For Jessica Dilger, a move to their own little acreage in eastern Washington State opened her eyes to rural,
small-town life. With her husband Mike, four children, and father-in-law (Grandpa Grumpy to the kids) on Shoo-Fly Ranch, it was the perfect opportunity to embrace all that love and share it with others.
But first, things had to go wrong.
Born with an entrepreneurial spirit strong eye for design, Jessica was drawn for years to handmade crafts and the artisans who create them. “I love the small business community because of the way they support each other, as well as the quality and love they put into each product,” she says.
Operating a photography and digital design business for seven years, her talents were recognized by some members of a small business women in agriculture network she had encountered. The idea of helping small locally-owned businesses was really appealing.
“I was approached to design a new farmhouse-style of baby book to sell on Amazon. I had a huge group of small businesswomen who cheered me on and were simply amazing during the entire process.”
Then disaster reared its head. “When the books finally arrived they had all been damaged in shipping and had one page that was misprinted.” They were unsellable. All her effort—and hopes—went down the drain. “I was devastated,” Jessica said.
While online to explain to fellow entrepreneurs that her project went bust, she received an outpouring of support. “I was chatting with the ladies on Facebook on night and one randomly said. ‘You should start a subscription box!’”
She realized immediately that this could give her the opportunity to showcase the talents of others. “I decided that I wanted to give back to the women who had been so amazing. I knew how hard it was for a small business owner to get your name out there. So I wanted to build it so that makers and small businesses could have a platform to share their business.”
No business begins on Day One with everything intact, and her new venture called Farm Momma, is no exception. “My husband and I read anything and everything when starting Farm Momma and it has been a learning curve,” Jessica reports. For one thing, they shortened the name to FM Farmhouse.
Getting going was not easy. “Truthfully, I had to step out of my comfort zone,” Jessica reports. “Calling up a business or contacting them on Etsy or Instagram was terrifying. There were 40 ‘no’ (responses) before I was able to finally get a ‘yes’ and put together the first box.”
Those boxes were shipped in 2017 and have been a hit with rural women who enjoy a farmhouse-style design ethic. Thousands have been sent all over the country.
One of the first Farm Momma subscribers Dana Wade, who had just moved to the country in Florida. Dana and her husband Corey planned to enjoy quiet rural life as he recovered from a cancer diagnosis. The women began corresponding and hit it off, personally and professionally.
It didn’t take long to realize that Dana’s background complements Jessica’s goals for the business (and love of country living). While Jessica might be assembling boxes for mailing or preparing photography, Dana keeps an eye on financial issues and strategy, for instance. She was quickly asked to join the business.
So far, it’s a great paring, with Dana’s input helping grow the business beyond Jessica’s expectations.
With Jessica and her husband Mike in Washington, how does it work with a partner in Florida?
“Each day we start with our morning meeting. The first 20 minutes or so are us catching up on farm-related craziness or family stuff,” Jessica says. After that, it’s all business, identifying accomplishments and what needs to be done. Good internet connectivity means they can message each other several times a day.
“We don’t even have to speak in complete sentences. I can literally message her and say ‘That lady, chandelier, chicken coop, blue.’ And she will respond with, ‘Oh yes I love Katie’s chicken coop!’”
On “box week,” when boxes are packed, Dana picks up ongoing ordering so Jessica—and all the kids, one should note—have time to prepare boxes for shipment.
“I am probably over-the-top particular but it’s because I want every business to be represented to the best of my ability. Each box is packed with love. During box weeks Dana is my cheerleader and keeps everything in line for the next box,” Jessica says.
Almost immediately, the two realized their love of backyard chickens and the sometimes irrational involvement chicken owners have with their flocks. The success of FM Farmhouse brought forward an idea in the back of Jessica’s mind—a chicken box subscription.
Jessica’s husband was dubious. “Truthfully, he underestimated the amount of other ‘crazy’ chicken people out there,” she laughs. He even rolled his eyes at my chicken leggings and chicken boots—yes, I really do have both!”
To gauge market interest, they launched a Crazy Chicken Lady Christmas Box on the FM Farmhouse website. It sold out in two days.
With a little massaging of the concept, a second business, Coop Crate, was born. Although less than a year old, more than 1000 boxes have been delivered to chicken fans. Jessica reports their numbers increase every day.
“Our slogan is ‘Spoil your flock (and you)!’ We send products for the flock but also a few items in each box for the chicken owner.” They try to promote the handmade Etsy-type artisan when they can, but contents can come from anywhere.
Each box is made to feel like a gift when you open it. They get positive email feedback every after every month’s shipment. “We just got an email from the Purina Poultry division saying that they absolutely loved the box and did an entire video opening it. They’re still fighting over the chicken socks, I’m told.”
At present Jessica and Dana are working on executing their business plan, which still revolves around embracing all that country living offers. Both businesses are making enough to be considered side jobs, but not yet career-making. In the future, Jessica’s husband Mike might even be able to join the business full-time, she says.
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