Soon-to-be Owners of The Food Store Win BCE Small Business Improvement Award

by Paula McKibben   The Bluffton Center For Entrepreneurs (BCE) 2017 Ropp Triplett Business Plan Competition was held the end of March after weeks of preparation. This year’s Small Business Improvement Division winner was The Food Store, with new owners, as of  April 28, Jonah Agner and Nancy Corle, participating.
   The Small Business Improvement Division is open to established businesses located in the 45817 zip area. It offers a $1,000 first place cash award in addition to several in-kind prizes.
   Agner, a 2000 Bluffton High graduate, comes from a restaurant and health food background. He worked four years at a health food store in Findlay, worked at the Revolver in Findlay, was part owner of the Cask Room in Ada and sold breads and baked goods at the Bluffton Farmers’ Market for two to three years, becoming employed at The Food Store in January.
   His partner in The Food Store, Corle, has a background in art, but loves to cook. She started to work at The Food Store in January 2016. Previously, she had worked as a waitress, a barista at Coffee Amici in Findlay, and a vegetable and pastry cook at the Bluffton Farmers’ Market with Agner. She says, “It wasn’t my original goal,” but “I really like cooking. It was nice to have an opportunity to do that, too.”
Linda Houshower, one of the owners of The Food Store, expressed to Agner a desire to sell, and the process of selling the business to Agner and Corle began.
   Hans Houshower, owner, husband of Linda and a member of the Board of Directors for the Bluffton Center for Entrepreneurs, encouraged Agner and Corle to sign up for the Small Business Improvement division, even though it meant that he would have to excuse himself from judging this year’s competition.
   The competition taught them to look at planning their business “through another lens,” according to Agner. He said that, although it may seem trite, “Most businesses don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.” As a result of the class, they now have a plan to move forward.
So, Agner and Corle are planning for the future. With their winnings, they plan to either pay the lawyer fees for transferring the business or purchase new equipment.
   Agner is excited about the purchase. “We are in a business that is poised for new growth. People are changing their diets for all sorts of reasons.” According to Corle, “We want to keep a lot of things the same and reach a younger audience through the expansions.”
   The expansions have already begun. Since The Food Store already has a food license because of bulk foods, they have upgraded to level 3 which will allow them to do more things in a kitchen. Right away, they hope to add more organic produce, natural and organic cosmetics like 100% Pure or Well People, and ready-to-eat foods like sandwiches, salads, hummus and ice cream.
   Over a period of a couple of years, they hope to establish a kitchen where they can produce in-house foods like pizza, breads, baked goods and falafel. Until an on-site kitchen becomes a reality, they are looking at renting a licensed commissary.
   Looking back at the class through the BCE, they would like to see some online marketing/social media added to it, along with more discussion of business statements. Agner mentioned that another class on just accounting things would be beneficial, and Corle added that periodic workshops would be helpful.
   What they are both looking forward to is utilizing the BCE think tank. If they have a business problem, members of the Board will convene with them and have a frank discussion of how best to help their business.
   Members of the Board of the BCE include Hans Houshower, Bluffton University; Mitch Kingsley, Law Offices; George Lehman, Bluffton University; Ryan Lowry, Web Development; Brendon Matthews, First National Bank of Pandora; Richard McGarrity, a founding member; Jeff Sprague, Allen Economic Development Group; David Steiner, Reichenbach & Steiner, CPAs; Laura Voth, Mennonite Home Communities of Ohio; Cameron Warner, Staff of Congressman Jim Jordan; Judy Augsburger, Bluffton Mayor; Steve Ritter, Citizens National Bank; and Katie Keifer, Sielschott, Walsh, Keifer & Regula, Fred Steiner, executive director; and Aphaphanh Nussbaum, graduate assistant.
   Hours at The Food Store are currently 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Agner and Corle are considering changing the hours to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.