This post is part of our Weird Business Series. Check out the other installments to learn about more weird businesses you could start!
You’d always test drive a car before buying it, right? And you’ve probably heard of rent-to-own furniture stores. But have you ever thought about renting chickens?
This up and coming home-based industry brings a whole new meaning to “try it before you buy it.” Rent-a-chicken services provide would-be backyard farmers with everything they need — the hens, coop, bedding, training and feed — for a short-term rental. With a growing interest in local food, organic gardening and getting back to our roots, rent-a-chicken services are popping up in cities and towns all over the U.S.
Is this the business for you? Here’s what you need to know before launching your own rent-a-chicken operation.
Who Wants to Rent Chickens?
Many potential customers are attracted to the romanticized idea of farming and the thought of getting closer to their food. A short-term chicken rental is a great way to test the waters without commitment or major investment.
“Often one person is more into the idea and the rental gives the entire family the opportunity to see how raising chickens will affect their lifestyle before fully committing,” said Melissa Allphin, owner of Coop and Caboodle in Birmingham, Alabama.
Tyler Phillips, who co-founded Rent A Coop with his girlfriend, Diana Samata, explains that many of his renters use the service as an educational opportunity to teach important lessons about where food comes from and getting back to nature. He rents to a lot of families with young children who are embarking on a family project, as well as schools and daycares looking for a unique educational experience for their students.
How Much Can You Earn Renting Chickens?
Both businesses earn most of their money through rental fees, though each offers additional services to boost their incomes.
Coop and Caboodle charges $395 for a six-month rental of two hens, a coop and 50 pounds of feed. Rent a Coop, which focuses on shorter-term rentals, offers a four-week package for $160, including two hens, a coop, 50 pounds of feed and a bag of pine shavings for bedding. Renters can extend their contract by another four weeks for $125.
Allphin says her well-educated clientele is willing to pay a premium for organic and “designer chickens” known for laying unique eggs. “While savvy chicken farmers know they can get a bird for $10 at the local feed store, I can charge close to $50 for my designer birds.”
“It’s a low-cost business to start, not requiring too much capital,” said Phillips. In addition to renting hens, Allphin sells feed to former renters who decide to keep their chickens, builds coop upgrades and provides new or additional birds to customers wanting to expand their backyard farms. Phillips offers a chick-hatching rental program where participants get seven fertile eggs and the supplies they need to care for them for a month.
Customer service is key in this type of business. Allphin conducts hour-long training sessions with her renters making sure they feel comfortable. Phillips developed an instruction pamphlet that accompanies each rental and operates what he jokingly refers to as the “chicken hotline” to answer questions 24/7.
The Demand for Chicken Rentals is Growing… Really
The phenomenon of renting chickens and coops began in Australia in 2001 with the founding of Rentachook. More than 10 years later, it’s now the number one home industry in the country, according to Allphin.
When Phillips launched Rent a Coop in Potomac, Maryland, two years ago, there was just one other business offering the service in the U.S. Now he estimates there are at least twenty across the country — and more on the way based on the inquiries he’s been getting from folks interested in starting similar businesses. (Click to tweet this idea.)
In fact, based on requests for rentals from customers as far away as New York and Connecticut, he plans to expand in the near future. “Until six months ago we only served customers within a 50-mile radius of the DC metro area,” he said. It helps that more communities are opening up to the idea. Phillips has noticed a lot of cities in his area, including Annapolis, are now pro-chicken. “Before you needed to get permission from the major and the coop needed to be 100 feet away,” he said. “Now it is allowed with certain restrictions.”
While Phillips contemplates expanding, Allphin once again sold out of all her hens earlier this year and is having trouble keeping up with the demand for her unique service. She finds that most of her customers end up “loving and keeping their hens.”
Your Turn: Would you start a rent-a-chicken business?
Ally Piper is a writer and marketing strategist. She recently relocated to Cape Cod with her husband and isn’t getting chickens anytime soon.