By Lorrie DeFrank
Bark ‘N Howl Bakery is a dog gone good example of how a nonprofit can benefit from a program designed to boost the bottom line for women business owners. Its founders and partners make no salary, yet Leigh Forrester and Martha Sawyer are accomplished entrepreneurs whose dog bakery is flourishing thanks to the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center.
The women established Career Frontiers of Northeast Florida three years ago to provide vocational training for young adults with developmental disabilities. Through its small business, participants learn not only how to bake, but also entrepreneurial skills such as packaging, shipping, calculating postage, handling money and interacting with customers in preparation for jobs in the private sector.
This year Leigh participated in JWBC’s six-month Marketing Matters mentoring program, which links women business owners with pairs of marketing and public relations professionals. Her mentors helped her identify her customer base and develop a marketing plan.
Skills are transferable
“The business side of Marketing Matters is totally useful to a nonprofit,” Leigh said. “Jacksonville is a unique city as far as offering educational opportunities to women in business. The Jacksonville Women’s Business Center can help from your first thought to continued growth. I highly recommend it. That time with professionals who know marketing is priceless, truly invaluable.”
Leigh credits her mentors—Mike Barile, CEO, Amarcord, Inc., and Lynn Thompson, founder, Thompson Writing and Editing, Inc.—with helping her prioritize marketing spending and better connect with customers.
“We took a hard look at her budget and resources and, because they are quasi nonprofit, focused on what they realistically could achieve,” Mike said. “Marketing Matters is great for networking and it gets you access to outside brainpower—expertise and experience of people who have done these things before.”
A Marketing Matters volunteer mentor for several years, Mike said the program is a professional development opportunity for the individual participant as well as a brainstorming opportunity for the business or organization.
“They developed a marketing plan that makes others aware of the programs we offer and the benefits to young adults with developmental disabilities, as well as our actual products,” said Martha Sawyer, a CPA and the partner who keeps the books. “As a mother of a young man with autism, it’s incredibly satisfying to see any young adult overcome a disability and fulfill a dream. I believe there is a niche and a job for everyone.”
Proceeds enhance training
The women considered an ice cream store and coffee shop before settling on a bakery that produces healthy dog biscuits — with names such as peanut butter paws, cheesy bacon bites and dog gone good biscotti — as the business to train the non-profit’s clients. The endeavor that started in their kitchens now operates three days a week at two churches, South Jacksonville Presbyterian in San Marco and St. Paul’s Catholic at Jacksonville Beach. Of its 21 workers, only the part-time vocational instructor is paid. Proceeds from bake sales go back into the vocational training program.
Leigh, who had worked in fundraising and development for educational institutions for 17 years, said this is her way of giving to the community and helping the intellectually disabled population. Locally, she worked in development at Episcopal High School, UNF College of Business and North Florida School for Special Education. She is married to John Forrester and has a son, Ian, and daughter, Catherine. Her family also includes, of course, canines: Fiona, a big lab; Shawnee, a medium-sized mutt; and Skye, a tiny terrier.
Current Council Chair for JAX Chamber, Leigh will leave Career Frontiers the end of 2012 to serve as volunteer executive director of Bright Holidays, a nonprofit founded by her husband that provides clothing, food, school supplies and other essentials to underprivileged students and their families during the holiday season. Martha will remain with Career Frontiers and its bakery.
Dogs dig it
Bakery products are available at San Marco Deli, or by calling (904) 608-3507. Bark ‘N Howl also has a booth at Riverside Arts Market once a month.
About the author:
Lorrie is a freelance writer whose stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines in Pennsylvania and Florida, including Jacksonville magazine. She formerly was a reporter and managing editor of Public Opinion, a daily newspaper in Chambersburg, PA. Subsequent positions with the City of Jacksonville and University of Florida College of Medicine-Jacksonville included writing columns, profiles and other stories for city and UF publications and websites. Lorrie is a member of the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center’s Marketing and Communications Task Force.