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.
Schultz — 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 her heart.
Fourteen years later, Schultz 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,” Schultz said. “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, Schultz said 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,” she said. “I have always had a passion for the business field, and have been very happy with my decision to attend UW-EC.”
A student in the university’s Honors Program, Schultz came to UW-Eau Claire determined to earn her bachelor’s degree in 2½ years — an ambitious goal given that she also was operating her own business.
“The main challenge of being both a student and business owner has been time management,” she said. “To graduate in 2½ years, almost all of my semesters involved taking 17 to 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,” Schultz said.
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 Schultz’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,” Schultz said 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 Schultz about chinchilla shows.
After that, Schultz began entering her animals in shows across western Wisconsin, where she was able to network and learn more about breeding quality chinchillas, she said.
Schultz said she continues to attend those shows, mostly in Wisconsin, as her schedule allows.
When she was 15, Schultz formally established her business, “Exotic Pets by Bobbie,” and created a Facebook page, “Bobbie’s Chinchillas” in an effort to advertise her company.
Once her business was up and running, Schultz 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,” Schultz said, noting she also has diversified her chinchilla inventory to include other animals such as sugar gliders and bearded dragons.
The hundreds of chinchillas in Schultz’s 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 said.
Schultz also plans to become U.S. Department of Agriculture certified and to become a customs broker and a member of the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association. Those designations will help her grow her business, she said.
“There are a lot of things I enjoy about having my own business,” said Schultz, who hires up to three part-time employees to help clean the cages. “It gives me a lot of independence, but it also brings on a lot of responsibilities.”
The work, she said, is rewarding. Caring for the animals takes time, but Schultz said 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,” she said.