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A birthday gift grows into thriving business for local Blugold

| Judy Berthiaume

Sometimes a gift really does keep on giving.

Just ask Bobbie Schultz, a soon-to-be UW-Eau Claire graduate who has been running her own business for years thanks to a long-ago birthday present from her mom.

The Blugold — who will graduate in December after just 2½ years with a degree in business management — was turning 7 when her mom gave her a chinchilla, a lovable creature that quickly captured Bobbie’s heart.

Fourteen years later, the Blugold entrepreneur is a certified chinchilla breeder who sells more than 300 of the animals a year through her business, “Bobbie’s Chinchillas.”

“Chinchillas are neat animals, as they’re very inquisitive and a lot smarter than people think,” says Bobbie. “They can be trained with treats to do different tricks and are entertaining to watch when out of their cage. In comparison to other small animals, they are low-maintenance and do not smell.

“I’ve always enjoyed having them, as they have fairly complex genetics when it comes to the different color and fur types, which is something I like to work with.”

An Eau Claire native, Bobbie says her chinchilla business was a big part of her decision to study business at UW-Eau Claire.

“It meant I could stay close to home, where I could still run my business,” says Bobbie. “I have always had a passion for the business field, and have been very happy with my decision to attend UWEC. It was an affordable choice, and yet provided a very high quality education, especially ranking well as a business school.”

UW-Eau Claire’s College of Business — home to the Dennis L. Heyde Entrepreneur Program — will celebrate Entrepreneur Week Nov. 9-15 with a variety of events.

A student in the Honors Program, Bobbie came to UW-Eau Claire determined to earn her bachelor’s degree in 2½ years — an ambitious goal given that she also was running her own thriving business.

“The main challenge of being both a student and business owner has been time management,” Bobbie says. “To graduate in 2½ years, almost all of my semesters involved taking 17-19 credits. This definitely presented a challenge, as I was juggling a full class schedule on top of my business.

“The chinchillas could not be put on hold if I had a hectic time during school, which meant that I had to efficiently use my time to achieve everything I needed to do. This experience has led me to grow as a person, and taught me that time is valuable and needs to be utilized fully.”

While juggling the demands of school and her business often was challenging, planning her studies around her chinchillas came easily since the small rodents have been a big part of Bobbie’s life since she was a young child.

First, they were pets, then topics of school science projects, later show animals and, finally, a business.

“My mom wanted to teach me genetics for a school science project and it took off from there,” Bobbie says of how a single chinchilla became a passion that is influencing her plans for her future. “Soon, I got into showing chinchillas, which connected me with other reputable breeders. I slowly grew my business over the years.”

When she was 10, a local breeder told her about the chinchilla shows.

She began entering her animals in area shows, where she was able to network and learn more about breeding quality chinchillas, Bobbie says, noting she continues to attend shows, mostly in Wisconsin, as her schedule permits.

When she was 15, she formally established her business, “Exotic Pets by Bobbie,” and created a Facebook page, “Bobbie’s Chinchillas.”

Once her business was established, she acquired a large herd of chinchillas from Oregon, and several more from various parts of the United States.

“From there, I expanded into rarer colors, which involved investing in more expensive animals and going through the process of importing,” Bobbie says, noting she also has diversified her inventory to include sugar gliders and bearded dragons.

The hundreds of chinchillas in her herd are currently housed in her family’s large, attached garage, which is climate controlled and modified to meet the needs of the chinchillas.

Next spring, she plans to build a pole shed specifically for the chinchillas, which will allow her to continue to expand her herd. The new facility also will include a showroom where customers can meet and play with the chinchillas, she says.

Bobbie also plans to become USDA certified, and to become a customs broker and a member of the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association, all of which will help her grow her business nationally and internationally.

“There are a lot of things I enjoy about having my own business,” says Bobbie, who hires up to three part-time employees to help clean the cages. “It gives me a lot independence, but it also brings on a lot of responsibilities. I handle everything myself, whether it be general care for the chinchillas, marketing the animals online, ordering food and supplies, or corresponding with customers.”

The work, she says, is rewarding.

Caring for the animals takes time, but she also invests many hours in building relationships with her customers.

“I take pride in providing the best customer service possible, helping my customers find the animal that’s the best match for them and also providing support after the animal has gone to its new home,” Bobbie says.

As she prepares to graduate next month, Bobbie feels even better prepared to manage her own business and her future employees.

“I enjoyed the variety of classes here at UWEC and feel each class provided real-life connections,” Bobbie says. “The professors were all wonderful and passionate about the material they taught and their students. My participation in the Honors Program further enhanced my college experience, as I was able to take classes that provided further research and discussion opportunities in smaller classes.”

Her advice to current or future Blugolds?

"My advice to other students is to not be afraid of failure; if you have an idea, run with it. Success doesn't come without trial and error. At this stage in our lives, we can recover from failure. Don't let anyone tell you something is not possible; anything is possible if you put your mind to it."

Photo caption: Bobbie Schultz has grown her chinchilla business while working toward her management degree. She will graduate in December, earning her degree in just 2½ years.