Bartonville entrepreneur not afraid to play chicken

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Rick Hopper is a big proponent of backyard birds. (Photo by Helen’s Photography)

The average person in the United States consumes about 300 eggs per year. Rick Hopper will eat over 1,000.

If you don’t believe him, look in his backyard. Hopper, a Bartonville resident and serial entrepreneur, recently built a 240 square-foot chicken resort, complete with five momma chickens and five baby chickens. And they are supplying him with more eggs than he could ever hope to have. Hopper and his business partner, Chris Cross, call it the Backyard Chicken Experience, and now they’re encouraging everyone to think outside the coop.

“You fall in love with them, and they fall in love with you. They are essentially pets that make food for you,” Hopper said with a laugh. “When times get crazy, there are people wired like me who get wildly inventive and motivated to do more new stuff and get people excited about new stuff. Eternal optimism is something that I suffer from.”

He added, “Lots of people love eggs. And now we have plenty of them.”

The Backyard Chicken Experience is Hopper and Cross’ overly-positive response to the recent egg shortage due to the coronavirus pandemic. Just go to any local grocery store, and you’ll either be told that they are waiting on another shipment or that customers are limited in how many cartons they can purchase per household. The same supply chain shortages can be found with everything from eggs and meat to bread, toilet paper, and yeast.

When it comes to eggs, Hopper’s solution is simple: raise your own chickens. He and Cross created an easy-to-assemble chicken coop kit that both urban and city dwellers can purchase and put together in their backyard.

The turnkey kit, which can be found at www.homegrowneggs.com, comes with enough materials to build living quarters for chickens and options such as egg counters, feeders, a watering system, toys, and more. Hopper and Cross include information on where to get chickens locally and how to care for them properly.

“Depending on the response, we can be up and running within a month and delivering to people with no problem,” Hopper said. “If the demand is there, we will respond to it. It’s not rocket science.”

Cross, whose wife owns the Bartonville Veterinary Clinic, said interested people need only check their city ordinances to determine how many chickens can be on a property. He said the idea is the perfect response in times of chaos.

“It doesn’t take much to get innovative when you can’t find what you need at the grocery store,” Cross said. “We don’t think about our food supply chain simply because it always works so well. But when it stops, it causes problems.”

(Photo by Helen’s Photography)

Hopper agreed, saying that having your own hens is a lot easier than most people think. He admits his chicken resort — it’s big enough to fit 24 comfortably — is bigger than what most people need to get started.

“Chickens don’t take up much space, and they don’t make much noise — so when managed properly, there’s no offense to neighbors,” he said. “They are easy to take care of, and you fall in love with each other. On top of that, eggs are good for you. And when you’re eating from your own backyard flock, you know exactly what they are eating.”

He added, “I’m not selling eggs as commerce. I’m just encouraging people to do what I did.”

By now, nearly everyone knows Hopper for his million-dollar invention called ReadeREST, a magnetic eyeglass holder used to hang glasses on t-shirts securely. ReadeREST is a simple device that solves a big problem for people who keep breaking or losing their glasses, and it first took the world by storm after being introduced on ABC’s “Shark Tank” in 2012. But what you may not know is that it’s the only product known to be manufactured in Bartonville.

ReadeREST is in about 7,000 stores ranging from hair salons to hardware stores because it is a small item that can be merchandised on a countertop. Hopper then parlayed that idea. He launched what he believes will be an equally-successful line of reading glasses with blue-light blocking technology and UV protection. His glasses retail for $20.

Hopper admits the chicken experience is a bit of a shocker, with so many inventions already occupying his time. Yet, it is another example of a solution to problems people face every day. And fixing problems is right in Hopper’s wheelhouse.

“You name it, and I can design and build it. It’s that entrepreneurial spirit that kicks into high gear during times of chaos,” he said. “In this case, I had to have chickens.”

It all started when Hopper and his wife, Diane, moved from Lantana to Bartonville last year. The couple’s house is a stone’s throw from the Bartonville Veterinary Center, and every day for weeks and weeks, they heard a rooster crowing nonstop. Rick loved the crowing, as it was symbolic of country life. So one day, he went over to check it out.

“It was the most beautiful Polish rooster I’d ever seen, and he was strutting around like nobody’s business,” Hopper said. “Chris and his wife had named him Wade, but I nicknamed him Maximus Strutticus — Strutty for short. Anyway, I could not get this chicken out of my heart and was dead-set on having chickens of my own. I had already planned on building a greenhouse, but my wife didn’t want livestock of any kind on our property.”

That is until she went to the store and couldn’t find eggs.

“It was the week that the stay-at-home orders went into effect. She said, ‘Hey, let’s get chickens,’” Hopper said with a laugh. “I built our chicken coop in about a week — painted, metal everywhere, chickens … everything. It can sleep 12 comfortably, but there’s enough room for 24 chickens.”

“It’s more like a chicken resort,” Cross added.

And before you know it, they may be coming to a neighborhood near you.

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