Ben Braithwaite, founder of ChickenGuard, talks to pbwnews editor Justine Thompson
1. How did the ChickenGuard story begin?
It all started when I was given a flock of chickens by my mother 10 years ago. Unfortunately, lack of experience led me to losing a few of my hens to a cunning fox. Determined to find a solution, I invented ChickenGuard, an automatic chicken coop door opener to keep hens everywhere safe (and give owners a bit of extra sleep in the morning).
2. What was your background?
I opened my first bookshop at the age of 23 and had a chain of six stores before the industry took a downturn. I was determined to bounce back, however, first with a sandwich shop in Gibraltar and then in Spain with a telecoms company, before returning home to start a water-jet company. There were other, less notable ventures too, but ChickenGuard was my first invention. I’m proud of the fact that ChickenGuard is entering its eighth year of business, has picked up the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade 2019 and won PetQuip’s Exporter of the Year Gold Award 2020.
3. Was it hard to get the product off the ground?
There has always been a demand for this product so it wasn’t too difficult. We were in the right place at the right time and are still riding the crest of this wave.
4. Do you regard chickens as pets?
Yes. Our own research, and that of the American Pet Products Association, shows that almost eight in 10 chicken owners agree with us. Names are given and birthdays are celebrated and there is family heartache if a fox strikes. Our Chicken of the Month feature is very popular, with so many pictures of people’s chickens sent in that we even produced a calendar for 2021.
5. How is the company currently performing?
We have seen year-on-year growth every year since our inception. However, 2020 was particularly impressive as we saw year-on-year growth of 81% compared to 2019.
6. How many countries do you currently import to?
Peru recently became country No 66.
7. Has leaving the EU had an effect on your business?
Brexit has been a challenge as the EU is such an important market for us. We made an early decision to prepare for leaving the European Union, which led to us setting up an EU-based company. This, coupled with European goods being shipped from a third-party EU-based fulfilment centre, means we have mitigated the risk as much as possible. There are, of course, still challenges to be had.
8. Has there been an increase in keeping chickens since covid-19 lockdowns were put in place and has that meant more demand for your products?
We often carry out surveys into global chicken ownership trends and it is clear there is a year-on-year upward trajectory of chicken keeping in almost every market. This has been exacerbated by the recent pandemic where we have seen a boom in chicken keeping as a consequence of people staying at home, many with more time on their hands, disposable income and a conviction to live a greener/more sustainable life. They’ve liked the idea of garden companions, with the added bonus of fresh daily eggs. Coupled with our trade partner retailers being deemed ‘essential retailers’ and a solid network of online channels, this has led to an unprecedented boom in our industry and, by extension, for ChickenGuard. Not only did sales sharply increase during peak season in 2020, they have remained high, which suggests that the base level of chicken ownership globally has increased.
9. How many people do you employ and what percentage keep chickens?
Before covid we employed 25 people, however, due to the boom in chicken keeping and the subsequent demand for ChickenGuard, this has almost doubled. None of the team keeps chickens themselves but at least two have other family members who do. With four per cent of the UK’s household now keeping chickens, that is fairly representative.
10. What are your future plans for the business?
We pride ourselves on being the world’s most innovative manufacturer of chicken coop door openers, so we are always looking at ways of improving and expanding our range of products. We are worldwide leaders in our industry and look to further cement this position through on-going expansion.