April 14, 2011 in Washington Voices

Teen sells hay at local pet stores

Pamela J.S. Smith pamela_smith@live.com
 
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Thirteen-year-old businessman Austen Kinney packages hay that’s sold at Northwest Seed and Pet and at Aslin-Finch.
(Full-size photo)

When Dan and Becky Kinney moved their family onto 160 acres in Deer Park, they wanted their children to take advantage of the new acreage.

“I told them that they needed to have some sort of enterprise that was related to the farm,” said Dan Kinney. Their youngest son, Austen Kinney, who turned 13 in February, started off wanting to raise sheep, then dogs and later worms, but none of those passed the research stage.

What did stick was an idea for Austen to package and sell hay from the property in small bags for pet owners. “One day my dad came home and he was like, ‘I have a job for you,’ ” explained Austen, who took the concept and ran with it. Austen started the business last summer. “I was saving up for a wakeboard and bindings.”

For Austen, the first step of creating the business was the hardest: speaking to seven Aslin-Finch store owners sitting around a boardroom table. “He had to go up and give a presentation and tell them what he did,” Dan Kinney said.

“At first I had no idea what to say,” Austen said. “I was just, like, looking to my dad to tell me what to do.”

Austen now sells two products at local Aslin-Finch and Northwest Seed and Pet stores. The 3-pound bags of premium alfalfa and timothy hay sell for $9.99 under the Rocking K Ranch brand name.

“It’s a nice product that has been received well by customers,” said Don Fairbanks, assistant store manager at the Northwest Seed and Pet on North Division Street.

How many bags has he sold? “A lot,” Austen said.

Austen makes the product himself. “The packaging is incredible,” Fairbanks said. “Obvious care went into it. I am really impressed by the kid.” The burlap bags are bought locally, then spray-painted with a stencil that has product information. “I do the timothy in green (paint),” Austen explained. “We had to get paint that’s supposed to be used for plastic because otherwise it would all soak in, like, really far.”

Next, Austen places a bag in a form and stuffs it with hay that he picks through. “I take stuff like this,” showing a handful of hay, “and I take out the brown stuff. Once I think it’s about full, I weigh it and if it’s not 3 pounds, I have to put more in and try to shove it down even more. Then, I just tie it and put a tag on it.” Austen can fill about 25 bags from one large bale. “Sometimes it’s annoying, because I’m allergic to the timothy. I get all these hives and I’ll be, like, really itchy.”

Austen’s advice to other young entrepreneurs: “Get help from your parents.” Kinney donates the hay from the property to his son and helps with the business development. The father and son team is considering selling the product nationwide at Petco, supplying about 1,300 stores. “He told me he was going to try to take over the world at one point,” Kinney said.

Since starting the business, Austen has bought his wakeboard and has enough money to purchase the bindings, too.

Kinney does miss having extra help around the property. “I said, ‘Hey, we need some stalls cleaned out here. Do you want to clean some stalls for, like, 10 bucks an hour?’ ”

Austen, remembering the moment, laughed and said, “I was like, ‘Nah, I have enough money.’ ”


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