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picture of a highway vending facility.

The mission of the Florida Bureau of Business Enterprise (BBE) is to provide people who are legally blind with rewarding and profitable entrepreneurial ventures, broaden their economic opportunities, and invigorate all blind people to be self-supporting, while dispelling misconceptions about blind people by showcasing their abilities.

The Florida Bureau of Business Enterprise (BBE) administers one of the largest vending and food service programs operated by people who are legally blind in the United States.  The Florida Bureau of Business Enterprise Program provides job opportunities in the food service sector for eligible blind persons under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. Job opportunities include: snack bar, cafeteria, highway vending machines, or non-highway vending.

Everything a visually impaired person needs to get started running their own food service facility is provided including training, facility, equipment, inventory, and the necessary funds to begin operations.  The BBE prides itself in allowing visually impaired entrepreneurs independence in their day-to-day operations, while at the same time providing continual support through professional business consultants and educational workshops.  

Florida broadened the federal Randolph Sheppard Act with its own version. Blind licensees, under the Little Randolph Sheppard Act (FS 413.051) are given the first opportunity to participate in the operation of vending stands on all state properties acquired after July 1, 1979, when such facilities are operated under the supervision of the Florida Division of Blind Services of the Department of Education.

If you are legally blind and a United States citizen, you might want to consider the Florida Bureau of Business Enterprise Program as your career choice. Read How to Get a BBE Vendor License and find out how you can begin an exciting career as the manager of a vending or food services facility.

Micro Market Expand Opportunities and Profits for the Blind Vendors of Florida

By Janet Chernoff

Heather SaundersIn January 2017 the Bureau of Business Enterprise (BBE) program opened its first stand alone micro market in the Department of Education building in Tallahassee. The micro market is a fairly new concept that has become increasingly popular throughout the country. Micro markets are fully automated, self-checkout retail food establishments that allow customers to examine products, including nutrition information and expiration dates before making a purchase. Micro markets typically include refrigerated cases, reach-in coolers, freezers and packaged items displayed on shelves and are easily accessible to the customer. They can provide fresh salads, sandwiches, entrees and breakfast foods intended for purchase within 24 hours along with refrigerated items and frozen entrees.

The micro market in the Department of Education building was opened by veteran vendor Mike Renaud. Less the than a year later the facility had a permanent operator, vendor Jason Carpenter. In 2018 this micro market reported gross sales of over $200,000 resulting in a nice income for the vendor. He has one part-time employee to assist with stocking and cleaning. Jason has taken advantage of the concept by adding a variety of non-traditional products including personal care items, books, DVDs, clothing and greeting cards. Jason gets his fresh foods from another BBE vendor, Steve Docie, who operates a nearby cafeteria. The items are delivered to the facility on a daily basis.

Jennifer in the micro marketSome smaller micro markets do not have sufficient sales to provide enough income for the operator by themselves, but can be a profitable addition to a vending route. Micro markets have been added to routes in Tallahassee and Lake City and another will be added to a new Lee County route in southwest Florida. Operators Anthony DaGraca and Heather Saunders operate the two Tallahassee routes and experienced operator Will Grignon will assist the Division by opening and managing the new Lee County route. A facility in downtown Tampa includes one micro market and a location with vending and a commercial kitchen. A second micro market is in process and will be added to facility soon. New vendor TJ McCormick uses the knowledge he gained in culinary school to make fresh offerings for the Tampa markets.

Small snack bars are increasingly becoming obsolete in some locations as labor costs can consume the profits. A micro market can offer fresh food options with a smaller staff, resulting in a higher bottom line for the blind vendor. The program is converting a snack bar located in the Ft. Knox Office Complex in Tallahassee to a micro market. The transition leaves the snack bar kitchen in place so that the operator, new vendor Jennifer Hobbs, will be able to make fresh foods for her facility. The BBE program will soon have a total of seven micro markets throughout the state.

T.J. in the micro market

The micro market model is still a work in progress and the BBE is working with the micro market companies to improve accessibility of the kiosks for both for the customers and the BBE vendors that manage them. The concept is going a long way to improve the viability of locations and open the door to new opportunities for the Blind Vendors of Florida.

Important Notices

May Selection Cycle

Opportunities for the May Selection Cycle are posted on the Business Opportunities page.

Upcoming CEU opportunities

Florida Council of the Blind (FCB) Convention

May 16-19, 2019, Avanti Palms Resort, Orlando, FL
BBE attendees can earn up to 1.0 CEU credit
For more information, email floridacouncil@comcast.net

National Federation of the Blind (NFB) State Convention

May 24 – 27, Embassy Suites, Boca Raton, FL
BBE attendees can earn up to 1.0 CEU credit
For more information, email info@nfbflorida.org

2019 Biennial Seminar

August 23-24, 2019
Rosen Plaza Hotel
9700 International Drive, Orlando
BBE attendees can earn up to 1.5 CEU credits for the 2019-2021 reporting period.
For further information email janet.chernoff@dbs.fldoe.org.

Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Hadley has agreed that BBE managers in Florida are not required to provide verification that they are legally blind. First time registrants will need to complete an enrollment application. Applications can be completed online at http:///www.hadley.edu. If you would prefer to receive a hard copy of the application in Braille or print format, you should contact Student Services at (800) 526-9909 or via email at student_services@hadley.edu.

The application will ask for information about your eye condition, but an eye report is not required if you are identified on the vendor list provided to them. For identification purposes, when completing the application form, please note "2019 FL Randolph Sheppard" in the Referral Details section of the application where it asks how you heard about Hadley.

Vendors who have taken Hadley courses within the past five years are not required to submit a new application. You should contact Student Services via email or telephone to request enrollment. However, Hadley asks that you identify yourselves as a Florida Randolph Sheppard Program student.
A list of BBE pre-approved Hadley courses for CEU credit can be found at http://dbs.myflorida.com/BBE/ceu.html.

Florida Bureau of Business Enterprise

Providing Tools and Support for Legally Blind Vendors in the Food Service Industry