Business: JT FireStarters
Mission: JT FireStarters is a business that is owned and operated by an adult with autism. Our mission is to provide job training for autistic adults who experience challenges in finding work in the community. We bring them rewarding and fulfilling employment opportunities.What is JT Firestarters?
We handcraft a product that makes it an easy and inexpensive way to start a fire. Our firestarters are made from recycled materials. Each pod is made from a cardboard egg carton, shredded paper, dryer lint and candle wax. JT FireStarters are used to start a fire in a fireplace, camp fire or fire pit. Our firestarters are sold in bags of 10 pods or individually. We sell to RV stores, campgrounds, hardware stores and other specialty shops in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Kentucky. Our goal is to increase sales to more states.
Why did you feel that starting your own business was the answer?
Starting our own business was the perfect solution. Besides having autism, our son Daniel has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He is bothered by certain environments. By owning his own business, Daniel and his staff can control environmental factors and structure his day and work tasks based upon his needs at any given time. Our family likes the independence that comes with business ownership. We can set Daniel’s work hours and make adaptions to meet his needs. We have met many people by across the United States by sharing Daniel’s story.
Is this a business that just employs your child or do you also employ others with autism or special needs?
JT FireStarters has been in business since 2015. At that time, Daniel was still in high school in special education programming which lasted until the age of 21. Daniel worked at his business throughout the school day and his classmates worked at the job site to learn skills. JT FireStarters will continue to offer placement for job skills training for high school students and JT FireStarters will hire employees when we are financially able to do so. Hiring others with autism is a priority. Every job for a person with a disability creates two jobs. Each position at JT FireStarters also creates a position for a job coach.
What are 3 challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
The challenges we face include:
- Advertising and self promotion of our business: We rely on social media and word of mouth. I have also contacted newspapers & television media to gain exposure.
- Rate of expansion: We need and want to expand the business, but we have to balance the expansion with what is achievable. My husband and I both have full-time jobs and we make all the deliveries.
- Lack of Resources: We have had struggles with finding a building to rent, but word of mouth helped us find a rental space with a great building manager and landlord. We needed more supplies to make the firestarters and people have graciously given us egg cartons, boxes, candles and lint.
What are 3 rewards you’ve experienced from starting a business?
We have met many supportive people throughout our travels with JT FireStarters. I have received guidance from other parents who are navigating through the world of small business ownership. I have received emails from families all over the United States and Canada. I have become Facebook friends with strangers who I now consider to be friends. The generosity of others is heartwarming.
Do you have a funny story you’d like to share?
Friends of mine save dryer lint for us. I go to church or a meeting and friends give me small zip locked bags of dryer lint from their purses!
Tell us about any upcoming plans.
Our future plans include expansion of sales. Our goal is to increase sales in current stores and to continually add more stores that sell JT FireStarters. Our ultimate goal is to own a building in which we would manufacture JT FireStarters and offer work space for other small businesses that employ people with and without disabilities.
What message would you like to give to other families who are searching for job opportunities for their autistic loved one?
My advice for other families involves thinking about the strengths of the person. Focus on the positives and start small. Talk with others and learn from them. Network with other parents.
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