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Overview

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.

Business Enterprise Program’s Committee of Vendors Met for Final Time in 2019

The Committee of Vendors met for their quarterly meeting on Friday, November 15 and Saturday, November 16 at the Embassy Suites in Orlando. The Committee is comprised of ten district representatives, a chairman and vice chairman elected by the Blind Vendors of Florida. The meeting was also attended by members of the staff of the Bureau of Business Enterprise (BBE), vendors from the program; Nicky Gacos, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants (NABM) and Robert Doyle, Director of DBS.

Vendors Colton Knight and Alton Palmore recorded the meeting in hopes of using the recordings as the basis of a podcast for vendors. The purpose of the proposed podcast is to give vendors in Florida more information on the Committee meetings and give a voice to the program on a statewide and national level.

Business Enterprise Bureau Chief, Bill Findley, opened the meeting with a report on the recent Biennial Conference, the current status of military contracts, and the program budget. He also provided an overview of the Business Leadership and Superior Training (BLAST) conference held by NABM in New Jersey to the Committee, which he attended along with 11 of Florida’s vendors.

Nicky Gacos spoke about the upcoming BLAST meeting in Chicago in the spring of 2020. He also proposed that Florida host the Fall 2021 BLAST Conference and highlighted the advantages to the Florida program if they did. The Committee passed a motion to host the 2021 conference.

The Finance and Policy Subcommittees reported that they have met three times via conference call to discuss pertient items, such as the calculation of set aside, approved business expenses, and net profit expectations. The subcommittee has not yet finalized any recommendations but hopes to do so by the May 2020 Committee of Vendors meeting.  A list of all of the current subcommittees and their members were reviewed and updated as needed.

The Committee at-large discussed the accessibility of kiosks used in micromarkets and the availability of accessible equipment for vendors. Business Enterprise program staff has been working with the manufacturers of the kiosks to make them more accessible to both the vendors that operate the facilities and the visually impaired customers that use them.

Current Business Enterprise program students were introduced to the Committee and were allowed to ask questions. The committee discussed subjects that impact new vendors, such as a mentoring initiative and facilities on temporary contracts. Getting qualified applicants for the program has been challenging and the group discussed the pros and cons of streamlining training for licensed vendors from other states that wish to relocate to Florida.

The meeting continued with reports from the BBE staff on new or potential locations, the monitoring of existing contracts, the recent selection cycle, grievances, new licensees and continuing education credits required to be completed by vendors every two years. John Ahler, a Business Analyst with the Business Enterprise program, reported that sales and profits for vendors in the program have continued to increase over the last year. The Committee members voted to re-elect one member of the selection panel that recommends vendors for available facilities. A second available spot on the panel was not filled as no candidate received the required two-thirds majority after three votes.  The group will revisit this at their next meeting in March 2020. 

The state staff and District Representatives then updated the group on what is happening in their regions. The meeting finished up with a roundtable discussion. Jim Warth, Chairman of the Committee advised the group that he has invited Terry Smith, Director of the Randolph-Sheppard Training and Technical Assistance with NABM to the next meeting in March. Jim also advised the group that he is working on getting the Committee incorporated as a non-profit so that they can enter into binding agreements.  The meeting was adjourned just before 10am on Saturday, November 16.

Biennial Seminar urged the Blind Vendors of Florida to “Rocket to Success”

Staff from Florida’s Business Enterprise Program and its blind vendors met for the 2019 Biennial Seminar at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, FL on August 23rd and 24th. The biennial seminar is designed to provide an opportunity for vendors to gain knowledge that will help them in their businesses and to network with other vendors and Business Enterprise Program staff. The 2019 seminar was attended by 110 licensed vendors, five trainees and 15 Business Enterprise program staff – what a great turnout!

Terry Smith addresses the vendors of the Business Enterprise ProgramThe seminar opened with presentations by the Division of Blind Services (DBS) Director, Robert Doyle; Business Enterprise Bureau Chief, William Findley; and the Chairman of the Committee of Vendors, James Warth. Robert Doyle and William (Bill) Findley were presented plaques in recognition for their service and dedication to the program and the blind vendors of Florida.

The full agenda included a variety of presentations and activities pertinent to Florida’s Business Enterprise vendors.  Brent McNeal, Deputy General Counsel with the Florida Department of Education, presented some of the legal challenges facing the program as it continues to expand opportunities for its vendors; Terry Smith, Director of Randolph-Sheppard Training and Technical Assistance, and Edward Birmingham, Vice President, of the National Association of Blind Merchants (NABM) spoke about the state of the business enterprise program on a national scale and the emerging leaders program.  Amanda Sulc of Accent Foods shared information on the changing food market, alternative payment methods, and the food trends of the millennial generation – which is seeing substantial changes in eating habits and food consumption. Dan Sippl of the Randolph Sheppard Vendors of America (RSVA) spoke about RSVA, which is one of two national organizations that advocates for vendors in the Business Enterprise program.

Awards are presented to vendors for their years of service, including two individuals for 40 years in the program!Attendees had the opportunity to participate in a technical help session and hear presentations from USA Technology, the Lighthouse of Central Florida, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, OrCam, and the United States Blind Golf Association during breakout sessions. The seminar also featured a trade show with 25 vendors showcasing adaptive technology, vending machines, micro market, and other vending products. Participating vendors include: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Crane Merchandising, Vistar, Parlevel, Refresh Computers and OrCam.

A number of awards were presented to individuals during the 2019 seminar.  Twenty-six vendors were honored for their years of service, including awards for Georgia Kellogg and Charles Hackney for their 40 years of service! The Tom Spiliotis Award, which is awarded to a vendor who exemplifies dedication to the program, was presented to Justino Colon by Nancy Spiliotis. Steve Barnes, John Klindtworth, and Don Tuell were remembered with posthumous awards.

a crowded roomDuring the seminar, elections for the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Committee of Vendors were conducted.  The Committee is comprised of a representative (and alternate) from each district, a Chairman, and a Vice Chairman.  The Committee is responsible for representing the vendors in their district with the Business Enterprise program staff; actively participating in major administrative decisions, policy and program development, transfer and promotion opportunities for vendors; acting as an advocate for vendors with grievances; and sponsoring (with state assistance) the biennial seminar to provide further training and education for Business Enterprise program vendors.

On Friday, Jim Warth, Mike Renaud, Alton Palmore, and Randall Crosby were nominated for the chairmanship while Terri Lindstrom, Mike Renaud and Randall Crosby were nominated for the vice-chairmanship.  Candidates had the opportunity to speak to the vendors present and answer questions during a Q & A session. Saturday saw the reelection of Jim Warth as Chaiman with 57% of the vote (after a runoff) and Terri Lindstrom was elected as Vice Chairman with 62% of the vote.

Both Business Enterprise vendors and staff hope for continued program success over the next two years and look forward to gathering together again in 2021!

Florida’s Business Enterprise Program administers one of the largest vending and food service programs operated by people who are legally blind in the United States. It provides job opportunities in the food service sector for eligible blind persons under the Randolph-Sheppard Act.

Important Notices

Reimbursements

There are two ways to submit the completed Reimbursement Request Packet:

  1. E-mail – BBE Facility Operators are encouraged to participate in and use the E-mail Reimbursement Request System. Send the request packet to the e-mail address of BBE.Reimbursements@dbs.fldoe.org. In the e-mail’s Subject Line, include the Invoice Number to assist in quick referencing. In body of the e-mail, include the Invoice Number, the BBE Facility Operator’s name, and include any additional notes necessary for clarification to assist in processing the request when needed.
  2. Ground Mail – Send the completed Reimbursement Request Packet to:
    Division of Blind Services
    Office of the Comptroller, DBS Fiscal Section
    Suite 924, Turlington Building
    325 West Gaines Street
    Tallahassee, FL 32399-04000

September Selection Cycle

Results from the September Selection Cycle are posted on the Business Opportunities page.

Upcoming CEU opportunities

Sagebrush National BEP Training Conference, February 10-14, 2020 in Las Vegas, NV.

BBE will pay the “early” registration fee for licensed vendors attending the 2020 Sagebrush Conference in Las Vegas. 

Deadline: If you plan on attending, you must notify Alan Risk no later than noon on Friday, December 20, 2019 in order for BBE to pay registration fees.

Important Notes:

  • BBE will pay for Registration Fees ONLY.  Each attendee is responsible for all other expenses, including travel, lodging, meals, etc.
  • If your registration fee is paid by BBE and you do not attend, you will be required to reimburse BBE for the cost of registration.
  • BBE will only pay registration fees one time per vendor, per calendar year to attend national training conference associated with the Business Enterprise Program. 
  • BBE does not pay registration for spouses that attend with you.
  • Attendees will be credited with up to 1.5 CEUs.
  • Hotel reservations deadline is January 9, 2020. Room reservations must be made directly with the hotel. Phone (800) 331-5731.  Let them know you are with the RSVA Sagebrush Conference 2020.  Please check the hotel and its room reservation policy at www.goldennugget.com
  • For more information or to register for the Sagebrush Conference, go to http://www.randolph-sheppard.org/sagebrush/conferences.php

    IMPORTANT: Do not pay the registration fee, BBE will pay registration fees via a purchase order. 
    If you have further questions, please call Ardis Bazyn at (818) 238-9321 or email abazyn@bazyncommunications.com

National Association of Blind Merchants (NABM) BLAST Conference

BBE will pay the “early” registration fee for licensed vendors attending the 2020 BLAST Conference in Chicago. 

Deadline: If you plan on attending, you must notify Alan Risk no later than noon on Friday, February 28th in order for BBE to pay registration fees.

Important Notes:

  • BBE will pay for Registration Fees ONLY.  Each attendee is responsible for all other expenses, including travel, lodging, meals, etc.
  • If your registration fee is paid by BBE and you do not attend, you will be required to reimburse BBE for the cost of registration.
  • BBE will only pay registration fees one time per vendor, per calendar year to attend national training conference associated with the Business Enterprise Program. 
  • BBE does not pay registration for spouses that attend with you.
  • Attendees will be credited with up to 1.5 CEUs.
  • The Conference is being held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 151 E. Wacker Drive in Chicago.  No further details are available at this time.  Visit www.blindmerchants.org for more information as it becomes available.  
    IMPORTANT: Do not pay the registration fee, BBE will pay registration fees via a purchase order. 

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.

A list of BBE pre-approved Hadley courses for CEU credit can be found at http://dbs.myflorida.com/BBE/ceu.html.

Randolph-Sheppard Training

Mississippi State University National Technical Assistance Center on Blindness and Visual Impairment (NRTC) offers educational modules covering important aspects of the Randolph-Sheppard program.  A list of BBE pre-approved NRTC 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

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