A little over a year ago, Winslow High School graduate Lucie Amundsen came up with an unusual solution to her financial woes, touching off a series of events that have her and her family on an unlikely path toward Super Bowl fame.
Amundsen, born Lucie Belanger, and her husband, Jason Amundsen, who now live in Wrenshall, Minn., were in a bad situation when he was laid off from his job as a grant writer, his second layoff in two years.
Facing a sluggish economy and an uncertain job market, the Amundsens decided that, instead of applying for another job, they would apply for a small business loan to become egg farmers.
The name of the company, Locally Laid, comes with equally irreverent marketing — the Amundsens recommend that consumers “get locally laid” and recognize that “local chicks are better.”
During the last year, the startup has had its share of trials, Lucie Amundsen said. She added that’s to be expected, considering neither of them had any farming experience.
Her parents John and Denise Belanger are retired building contractors who still work in Winslow, where she gradauted from high school in 1988. She also earned a degree from the University of Maine.
In addition to being a mother, a graduate student, a business owner, she is a writer and journalist, full of witty descriptions for the things she sees around her. She calls her husband, whose romance with her cropped up without warning, the unexpected Norwegian. When he worked as a grant writer, he was a cube dweller.
She’s got another name for the chickens, salad-eating poultry athletes, which describes, in one fell swoop, the company’s business philosophy.
It’s built on the idea that a happy, healthy chicken that can run around in a large, grassy pasture with hundreds of other happy, healthy chickens will produce better eggs.
“I know I feel better when I am eating salad and running on my treadmill, so it stands to reason they’re going to feel better, too,” she said.
And whether its the exercise, the access to grass and bugs, or the reduced stress, there is a difference between a Locally Laid egg and the mass-produced competition.
Since starting the business in February, she said she’s met plenty of young people who had never before tasted the yolk of a pasture-raised bird.
“They didn’t know what that flavor was,” she said.
Partially because they’ve been learning as they go, and partially because it’s their nature, the calling card of the Amundsen’s business is quirkiness.
That’s why every chicken in their 2,500-strong flock is named LoLa, a riff on their company name.
That’s why they weigh and wash their eggs using two antiquated machines from the 1950s, the Egg-o-matic and the Aqua Magic Five.
“We visited an Amish farmer, and they were way more modern than we are,” Amundsen said.
The Amundsens got an unexpected chance to make the big time when a man who helped review their business plan recommended they enter a contest sponsored by Intuit, a website company that also produces software, like QuickBooks.
The contest, Small Business Big Game, offers a tantalizing opportunity. One small business will be chosen to air a television commercial alongside Coca-Cola, Budweiser, McDonald’s and all the other corporate giants that will spend millions to spread their message during the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.
Drawn by the lure of a big prize, more than 15,000 businesses entered the contest.
The Amundsens, who sold their first egg in August, figured they didn’t have a chance.
But now the competition is down to four finalists, and Locally Laid is still a contender.
The other three businesses, chosen by a metric that relies heavily on an audience voting component, all have unusual products with a feel-good appeal.
Barley Labs, of Durham, N.C., sells dog biscuits made from a local brewery’s recycled barley.
Dairy Poop, of Nampa, Idaho, sells processed cow manure as a wholesome plant fertilizer.
And GoldieBlox, of Oakland, Calif., sells princess-themed building kits designed to encourage engineering skills among girls.
Of the finalists, GoldieBlox is the one that worries Amundsen the most. She’s been eying their online presence, and noted that they have a lot of Facebook friends.
“I think they have the opportunity to stomp on us with a Lego stiletto,” she said. “We’re definitely the underchicken.”
So now, the Amundsens have responded with a grassroots campaign of their own, filling the Internet with email blasts, blog posts and, of course, tweets, encouraging people to vote for their business to win the grand prize online.
Amundsen said she sees it as on opportunity to promote, not only their small business, but local food and a growing farm-to-table movement that she hopes can sustain mid-scale farmers.
“This is too big of a spotlight for one little chicken,” she said.
In the meantime, people can vote every day for Locally Laid and the other three finalists at www.smallbusinessbiggame.com.
To learn more about Locally Laid and the Amundsens, visit www.locallylaid.com