How long have you lived in the area?
Tell me about your business:
Muther: HaSu Ranch basically is the animal side of the business. We have what we consider elite quality genetics, so we focus on animal sales, boarding alpacas and breeding. We also help get new farms get started, doing consulting, business planning and marketing planning, which is where BreedWorks comes in.
Describe a typical day in your business:
Muther: We get up in the morning around 5:30 or 6, and go down and do the daily chores. Most of the time in the morning is spent hands-on with the alpacas.
After were done with that, we come to Oneonta. During the day, were dealing with our marketing clients as well as HaSu alpaca clients from the office.
At the end of the day, we go back and have some more hands-on time with the alpacas. Theres a lot of time spent standing around and watching them.
How did you get started in this line of work?
Muther: When we got married, I was really wanting to get out of (New York) city, so I said, "We have to be out of here in five years." We bought our house in East Meredith and we were coming up on the weekends.
I saw an article in the New York Times about alpaca breeders in Sullivan County. I read it and was like, "Hey, we could do this full-time up in East Meredith." I went to the Internet and downloaded everything we could find about it. I said, "See? There is a business here."
It actually took a couple of years before Hazen felt comfortable about the business and said, "Yes, we can do it." At that point, Hazen had a client out West, so we flew out. When we went out to Oregon, we visited an alpaca breeder who was one of the founders of the industry in the U.S. We met with him and went to seminars, and ended up buying our alpacas from him.
I quit my job and did the alpacas by myself for the first year, then Hazen quit his job and we were up here full time.
As we got into the industry, we realized the alpacas are not run-of-the-mill livestock, and when we looked at the marketing, it wasnt in keeping with the quality of the (animals). We felt it would be beneficial to us as well as to the industry if we helped people do marketing.
Where do you see this business in five years?
Reed: In the 20 years that alpacas have been in the U.S., the growth has increased. In fact, since 2000, its been a steady 25 percent growth rate.
What thats telling us is that theres an increased demand for these lovely animals not only for the animals but for their superior fleece. The more alpacas there are, the more the interest in that fleece will grow.
Our business plan shows pretty steady growth over the next 10 years. It has proven to be remarkably stable and resistant to a lot of market fluctuations that have plagued other livestock businesses.
Describe a memorable moment in your workplace:
Muther: The first big memorable one was the first year we started showing our alpacas. We had a little (alpaca) at only 6 months old who was named Reserve Champion thats one level under champion, and it was very unusual because she was so young. It was really quite exciting, but also it was a sign for us that we were taking our breeding program in the right direction.
What have you learned from your work?
Muther: The most important lesson for us was that if youre going into alpacas, it really has to be approached as a business and not as "These are cute animals and I want to have a lot of alpacas around me." Even though youre going to fall in love with every alpaca, you have to have long- and short-term goals, you have to do marketing, you have to take it seriously.
Reed: That sounds like its work, but the interesting thing for me is that if you treat it as a business, there are favorable returns from it. If you take it seriously, it can provide a very comfortable lifestyle.
What is the hardest thing you have to do?
Muther: Its ironic because our goal as an animal business is to sell animals, but the hardest thing is to let them go. But when we sell alpacas, we see that as a relationship that were developing with the buyers.
The most enjoyable?
Muther: Just being with the alpacas. Around dusk, they do this dance called pronking. They actually bounce like gazelles around the field. Its just the most beautiful thing.
How do you define success for your business?
Muther: We have a few different benchmarks we evaluate. On the animal side, our goal is for every generation to improve. Theyre bred for the fleece, so we want greater amounts (of fleece), we want the alpacas to be denser with each generation so that were improving the quality.
Reed: One of the things that I think is positive for our business plan is that when other (alpaca) businesses have success, we have success. When you see that happen, its a positive thing.
What are some advantages/drawbacks of doing business in this area?
Muther: We think theres great advantages being here. Were central to the Eastern seaboard and the Midwest; we have a nice amount of property, but were close to Oneonta and not far from Albany or Binghamton, so we find that to be very advantageous.
The drawbacks we couldnt think of anything except that we think the Internet is an important part of doing business, and getting the Internet to our home was challenging.
As far as BreedWorks goes, were very fortunate that the employees we have are wonderful, but we had a tough time finding them. The workforce doesnt come with the same level of computer skills and education that we might have found elsewhere.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
Reed: I think we bring a significant level of marketing expertise to both businesses. I think we can help our alpaca clients become successful in a way that some of the competition could not.
Muther: Part of our business model is education; we run numerous educational events, and we also are invited to speak at industry events, so we offer a real hands-on approach.
What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?
Muther: First, really think about how youre going to define your niche and differentiate yourself. Whatever you do with alpacas, quality is important. If you cant buy quality animals, you want to buy good breedings.
H. The other thing is, consider the marketing side of the business. Marketing early is very important. Theres a learning curve, and if you can do a little bit of that when youre getting started, it will help you in the long run.