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My Weird Small Business: Rent the Chicken

Author: Chuck Ulie Date: February 26, 2014

Rent a car? Sure. Rent a house? Yes. Rent poultry? Anything is possible.

How did the chicken cross the road? Well, if that chicken lives in western Pennsylvania, it might have been driven down the road and to the home of a renter.

An apartment renter, you ask? No, to a renter of the chicken itself, via the Freeport, Penn., recently launched small business Rent the Chicken.

Small Business Inspiration

Last year, when Jenn Tompkins had six months left on a contract position on a motorcycle project, she and her husband, Phil, explored ideas “of what could we do that was more for ourselves,” says Phil. The answer: Launch a small business.

The Tompkinses looked to their hobbies for inspiration on what kind of small business to start. The couple has been raising chickens in their own backyard for years—long before urban farming was trendy. But they had seen friends and relatives try the same and fail. In fact, a host of unwanted chickens from city dwellers was becoming a major problem in cities across the country.

And thus, Rent the Chicken was born.

What the Small Business Is

Customers who rent from the Tompkinses’ two-person business receive a coop, 100 pounds of chicken feed, a feed dish, water dish and two hens that lay eight to 14 eggs weekly. This $350 turnkey service includes free delivery within a 50-mile radius of the Tompkinses’ homestead. At the end of a six-month rental period, if the customer opts out, the Tompkinses pick up the hens, coop and dishes. “But we found people don’t want to get rid of them,” Phil says. “The chicken has become part of the family, so we offer an adoption program, and they can buy it out.”

Weird Small Business Naysayers

Not many people think, “When I grow up, I’ll rent chickens to people.” But still, Phil is convinced he and his wife didn’t take an insurmountable risk when launching their small business—no matter how weird the premise seemed. “People need to know where their food is coming from, and the experience we provide is a turnkey operation so that just about anyone can raise backyard chickens,” he says. “[Customers] don’t have to worry about anything.”

The Tompkinses aren’t the only ones who rent chickens in the United States, but that hasn’t stopped a few farmers from scoffing at Rent the Chicken’s concept. “People are really going to rent chickens?” they ask Phil.

Rent they will. By mid-February, customers had already placed deposits on half of the Tompkinses’ inventory, “And that’s with non-refundable deposits,” Phil adds. The interest prompted the couple to up their chicken count.

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