CENTER HARBOR — The dip in the housing market and a failed construction project led Jason Ludwick to a booming new business — building new homes, for chickens.
“Lots of people have chickens,” he says, “ ... but they need the coops.”
Ludwick, 35, a carpenter from Northfield, had been running a successful home construction company, Lakes Region Carpentry, in the mid-2000s. Then the housing market — and his business — began to slow.
A year ago, work had dwindled so much that he decided to branch out, first making bobhouses, and doing custom carpentry work.
One custom order in particular changed his life.
“This lady asked me to build her a chicken coop,” said Ludwick, who built the coop from an Amish design. When he told his customer the cost was $500, “she thought the price was ridiculous, and I was stuck with it.”
So he sold it on the Internet, got more orders, started making more coops, and his business was born.
Last week, he and his partner, Jim Erdel, 46, of Moultonborough, were working on the 219th coop for the yet-to-be-named business. He now has customers from all over the country. He also has a few large customers, such as Blue Seal, which makes pet and animal feed products.
Happily, Ludwick and Erdel now have more work than they can handle.
“I'm 25 orders behind,” he said, smiling.
At his workshop on Wednesday as Erdel worked on a new order, Ludwick smiled as he looked over several of the pair's creations. All the coops have fully shingled roofs, he explained. Some coops have custom windows. Others have custom-made vinyl floors. Many have lighting and heating. Some have wheels. All can be painted to order.
Among the most popular on order are coops with cages and walk ramps so chickens can stay in their hen house or wander, safe from predators, in predator-safe cages, without need for human intervention, he said.
The basic six-chicken coop is 4-by-4 feet and costs $495. A nine-chicken coop, which is 4-by-6 feet, costs $595. A 12-chicken, 4-by-8-foot coop costs $695. Chicken cages that fit tightly to the coop are $300. Each basic unit comes with wired power outlets and an external power cord so the coop can be plugged to an external home extension cord.
Before that first order, Ludwick had never thought of a chicken coop as a moneymaker. His success still amazes him.
“Can you believe this?” he asked. “It turns out that lots of people have chickens; the local 'farm-fresh' thing has caught on, but they need the coops.”
His business doesn't even have a website yet, but Ludwick said he's not worried much about the competition.
He does, however, offer a bonus to buyers. His Christian faith has led him to give back to humanity, so he is part of Kiva.org, a worldwide organization that gives interest-free loans to people in need. When he and Erdel sold their 100th coop about a year ago, Ludwick started donating $25 from each coop sale to a needy family through Kiva.
When his customers buy a coop, they get a photo and description of the family their purchase has helped, he said.
“It's donating money to some families in need of a traditional loan to start a business, but they can't get one. They do have to pay it back,” he said.
“I felt I needed to give from my success from this. It's been incredible. Who would have thought I'd be doing this making chicken coops?”
Ludwick and his business can be reached by standard email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Dan Seufert may be reached at email@example.com.