business

Nest Fresh: Breaking With Family Tradition

The sixth of eight ways entrepreneurs, investors and savers have made a million. Find out how they did it and read all eight.

Millionaire Lesson No. 6

Combining an old way of doing things with a popular new trend will resonate with customers and clients.

Cyd Szymanski knows how to hurl an egg, a skill she perfected as a farm kid in southwest Missouri. (Aim for the barn post, she says, the better to splatter the guts, and hope they hit your brother.) She also knows how to score a breakthrough in the tradition-bound egg industry.

Szymanski turned a foundering start-up called Nest Fresh into a company with sales of more than $5 million. In the process, she showed her competitors -- including members of her own family -- that cage-free chicken eggs could be profitable. "I wasn’t the first, but I was darned close," says Szymanski. "Soon, all the big guys jumped on the bandwagon."

When Szymanski, 51, was growing up, most egg farmers considered caged chickens to be "the modern way, the good and positive way," she says. That included her grandfather and uncle, who then owned one of the biggest egg producers in the U.S. By 1991, however, her father and brother had hatched a plan to produce cage-free eggs in Colorado. Szymanski left her job as a hospital marketing director and moved to Denver to join them. Their distributor reneged, leaving the business $60,000 in debt. Her father and brother walked away from the enterprise.

But Szymanski hung on. She processed and packed the eggs herself and delivered them to small grocers. "I would drive an hour to the farm, work, drive back into town, deliver the eggs, go to my apartment, try to figure out where all the money had gone and what I was going to do, go back out to farm, do some more work, come home about 11 at night and do the books. It was a scary existence," she says.

Her big break came when King Soopers -- the leading grocery chain in Colorado -- agreed to carry the eggs, and a local newspaper wrote about Nest Fresh. Customers liked the look, taste and idea of the cage-free eggs enough to buy them at $2.79 a dozen, more than three times the price of regular eggs.

Once Nest Fresh took off, Szymanski’s relatives jumped into the business—and so did other big grocery chains. "Farmers are not known for forward thinking," she says. "The market had to be booming." As for Szymanski, in 2006 she sold the Nest Fresh brand to Hidden Villa Ranch, of Fullerton, Cal., for a sum that put her squarely in the millionaire column. "I wanted to change the way eggs are produced in the U.S.," she says. "I accomplished that."

Now Szymanski and her husband, Steve, enjoy a cushy life that includes neither eggs nor chickens, both of which Szymanski dislikes. They invest in real estate and take horseback-riding vacations with their 8-year-old daughter,AnnaBelle. Says Szymanski of her wealth, "I have eggsistential guilt."

EIGHT MILLIONAIRE PROFILES

1. The Video That Took on a Life of Its Own

2. Know When to Make the Call

3. Pounce When the Time Is Right

4. It Started Over Cocktails

5. A Thirty-Year Plan to Make a Mil

6. Breaking With Family Tradition

7. Accumulating A Fortune on $11 a Hour

8. Suddenly It Clicks

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