Young entrepreneur ‘hatches’ chicken coop idea

Staff Writer
Story City Herald

—by Todd Thorson

Tanner Johnson is not your typical teenager. Most 15 year olds find themselves worrying about saving money for their first car or to buy the latest tech gadget. Not Tanner. Oh, he’s thinking about saving money, but he’s already thinking about the “bigger picture”, about paying for college and paying off a mortgage. He’s also pondering the notion of finding an investor for his latest project, and perhaps even expanding his latest venture to include a facility at the local business park. Pretty lofty goals for a kid who has been working at McDonald’s, hoping to earn money for, you guessed it, that first car.

His latest “project” that we’re talking about has been building chicken coops. Yes, chicken coops! Last year he did a wind turbine project for his 4H group. Now he’s moved on to something more “unique”.

Tanner had a knack for designing projects and working with construction and power tools at an early age. His knowledge and experience in this department began as a toddler, when he was helping his parents’ remodeling projects.

“I’ve been using power tools since I was about five years old,” he said, “and I helped my parents remodel when I was two, so I have experience with these tools.”

The chicken coop idea was presented to him from various people who knew of his penchant for “project making”, and they approached him about the idea due to his experience and dedication of past projects. Tanner and his family have also been raising chickens in their back yard for quite a while, so it’s not like the “chicken coop” idea was far from his thought process anyway.

When these prospective “customers” approached Tanner, he immediately thought it would be a good way to earn some extra money. “Well, they told some friends, and it started to pick up (from there),” Tanner said. “It was then when I noticed a real market for these simple projects.”

And so, the chicken coop idea was born. After a couple of weeks, as the project began to unfold, Tanner decided to make a Facebook page. In two days he had 120 “Likes” and over 9,000 views. Thinking he was definitely on to something, Tanner elected to turn this “project” into a business, obtaining a permit and designing a website.

Now the local television stations have noticed. KCCI Channel 8 contacted Tanner recently to ask about doing a feature. “They called me up at 9 p.m. one night,” he said. “That’s a call I wasn’t expecting!” And last Wednesday (April 24) morning KCCI’s Vanessa Peng came to Story City to present Tanner’s chicken coops to the rest of central Iowa.

Tanner was also contacted by WHO Channel 13’s Andy Fales, who showed up Monday evening, April 29, to do another television feature on Tanner – the second one in less than a week.

“WHO said this could become a national feature, and to be expecting a call or email from major TV shows, morning news shows and (even) daytime talk shows,” a surprised Tanner explained.

With all of this added attention and exposure, and the desire to move forward with his project, Tanner has begun thinking “out of the box”.

“I’m looking for an investor and someone who could help me get these coops into large farms, Wal-Mart, etc.,” Tanner stated. “I have somebody who is marketing the coops in Michigan and pitching them to farm stores like Thiessens and other Ag stores.”

If this business takes off like he thinks and hopes it will, Tanner envisions even hiring employees, and perhaps moving out of his garage into a bigger building; maybe the Story City I-35 Business Park!

In the two days that followed the KCCI segment, Tanner has received 16 orders for his chicken coops, worth over $18,000. He says these additional funds will help pay for college, buy his first car (with a little help from his McDonald’s job, of course) and even go toward a down payment on a new house. He vows, however, to help pay off his parents’ mortgage first.

Tanner has other aspirations as well, besides the chicken coop business. He hopes to go to college to become a teacher, perhaps in agriculture, science or special education like his mother, Rhonda. He also wants to join the fire department when he turns 18, and also earn his EMT-B certification so he can join the ambulance crew. Typical “little boy” dreams that a young “entrepreneur” like Tanner could very easily make happen.

Tanner’s new-found success couldn’t have been possible without the help and guidance of those around him. He made a point to single out and thank his parents, Jeff and Rhonda Johnson, and his siblings, Teagan, Tessa and Tayte, as well as his girlfriend Brooke Lillie, who lives in Burlington, Iowa. Tanner’s best friends (and perhaps future employees) Drew Hughes and Alex Abernathy have lent a hand along the way as well. Support has also come from his grandparents, Mary and Leonard Blanchard of Webster City, and of course his teachers at Roland-Story. Tanner’s teachers have also supported him, giving him hope and encouragement to succeed in whatever he chose to do or chooses to do.

“I would have to say, being (only) 15, I would have thought people wouldn’t really trust my craftsmanship, but I have received only positive and great responses,” Tanner concluded. “Everybody has commented on how proud they are of me, even if they are from North Carolina or Michigan. They all have said they thought these ‘kinds of kids’ were gone – the (kind of) kids who have the courage, the ideas and the support to make their dreams come true.”

It appears Tanner’s dreams are already coming true, even if he hasn’t passed his driver’s license test yet!