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Military Veteran uses SBA resources to open gluten-free market
A diagnosis of Celiac Disease changed Janell Farnsworth’s life forever. An intelligence officer in the Washington Army National Guard’s 81st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, finding safe options at the dining facility would prove difficult, as she could no longer eat any foods that contained gluten. After her diagnosis, she scoured the major grocery stores looking for gluten-free options, to little avail. Most stores had a very limited selection. She was also mystified to find Western Washington had only one gluten-free grocery store located in Tacoma, more than 85 miles away from where she lived. Her entrepreneurial spark lit up and she realized there was a way to meet the needs of herself and others with gluten sensitivities in Snohomish County and make a little money while being her own boss. Janell’s Gluten-Free Market in Everett, was born.
Instead of jumping head first into the business without having any prior experience, Farnsworth reached out to the Washington Women’s Business Center (WBC) and the Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) in Seattle. These two non-profit resource partners affiliated with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provided free counseling and low-cost classes to help Farnsworth best target her efforts in getting the gluten-free market up and running. “I never had a concern (the market) wouldn’t work, but had to go through the due diligence and develop a detailed business plan,” Farnsworth said. “The business plan really answered a lot of questions so I could take appropriate steps and properly budget resources.”
The 1,200 square foot shop has an outstanding selection of gluten-free food products, including cereal, chips, bread, baking mixes and flours, pasta, cookies; even beer and hard cider. Thanks to assistance from Lynn Trepp, project director for the VBOC, sales have been increasing since Janell’s Gluten-Free Market opened in 2009. Because she devoted countless hours to working on her business plan and stuck to the plan, she was able to grow, even adding a low-carb annex to the store. Now, she reaches a new customer base – those who were having difficulty finding low-carb options. “Today, the business has built a loyal following of customers who continually thank Janell for creating and sustaining such a resource in the community,” Trepp said. “The business has showed growth in both top-line revenue and in profits each successive year, but more importantly, has served a community of shoppers who otherwise would have had little or no available alternatives.”
Because her business has made such a difference in Everett and the surrounding communities, Farnsworth wants to open a new gluten-free market on the eastside. Many of her customers live in Kirkland, Redmond and Bellevue and travel more than 20 miles to shop at her specialty store. She is currently working with Trepp to save money and create a plan to make that dream a reality. “So many people get really overwhelmed after being diagnosed (with a gluten sensitivity), and there are now so many resources available to help them,” Farnsworth said. “The success I’ve had in this store is allowing me to bring other communities not only food, but support groups and information about being gluten-free.”
Whether it is a gluten-free market or other business, Farnsworth advocates for all Veteran entrepreneurs to take advantage of SBA’s resources. The Army captain with 20 years of service including a deployment to Afghanistan in 2006, emphasized the value of classes offered by SBA and its resource partenrs, which guided her business decisions and helped her develop a well-grounded business plan. SBA offers a two-day entrepreneurial course for active duty service members leaving the military called Boots to Business. In addition, female Veterans are eligible to get involved with Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (VWISE), as Farnsworth did. “Veterans need to look into what SBA resources are available to them locally and make sure they use them,” she said.