Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Jules Shepard, Founder of gfJules, located in Catonsville, MD, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
gfJules is a Certified Woman-Owned Business that manufactures premium certified gluten-free and allergen-free flour and baking mixes, which win consumer choice awards year after year. It's pretty incredible for such a small business without much of an advertising budget to win those kinds of awards and be such fan favorites, especially considering my products aren't sold in grocery stores!
I have been manufacturing and selling gluten-free products since 2008. I am still in business today because of word-of-mouth referrals and because people who try my products love them so much that they won't go back to what's available in their stores. There's just no comparison. I also stand behind all my products personally. If you email or call my company, you'll be talking to a member of my family or me, not a bot or a phone tree. We take our customer service seriously and treat all our customers like we'd like to be treated ourselves -- just like I only produce products that I also serve to my own family. I think that sincerity really resonates with people in this age of behemoth companies where personal attention is often a thing of the past.
Tell us about yourself
I was diagnosed with celiac disease in the 1990s and was forced to fend for myself for years because no one had any clue what being "gluten-free" meant back then. When I finally created a flour mixture that gave me my baking life back, it became my mission to help others live gluten-free so they didn't have to endure the struggles I had. Through my products, recipes, videos, articles, and advocacy work, I know that I help others living gluten-free do so safely, more successfully, and without compromise every day. That fuels my fire and gives me the passion for this work ... which is a good thing because I've been doing it for 16 years, and I still love what I do!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I couldn't have done it alone, but our biggest accomplishment at gfJules was restarting the business in 2014 after my ex-partners locked me out of my company (formerly named Jules Gluten Free). They were trying to force me to step away from running my business, which I did not want to do. I had to start a new company named gfJules with the help of friends, family, and the gluten-free community, which backed me with donations of money and other assistance. It's been such a tough journey but so rewarding knowing I had the support of so many who counted on me to continue.
How it happened wasn't ideal, but the new company is so much more innovative, and we do not compromise -- our customers can count on that. All our products are now non-GMO and certified Free from the Top 8 Food Allergens. I've reformulated many of my mixes to be even better than they were years ago with the old company.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
It sounds trite, but that elusive work/life balance. My desk is literally in the foyer of our house, so it can be tricky to get things done sometimes! I do have to work late into the evening most days, and I also work 7 days a week, but because I'm the boss, I can be more flexible about which hours I have to be heads down at my desk.
When you own your own business, it's hard ever to take time off because you're always thinking about some aspect of your business or a customer question or a new product idea or recipe .... You never turn it off. So finding a way to try to turn it off and focus fully on being with your family or trying to relax takes practice!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Find a mentor in the industry you're looking to start your business and get as much help and information from that person as possible. I've always heard that fools learn from experience, while the wise learn from the experience of others. Take that to heart!
- Have access to a line of credit or investors who can help with funds should you need it BEFORE you start your business.
- Choose a business you are passionate about, not simply something where you see a market opportunity (unless they happen to be the same -- even better!) because passion is what keeps you going when you might otherwise give up.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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