Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri. Throughout the first seven episodes of season 2, we chronicled the process of opening a second location of Rising Tide Car Wash, where we employ people with autism. If you tuned in, you heard all about how we planned this location, interviewed and trained our fantastic new employees, how the opening went, and much more.
For the final three episodes of this season, we’re going to change things up a bit! We want to revisit some of the incredible entrepreneurs who we featured in season 1 to hear about how their journeys have progressed since we last heard from them. Today, we’re featuring Wendy Kohman, who you’ll remember from the third episode of season 1. (If you haven’t already heard it, go listen now and then come back to this one!)
In our last conversation, Wendy described how she came up with the idea of Katie’s Snack Cart, and why it was a good fit for Katie, her daughter who has autism. In short, the company sells more healthful alternatives to the junk foods that are typically available in offices. Workers with autism push food carts from desk to desk in offices, selling these foods.
Katie’s Snack Cart has grown wonderfully since it opened with just Katie and a cart. The company now employs six adults with special needs on the team. Their roles are split between baking snacks to sell and pushing the carts, which now operate in nine businesses. The employees are deservedly proud of themselves for their role in creating a successful small business.
When we last talked with Wendy, the products sold through Katie’s Snack Cart were premade products that they bought to sell, with the exception of Wendy’s banana bread. Now, they make lots of their own baked things, and employ several more people to help in the kitchen. This allows them to hire people with very different abilities, skills, and strengths.
Wendy also talks about the process of finding new employees, how work support roles have functioned for their employees, the ways in which the company has grown since our conversation a year earlier, how customers at their various client businesses react and respond to the social mission, and much more. If you’re ready for inspiration on how successful a small business supporting autism can be, even for someone without experience as an entrepreneur, don’t miss this episode!
In This Episode:
[01:00] - Wendy reminds listeners what Katie’s Snack Cart is, what the company does, and what inspired her to start the company.
[02:06] - We hear what’s been happening with Katie’s Snack Cart in the year or so since we first talked with Wendy.
[04:10] - Where has Wendy found these employees, and how has the experience of expanding gone for Wendy?
[05:37] - Tom reveals that they had over 600 applicants for their second store, but held people off until they had legitimate jobs for more people.
[06:38] - We hear more about the shift from prepackaged snacks to more of their own baked goods on the snack carts.
[08:46] - Wendy describes in more detail how she runs the operation, specifically in terms of having support people for her employees with autism or special needs. She discusses one of the complications, but overall thinks it’s a great choice.
[10:44] - Where is Wendy going to find clients, and how does she define who their potential (and ideal) clients are?
[13:14] - We learn Wendy’s plan for how to reach out to potential new clients, and mentions how important it is to do a trial run so that the business can see how much value Katie’s Snack Cart offers.
[15:55] - Wendy talks more about the customers’ reaction to the social mission.
[17:59] - Recently, the company went and Christmas caroled at one of their client businesses, Wendy explains.
[18:59] - One of the things that’s sold on the snack carts are cards featuring artwork by another person with autism. We hear about how this went, why Wendy thinks more cards didn’t sell, and why it was a great experience anyway./
[20:03] - Tom explains that a young entrepreneur wanted to sell pies at Rising Tide Car Wash on certain days, and had a similar experience to what Wendy described.
[20:56] - What advice does Wendy have for people who are looking to start a business? Her inspirational answer may be exactly what you need to hear if you’ve been considering opening a business of your own.
[23:05] - Wendy talks about a few simple ways that listeners can help out her company, as well as the autism community at large.
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