivered.
Month after the month the demand for the organically raised birds grew and they even had a waiting list of a couple of hundred people. The family smelt on opportunity that they were ready to take advantage of.
However, it wasn't all plain sailing at the start.
After buying more birds to cope with the rise in demand the family's inexperience in raising poultry became evident. Thirteen hundred chickens (90% of their total stock) were lost to predators in their first year.
With the hobby turned business hanging in the balance they invested in guardian dogs that ultimately saved the whole operation and they have not lost a single bird since.
With a family comprised of teachers. doctors and accountants they didn't all quit their day jobs immediately, even with the initial success. In fact whilst they were building up the farm and reinvesting their profits no one took a salary for 3 years. This was one of the secrets to the family's success that is overlooked. In order to scale your production and create a large business they had to reinvest and do it quickly.
In a short period of time the company started to gain a local reputation in California as sustainable farmers who put an emphasis on the importance of animal welfare and don't use any drugs on their birds. It was a style that really resonated with the locals as customers, local restaurants and even celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck, who were seeking a competitive edge, were keen to use the business as their official supplier.
Things became even more crazy when TV networks like HBO, intrigued by the unusual story of the family, were calling up to shoot a documentary of the chicken farm.
All this noise led to a level of exposure that Paul and his family could not believe.
Within six years of putting everything into the farm the group were turning over millions of dollars and producing over 500,000 birds per year. A phenomenal achievement given that every bird is of the highest quality and on fresh new pastures every single day.
However, once the farm was and running Paul's biggest lesson was not the maintenance of the livestock nor the regenerative aspect of the chickens pastures but the marketing of the product.
In this interview he explains that running a chicken farm is "20% farming and 80% marketing". This was another aspect that the family had to learn first hand as they started to push a social media angle of the story of the farm.
Building an email list and a level of trust with their customers has been the hardest yet the most important reason for their success as if the product does not meet expectation in the food industry it is likely you will never see that customer again.
Over the last six years the group has expanded into producing grass-fed lambs and organic pork all with the same ethos as the chickens they started out with.
There are lots of things to take from the experience of the Californian based operation but here are few of the most important.
- Don't be afraid to take risks even if you are not an expert in a certain field. As long as you understand the market have a vision of where you want to take it a lot of things can be learned along the way. There is no better teacher in life than experience.
- Specialise in one thing at the start. The family didn't buy all the animals under the sun and start a business - they bought 50 chickens. It was fairly low risk and they didn't expand into other livestock until they had mastered one. Don't run before you can walk.
- Tell people about your products and do it well. Being humble about your achievements is a good trait to have...but it doesn't make many sales. Telling people about your story is so much more powerful than just telling them about how good your product is. They need to know how much it means to you...so tell them.