Duck, goose, and coyote calls
Industry: Lifestyle & Consumer
Products: Duck, goose, and coyote calls
Like a typical 17-year-old, Foster is pretty busy. He goes to high school, does his homework, attends baseball practice, and plays on the school's team. But he isn't spending all of his free time working at a fast-food restaurant or grocery store, playing video games, or otherwise hanging out with his friends. No, he's running a business -- and a rather successful one at that.
"I'm really into duck and goose hunting," Foster says when explaining the events that led him to launch Foster Calls in 2012. "I've been doing it with my dad for as long as I can remember. We had a family friend who used to make duck and goose calls before he passed in an accident on the way home from hunting in 2010. I had watched him make a few, and I decided to start messing around with them myself."
He worked with his father all summer, doing roofing projects and odd jobs to earn enough money to buy his first lathe and the other tools he needed to begin turning out calls. "I started selling them on my Facebook page," he recalls. "At first it was just local people, family, and friends that bought them. But once I felt like I had a good enough product, I made a website and started shipping them to buyers all over the U.S."
Foster estimates he produces 200 calls in his small garage-based shop in a typical year. "That's as many as I can make with school, sports, and everything else," he explains. Each one retails for between $80 and $175, and he puts everything he earns back into his business. Naturally, hunters are his biggest customers, though "I had one lady who had some pet ducks and wanted a duck call so she could talk to them," he says.
Each of the calls Foster creates from acrylic, exotic wood, bone, antler, or horn is a custom work of art requiring a multi-day process. "Hands-on, I would say a call takes me three to four hours," he says. "But the acrylic and resin finishes have to set up overnight."
His customized duck calls, featuring photos of people, game birds, and favorite pets, are currently his bestsellers. "It's something nobody else is really doing," he explains. "Customers send me the pictures and I put them into a duck call."
But it's not just the artwork that makes Foster Calls' products special. Each duck, goose, or coyote call is also a finely-tuned instrument. "The only real way you can learn what a call needs to sound like is through experience," Foster says. "I'm always hunting during the season and blowing calls. Over time, I've learned what the ducks and geese like and tune the calls accordingly."
Challenges: "My biggest challenge is getting into the retail market," Foster says. "I need to figure out what I need to do as far as UPC codes and packaging. And because I've only done custom calls up to this point, I need to narrow down what I think would sell best in a retail setting and try to make a lot of those. I need something that is different from what is already in the market at Cabela's or Bass Pro or any of those stores but that will sell well."
Opportunities: While a retailer actually approached Foster about selling his calls shortly after he began making them, he wasn't yet ready to do so. "I wanted to get them to where they were better than what was on the market," he explains. "Now I feel like I'm at the point, but I still need to figure out how to get in there."
Fortunately, he recently connected with Trae Miller, executive director of the Logan County Economic Development Corporation. Miller put him in touch with the Northeast Colorado Manufacturing Partnership, or NECOM.
"It's a group of manufacturers who are all helping each other out," Foster says. "I got to meet with them the other day, and there were a lot of pretty big businesspeople who offered to help me whenever I needed it. They also gave me some insight into what I need to do to get into retail as far as packaging. There were even some people with CNCs who can make bunch of calls for me. I'm excited to see where that goes, and it's nice to know that I have some other businesses behind me to help me if I need it."
Needs: "I'd really like to talk to someone from a big outdoor company about what I need to do to get into their retail stores," Foster says. He'll be graduating from Caliche High School in 2018 and plans to attend Northeastern Junior College in the fall. Finding a way to manufacture a larger quantity of calls -- and one or more retail stores to sell them in -- will be necessary if he wants to keep his company going. "I'm just really excited because I think this is something I can do now that I probably couldn't have done before," he concludes.