Megan Kibby didn’t initially intend on being part of a trend. Like a lot of first-time business owners, she was just responding to a need in her own life.
In 2016, the backyard at Kibby’s home in downtown Decatur was overrun by English and poison ivy. As an environmentally friendly animal lover, she thought maybe a couple of pet goats could help clear the way.
A Craigslist search later, Kibby was the proud owner of a spotted Spanish goat, whom she named Sir Robert “Bobby” McGee. Fast-forward four years, Kibby and her business partner, Jason Lewis, have relocated to outside the Perimeter, where there’s more land for the nearly 60 goats they now own.
After starting out with a couple of pets, Kibby and Lewis founded Red Wagon Goats. Their business was well positioned as the demand for goat clearing in residential backyards and the trend of goat yoga both began to rise.
“We had a waitlist before we even started,” Kibby said while feeding a 2-week-old goat named Fauna with a baby bottle.
But this winter, for the first time since starting their goat rental business, things have started to slow some. Even before a pandemic and “social distancing” began hitting local business owners with tough questions, an especially rainy winter and seasonal factors had already set in.
A seasonal lull is normal in December and January, but “it just hasn’t ever been this slow,” Kibby said.
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It poses the question that a lot of business owners face: How can Kibby and Lewis adapt and realign their business to stay relevant if the novelty starts to dwindle?
Tom Smith, an economist at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, said whether a business is driving a trend or reacting to one, it can be hard to know where the market will go next.
“If there was an absolute tried-and-true way to go about this, the market would never oversaturate and you’d never have businesses that are on the tail end or the leading end, but, of course, you always do, which means it’s really difficult to predict where consumers are going to go,” Smith said.
Opening a business is always a gamble. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20% of small businesses fail in their first year and 50% of small businesses fail after five years. However, for those that make it, studies have repeatedly shown that being an entrepreneur is tied to higher levels of health and happiness.
For people like Kibby, who left corporate jobs to build something on their own, the stress and risk are often counterbalanced by the reward of doing work you’re passionate about.
“I think any business owner will tell you that there are days where you’re like, ‘What have I done?’” Kibby said in the kitchen of her Stone Mountain home. “But I hope for most other business owners that it feels as worth it as this does.”
Following a passion
Kibby, 35, is among the generation of workers who were graduating from college and looking to enter the workforce just as the Great Recession was in full swing. That means she’s had to be creative throughout her career in earning money. Kibby has an undergraduate degree in communications and art from Berry College and a graduate degree in art direction and design from The Portfolio Center.
From nannying to wedding photography and teaching piano lessons, Kibby has worn a lot of hats. Most recently, she had a corporate gig as a graphic designer.
But she said it wasn’t until her most recent venture starting Red Wagon Goats that she had to learn her own strength.
After adopting Bobby McGee, the first goat who grazed in Kibby’s backyard and whom she and Lewis would take on walks through the neighborhood in a wagon, they bought two female goats, Sheeba and Emmylou. From there, their herd started to grow, and so did demand for their young business.
After success in her own yard, Kibby wanted to give other people a chemical-free way to manage their backyards. From the beginning, interest was there.
“From spring through fall, we usually still have about a month on the waitlist,” she said, “and that’s including having to turn people away if it’s too big of a setup or it’s too far away.”
During high season, Kibby says she fields up to seven new requests a day. Customers fill out an intake sheet online, with everything from the size of their yard and fencing situation to the dates they’re not available, density of growth and goals for their backyard.
Initially, the land clearing was the main focus of the business. However, to help raise some money to get things off the ground and buy a trailer, Kibby decided to host a weekend fundraiser doing goat yoga sessions in her front yard.
“It sold out and people were angry that they didn’t get in,” she recalled. “It wasn’t technically a business operation, but then people started requesting private parties and now that’s a huge part of what we do.”
In the last couple of years, photos of people in cat-cow yoga positions with baby goats on their backs have sprung up across social media. And Kibby and her “kids” were perfectly positioned for the moment.
However, despite believing in its ability to spread joy, Kibby wonders if the trend of goat yoga is starting to fade. The very setup of many goat yoga classes, held across the country, is fleeting in a lot of ways. Unlike traditional yoga studios with regular attendees, most goat yoga sessions are hosted as one-off, pop-up events.
“I don’t think the numbers will be there. I mean, the numbers have already gone down. There’s plenty of people who are trying it for the photo op, and got their photos and are leaving,” she said.
It will still be part of Red Wagon’s business, but Kibby is also looking toward other viable options.
Riding the wave
Smith, the economist, said the ability to adapt is crucial for a new business.
“Consumers are fickle creatures. We like what we like, until we don’t like it anymore,” Smith said.
It tends to go something like this: At first, the idea of dozens of flavors of frozen yogurt, toppings and colorful spoons seems new and novel. Then, suddenly similar shops seem to be everywhere you look. Until, as Smith says, the pack moves on.
The rise and fall of what’s new and trendy happens across industries. In food, there was the novelty of rolled ice cream and the rise of expensive salad chains or poke bowl places. In fitness, there are new boutique studios popping up all the time. It also happens with things like coworking spaces, cat cafes, paint and sip classes or even the era of tanning salons.
The tide rises, and inevitably goes back out.
While capitalizing on a trend like this can be a fruitful business venture, Smith notes that it’s all about timing.
“If you start by having a cupcake store and all of a sudden you’re on ‘Cupcake Wars’ and on the cover of Good Housekeeping or whatever else, then, the very next best person jumps in, they might be successful,” Smith said. “The 700th person who jumps in? Probably that boat has sailed.”
And it’s not just small one-off businesses that try to capitalize on the trend du jour. Smith points to Popeye’s wildly successful spicy chicken sandwiches and the copycat products that quickly appeared at other fast-food chains. Or the time McDonald’s tried to wade into the wing game with Mighty Wings, which quickly flopped.
“Everybody will know that I am basically stealing, borrowing, advancing these other ideas,” Smith said about why businesses mimic a rising trend. “But they’re making so much money doing it that I can do it, too. We’ve seen this all the time.”
The key to “borrowing” a trend is to do it in a way that is just a little bit different, Smith said. That can mean making it cheaper or more accessible.
Standing apart from the crowd
That idea is exactly what inspired Courtney Anderson to open her Atlanta business.
In 2012, Anderson relocated to Atlanta for a job as a law professor at Georgia State University. Coming from Washington, D.C., Anderson was used to biking everywhere. Finding it harder to navigate Atlanta that way, she began looking for new ways to keep up her active lifestyle.
Despite being a biker, she’d never taken an indoor cycling class. Across the country, the popularity of such places was rising. Even former first lady Michelle Obama has been known to go to spin classes.
When Anderson decided to check it out, she was immediately sold. She was captivated by the instructor, who used music and energy to motivate the class. However, as Anderson kept going back for more sessions with different trainers, she began to feel the need for something different.
“Other studios, they were all really homogeneous. Everyone looked the same. Everyone was already in great shape and had really expensive workout clothes,” the 38-year-old said.
She began to wonder if there was room for a boutique cycling studio that was diverse, inclusive and captured that spirit and energy that got Anderson hooked on the activity to begin with.
In 2015, she and her co-founder and fellow lawyer, Tiffany McKenzie, opened the doors of Vibe Ride in Midtown.
Anderson, who also still teaches law, said that from the moment someone walks in the doors, she wants the experience to be different from what people can get at other studios.
“I never would have opened a business if I didn’t think we could add something new and something exciting,” she said.
For Anderson, that means an environment where people of all “shapes and sizes” feel welcome and where music is not just background noise but a motivating tool.
But perhaps the only industry that rivals food’s fickleness is fitness. And Anderson knows that in fitness, there is always something new emerging. That’s why the Vibe Ride team has been proactive in staying ahead of the curve.
In the past five years, they’ve expanded their base with three additional locations, including a couple of franchises. But they’ve also added other types of fitness classes like strength training and cardio.
“If cycling kind of fades away one day, then we want to be prepared for that, but it was also important for us to create a certain type of cycling,” Anderson said. The type that keeps people coming back for more.
“We want to make sure that when you think of indoor cycling and fitness, you think of Vibe Ride,” she said.
A changing landscape
For Kibby and her goats, the landscape is also changing. As she prepares for the busy months, Kibby is optimistic about the future.
For the past several years, it’s been all about growth — in herd size and clientele. Now, she wants to focus on the next phase.
While small, residential land-clearing jobs are Kibby’s favorite part of the business — when they drop off goats in someone’s backyard and get to see the joy in a customer’s face — she also knows that bubble may burst.
“I do think that even the clearing has become a little bit trendy,” she said. “I think that there’s sort of a boom right now of people who want to do it for the novelty, so I think that it will level off in terms of residential.”
But Kibby is hopeful there’s a new venture ahead. She sees goat clearing as the future for municipalities and landowners to clear large swaths of overgrown land.
On hilly, difficult terrain, goats can manage a lot easier than machinery, which can make it cost-effective and sustainable, Kibby notes.
And as things shift, Kibby — like any business owner — hopes to be well situated for the rising trend.
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