By Lorrie DeFrank
The revenue growth of Manch and Connie Kersee’s food service management company, J.R. Dexter, Inc., has grown 47 percent since they participated in JAX Bridges. Both give the JAX Chamber’s entrepreneurial growth program credit for identifying new customers and making business enhancements to capture them.
They formed J.R. Dexter in 2011 to bridge a gap for schools, businesses, office buildings and other commercial entities so they can concentrate on their core services. In addition to catering, J.R. Dexter’s services include managing and negotiating vendor contracts, procurement, assisting with securing government grants and handling regulatory reporting.
Connie, the president, has a degree in culinary management and more than 15 years of experience in the catering industry. Manch, a certified management accountant who holds an MBA, has more than 20 years of experience in corporate finance. Their combined skills provided a firm foundation for their family business—which also includes their two sons—yet JAX Bridges helped them improve it by teaching them, in Connie’s words, “what they didn’t know they didn’t know.”
It all started when the school where Connie was volunteering lost its foodservice coordinator. Knowing she had catered, the principal asked Connie if she would take over for the rest of the semester, which turned into a couple of years. The experience gave her the confidence to start her own business. “We found that a lot of private schools want to provide healthy meals for students but don’t get the support that public schools do,” she said. “We fill that gap. They focus on education. We take care of foodservice.”
The Kersees had been in business for five years when, at a friend’s recommendation, they participated in JAX Bridges’ Cohort 5 in fall 2016.
“By developing a capability statement we were able to identify what value to add,” said Manch. “We were able to go after government opportunities and won a Jacksonville Aviation Authority bid to provide holiday catering.” He said that contract and a minority business certification with Jacksonville Transportation Authority were direct connections through JAX Bridges.
The program helped them connect the dots by clarifying who they were as a business and who potential customers were. “Through conversations with the class we found we have additional customers we hadn’t thought of,” Connie said. “In a room with 15 to 20 other people in the same situation you realize you just need the right resources to grow your business.”
Connie’s biggest takeaway was knowing that they can call on the JAX Bridges’ staff and others in their cohort at any time with questions. “There is a connection that will always be there,” she said. “You have more business contacts and resources at your disposal. It’s a whole new network of people.”
For example, Carlton Robinson, vice president, Entrepreneurial Growth, served as a panelist on financing a business for an accountant organization Manch belongs to. “That resource is great,” Manch said.
Though J.R. Dexter mainly serves Greater Jacksonville, it has regular clients in Tampa and has done events in Kansas, Texas and California.
“Don’t think you’re too big or know too much to take JAX Bridges,” Manch advises. “I went in with 20 years’ experience in finance and management accounting and walked out with tons and tons of new information.”
“Humble yourself,” Connie added. “A lot of times business owners think they know about marketing and value propositions. The way JAX Bridges presents the information is simple yet so complex. Sit and listen because it will definitely benefit you as a person and your business.”
To contact Connie and Manch Kersee:
J.R. Dexter, Inc.