scorecardI design luxury homes - for chickens. Here's how I've made $1.8 million from a niche business that I began with $3,800 and the advice of friends.
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I design luxury homes - for chickens. Here's how I've made $1.8 million from a niche business that I began with $3,800 and the advice of friends.

Jenny Powers   

I design luxury homes - for chickens. Here's how I've made $1.8 million from a niche business that I began with $3,800 and the advice of friends.
Careers6 min read
  • Kathy Vegh Hughes is an entrepreneur and chicken-coop maker based in Ohio.
  • After identifying a market for better built, high-end chicken coops, she launched Cutest Coops in 2019.
  • Here's what her career is like selling the tiny homes all over the US, as told to freelance writer Jenny Powers.

As an only child and a first-generation American, I always felt I was expected to do big things in life.

I grew up speaking only Hungarian at home as a child, except for at bedtime. Each night in their thick Eastern European accents, my mother would recite a prayer and my father - who had fled Budapest for the US after the Hungarian revolution and met and married my mother during a trip back home in 1967 - would sing "You Are My Sunshine" and "God Bless America" as I drifted off to sleep.

In Ohio, my mother sold real estate, and my father worked in factories and ran a ping-pong and pool hall. In 1979, when I was two years old, my father opened Danny Vegh's, his namesake billiard retail showroom.

There was this unspoken pressure to show my parents it had been worth it to come to this country in search of a better life.

After all, that was the American dream.

As a kid, I worked hard in school and was always looking for ways to earn my own money. By nine, I was selling my uneaten Halloween candy to the neighborhood kids and by 16, I worked part-time at The Gap.

After high school, I attended college and got my MBA. Being a girl, growing up I was never viewed as the successor to my family business, but I wound up working at Danny Vegh's for 19 years, eventually serving as CEO until the business closed in 2018. There I learned about consumers, quality, deliverables, pricing, and the pride that goes along with producing goods made in America.

I carried those lessons over with me to Cutest Coops, the hand-crafted hen home business I launched in the summer of 2019.

Despite never having been around chickens, I often told my husband Anthony that I wanted a few as pets. Five years ago, he surprised me over the holidays and bought me a chicken coop. It was from an e-commerce retailer and turned out to be one of those purchases that look better online. In person, it was not the best quality and was cumbersome to use. However, we were committed to making it work so we dedicated countless hours and a few hundred dollars to make improvements and once our work was complete, it was time to put the coop to good use.

In May 2016, we brought home our first flock of chickens: Snap, Crackle, and Pop.

Our retail coop was unfortunately poor quality and barely survived the winter, and our search for a functional yet aesthetically pleasing one came up empty.

Finally, I decided to design and build our own coop which we christened Chateau Poulet.

It didn't take long for me to realize I felt different in the coop. Everything just seemed to slow down when I was there. My blood pressure regulated, I was calmer, and I felt genuinely happy.

I thought to myself, "This is my happy place and these chickens are saving my life." Then I thought: Maybe there's something more here. I decided to find out.

I invited over a bunch of women I knew for what I referred to as 'The Chicks I Dig' dinner and shared my idea about designing and selling coops.

I knew these women would give me their honest opinion and tell me if I was going overboard. But they didn't - they liked the idea. That was all I needed to hear to move full-speed ahead. Armed with their support, $3,800 of my own seed money, and my background in home goods, I started my search for a builder.

Ohio is home to a large Amish population. Ever since I was child, I was familiar with the Amish's strong work ethic and high-quality craftsmanship, so I began looking for and found an Amish carpenter to partner with to help build hand-crafted, sustainable coops.

In January 2019, we created our first prototype. Two months later at a trade show in Cleveland, I sold my first coop for nearly $5,000. That's when I realized my idea had serious potential, so I got to work on my website and marketing plan. In June 2019, I officially launched Cutest Coops with two coop prototypes.

With only seven months left in the year, I made nearly $70,000 in sales.

Our clients came from word of mouth, and many also found us through Instagram and Pinterest.

Ten months later when COVID-19 hit the US, like many businesses, we had to deal with unexpected supply chain and delivery issues. Suddenly, I couldn't get the materials I needed to fill orders or the manpower to ship them - not to mention, my daughter was doing virtual school and my husband was working from home.

Juggling my time as both a mother and entrepreneur was a tremendous struggle, but being at home also served as a personal accelerator and I tried to see it as an opportunity to grow my business.

Our coops have shipped all over the US, as far as California, Maine, Texas, and Washington.

As many people stuck at home began making home improvements to enhance their property or moved to rural areas during the pandemic, more people began considering buying a chicken coop. Our customer base, which is 90% women with families, not only saw the benefits in organic food and sustainability, but also the opportunity to teach their children responsibility through nature-based learning and caring for animals.

Like me, our customers are not farmers; most are professional working mothers. Similarly, our coops are not your standard coops; they are luxury homes for pets who are a part of the family. The level of sophistication of our clients is truly redefining what chicken keepers and coops look like.

Our variety of coops are priced from $2,899 to $12,000 with lead times between four and 14 weeks. Our custom coops start at $4,399, but the sky's the limit. Our two most expensive models so far are currently being built and cost approximately $22,000 each. One coop is 18 feet wide and 12 feed long for chickens and goats for a customer in Louisiana, and the other is 20 feet wide and 12 feet long for chickens for a customer in Texas.

Besides myself, I have two independent contractors who work on tech support and shipping logistics, as well as two Amish builders.

I've always worked from home. The only thing that's changed since the pandemic is now my family spends more time at home, too.

I mostly spend my days on the computer and phone unless I'm meeting with one of our builders to review design plans or to check out a coop.

I work from an office I set up in the hallway of our home and my husband, who is also an entrepreneur, works from the top floor of the house. I joke that our home is more like an entrepreneurial incubator these days.

In 2020, we brought in nearly $632,000 in sales and we're on track to earn close to $2 million this year.

The best advice I could give to someone starting out would be to test your product or service with your market and incorporate their feedback. Before moving forward, I polled my women friends on what they thought of selling high-end coops, and then designed prototypes based on their opinions and brought them to trade shows to gauge people's interest.

A lot of people say puppies are the pets of the pandemic, but if you ask me, it's chickens.