Members of the national Alpaca Owners Association confirm that the fast-growth era of the breeder's market of fuzzy, gentile alpacas has worn off. The industry has followed the natural progression of any livestock industry, says Beth Osborne of California's Alpaca Hacienda at Temecula.
That fact is backed up by changes in the hay market all the way east into Pennsylvania, as reported in June's American Agriculturist magazine.
Osborne originally entered the alpaca industry concentrating solely on the breeding of high-end breed stock. Now, with more than 230,000 registered alpacas, alpaca business owners are shifting focus to other qualities – high-quality fiber.
"The alpaca industry followed the natural progression of any livestock industry," said Osborne. "But the change in the business doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater!"
Expanded business focus
Osborne's focus today is to be an asset to her community by providing jobs, hosting community events and tours and providing community service hours to high school students. Osborne also concentrates on her farm store where she sells handcrafted alpaca fiber products. She also boards alpacas for other owners at her ranch, which generates extra income.
"I've built a family of boarders and we gather at the farm for felting days, where we create items to sell in the store," explains Osborne. "We've begun making nuno scarves, which shoppers have come to expect. Around the holidays, they sell like hotcakes!"
•Plan, plan and plan! No endeavor succeeds without a plan. Thomas and Connie Betts of Cascade Alpacas at Hood River, Oregon, attest to the fact that creating a well thought out, detailed business plan has helped them to succeed.
"Run it like the business that it is," states Connie. "It's important to not go into debt in case things don't turn out. From the beginning, we were prepared for 'worst case scenarios.'"
•Develop extra cash flow streams: The Betts recaptured their investment by year two of their 10 years. Revenues have risen every year except one during the recession when it was flat. "From the beginning, our focus was on fiber and other revenue streams, such as boarding alpacas. We're now known for the fineness of our fiber, and often run out of yarn before our season ends in October!"
•Find a mentor: Learn from someone with experience and integrity, advises Lona Nelsen Frank, owner of Alpacas of Tualatin Valley, Beaverton, Oregon. "Buy from someone who will mentor you 24/7; not just at the point of purchase."
•Attend shows/events: Shows offer unmatchable networking opportunities, where alpaca business owners discuss business, experiences, successes and failures.
•Establish community good will: Stacie and Skip Chavez, owners of Albuquerque Alpacas in the North Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico, discovered a community value at the end of their pitchforks. They arranged for Seed2Need, a local organization that grows food for people in need to pick up manure every other week. Seed2Need sells composted the composted manure to help fund their efforts.