After 18 months of planning, preparation and perseverance, Jeff Gardner recently began his entrepreneurial journey — realizing a dream, a path to his family vision and recognition by SCORE’s Tip of the Mitt chapter as its Client of the Year.
Gardner and his wife first aspired to own a butcher shop 10 years ago. They planned for months, always focused on their long-term business success.
“We were just about to make it a reality when someone we knew opened a butcher shop,” he said. “Our lives got busy, and we tabled our idea, not wanting to compete with the other meat market.”
But the dream was still calling them on many levels. Gardner has a culinary degree from Seccia Institute for Culinary Education and worked several years as a trained chef in many restaurants in Emmet and Charlevoix counties.
“I have always valued good quality ingredients, and I knew the high quality of products that Circle M Meat provides,” he said.
“My wife and I have six children, and four of them have developmental issues that will make it challenging to find conventional employment. It has always been our desire to own a business in which they can all be employed without condemnation or discrimination. I feel that the business that Circle M is, and the business that it will be in five years, is perfect for each of my kids to have a solid and rewarding career.
“Megan, my oldest daughter, has a degree in business management and a second degree in marketing. She will be our business manager and a key player in leading our retail enterprise in phase 3 of our project.
“Thomas, my second oldest, is currently working for Circle M Meat and is interested in the meat cutting and production aspects of this business. With the right amount of on- the-job training and his solid work ethic, I see him as the operations manager someday.
“My younger four are still in school and will be able join the team during summers for now. They will also have their own places in this business when the time comes.”
Gardner’s wife, Cheryl, passed away during the summer of 2020. She had been ill for months prior to her death, which gave them ‘together time’ to discuss their children’s futures. In late 2019, they revisited the butcher shop plan to begin securing the kids’ future.
Gardner was seeking to purchase an existing building that he could convert to a butcher shop when he contacted SCORE business mentors in October 2020. He was looking for help in putting his dream together in a formal business plan to confirm his assumptions and ensure that his business would be a ‘fit’ in the community.
While working in that direction, Gardner had the opportunity to purchase Circle M Meat. His mentors guided him in completing the financial and marketing plans and supported him through the bank financing process. On Feb. 28, 2022, Jeff’s first big goal in the long-term plan was achieved.
Gardner emphasized his appreciation for all the hard work that SCORE volunteers provided and is excited about his new business and what it will mean for him, his family, and his community.
“Based on my personal experience, I think my SCORE mentors knocked it out of the park,” he said. “They reignited in me the enthusiasm I had in the beginning by helping me shift my thoughts to something in my wheelhouse that will be easier and more profitable over the long term and provide a legacy for my kids.
“The mentors were thoughtful and helped me think through some of the ideas that were stumbling blocks and brought a valuable perspective from their collective experience and wisdom.”
Gardner’s mentors at SCORE enjoyed working with him. Kevin Christman, for example, assisted with cash flow projections and other financials.
“Jeff was great to work with. He was very focused in making sure that the financial information that he needed to secure financing for the purchase was presented accurately and timely,” Christman said. “It was a pleasure working with someone who has such a passion for achieving his dream. I am convinced that he is going to be very successful in his new business.”
Tip of the Mitt SCORE typically selects a client who has been in business for at least a couple years for the annual award.
“In Jeff’s case, however, he proved to us, with his planning, hard work, and very thoughtful/detailed vision, that he is sure to be successful,” said chapter chair Sharon Schappacher. “He always did his ‘homework’ and even brought some new business planning tools to our attention! We have no doubt he will build on the success of the prior owner by expanding his product lines, sales channels, marketing, and employment. We look forward to a long-term relationship with Jeff and Circle M – for the life of the business.”
SCORE’s business mentors typically are retired or current business owners, executives or managers who volunteer to share their expertise. The organization’s confidential mentoring services are available at no charge to current or prospective small business operators. To learn more about SCORE’s Tip of the Mitt chapter, see tipofthemitt.score.org. To request a mentor, see ‘find a mentor’ at score.org or call the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce at (231) 347-4150.
To find out more about Circle M, check out the Circle M Ranch (soon to be Circle M Meat) page on Facebook or visit the business on Straits Highway in Wolverine.