Launching her own beverage business has been Daisy Gray’s passion for years. The Seminole State College of Florida business student grew up drinking a hibiscus beverage in her native Jamaica that she wants to share with the world.
After studying journalism, serving in the Marines and having a baby, the Apopka woman began focusing on her dream in 2007, hiring consultants to do market research. Disappointed with their performance, Gray enrolled at Seminole State to earn a business degree and build her company step by step based on what she’s learning in each course.
“I developed an actual business plan as part of my marketing class,” says Gray, 43. “I also relied on what I learned in that class to design a product label that would be both informational and eye-catching. I used information learned in my salesmanship class to seek out leads, and I used information from my accounting class to develop my manufacturing overhead costs, and to separate administrative from operational costs.”
Gray’s delight in putting her business together was obvious.
“Every time we went into things like product costs, overhead and profit margin, she’d say, ‘This is what I need to do in my company,’” recalls Professor Terri Walsh, program manager for accounting.
Gray is already having success. Some research has suggested that hibiscus may help lower blood pressure, so natural-health stores have been receptive. Her Sognia (“The ‘sog’ is for Son of God, and ‘Nia’ is my daughter’s nickname”) line of hibiscus beverages is on shelves in Chamberlin’s Natural Food Markets throughout Central Florida, the DeLand Bakery & Natural Market, the Florida Hospital Marketplace and Sustain Natural Market in Apopka.
“It’s done really well,” says Paul Dragon, owner of Sustain. “Americans understand hibiscus because of Dr. (Mehmet) Oz," the heart surgeon and TV host.
In addition to her professors, Gray also received assistance from the College’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which helps Seminole County entrepreneurs.
“I had problems finding somebody to manufacture the beverages without adding preservatives,” Gray says. “Based on a recommendation from the SBDC to do my own manufacturing, I contacted the Florida Department of Agriculture and found facilities in Winter Springs.”
Her staff is small – “just family and friends at the moment, no more than five at any given time,” Gray says. As the business expands, she hopes to hire veterans because she recalls how hard it was for her to find work when she finished her service with the Marine Corps.
After she wraps up her associate degree in Spring Term 2013, Gray plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Business and Information Management at Seminole State.
She’s as proud of her educational achievements as she is of her business.
“I already have 'the' spot reserved on the wall of my small office at my manufacturing facility where these degrees will hang,” Gray says. “All my life I've felt inadequate because of my lack of a formal education. Now not only am I well on my way, I am an 'entrepreneur.’ I can hardly believe it myself. And this is only just the beginning.”
Seminole State’s Center for Business, Management and Entrepreneurship, one of the largest business programs in Central Florida, offers 32 degrees, certificates and programs to help students get ready for the next step. For more information, please visit Seminole State's business website.