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Hanover businesswoman guides children through jerky venture

When Kim Moses placed a bowl of her homemade beef jerky before a group of her son’s friends, the savory snack disappeared in seconds.

It didn’t come as a shock – the boys were growing teenagers, after all. But even after she tasted the original recipe treat for the first time, Moses knew it had the potential to be a hit at farmers markets, grocery stores and beyond.

As the owner of Moses Family Jerky, Moses has coached her son Dakotah, who serves as company president, and daughter Bailey on building a successful business. The family venture isn’t merely a means of putting food on the table. It’s an opportunity for Moses to instill in her children an entrepreneurial spirit.

“I never felt satisfied just working for somebody else,” she said. “I always wanted to be the one to help make some of the decisions and have a vision for where we wanted to go. With this, I’m kind of the wind beneath the sails. I want this for my kids. I’ve successfully started a couple of businesses, but it’s time for me to take the knowledge I have and help my kids now go out and do the same.”

‘From startup to moneymaker’

The family hails from Atlanta, Texas.

With a master’s in counseling and psychology and an associates degree in business administration, Moses had worked for Texas’ child services department, but she always favored being a business owner over working for someone else.

“It’s hard to be a business person, but at least you’re in control of your own destiny,” she said. “I always had this hunger for more and felt that I could do it if I tried.

Moses started a brick-laying company with her husband, Rowdy Moses, who died in a car crash in 1999. The company closed down after his death.

“He was the biggest fan of the beef jerky ever,” she said. “He used to take it to lunch every single day.”

She later created a jewelry-making business with a friend whom she  helped in selling boutique inventory on eBay.

“They were hand-making jewelry in between customers, and I sat down and just made a bracelet for my daughter with her school colors,” she said.

The school colors idea took off, and soon Moses and her friend were obtaining licenses from area colleges to create fashion jewelry for them.

Then in 2007, Moses met a representative from a Hanover company in the business of custom apparel and accessories for schools. In an effort to diversify their product line, they bought Moses’ company. She packed up the kids in their Chevrolet Suburban, along with all their beef jerky equipment, and the family relocated to Hanover, the snack capital of the world.

Moses worked for the Hanover company for eight years. Around 2013, Dakotah started making the family’s prized beef jerky and selling it to his fellow students at South Western High School. Even teachers became customers.

“They all knew when there was a huddle around Dakotah that he was doing a jerky deal,” Moses said.

Moses Family Jerky’s sales moved from high school hallways to high school football games to farmers markets. Then, last October, Moses learned she would soon be losing her job.

The family realized they needed the jerky business to start making money.

“It always did well, but we really needed it to grow from startup into moneymaker,” she said.

Moses and her son were both at a bit of a crossroads. Faced with impending unemployment, Moses wondered what her next move would be, while Dakotah had to decide whether to pursue college.

“We struggled together with, ‘Wow, we have this thing that’s going well, and people love it and our customers are coming back every week … does he go off to college and break that momentum .. .or can he just give this a run?'” she said. “I was like you either need to get a job, go to college or make this work. It was a very stressful time for all of us. Probably the most stressful ever.”

They chose to take the leap.

“I got a $6,000 tax return and I said, ‘Dakotah, we’re going to put this money towards the business,” she said. “If it works, great. If it doesn’t, we really haven’t lost anything.'”

Investing in her children’s future

Since then, Moses Family Jerky has transformed its operations. It has transitioned from an assembly line in the family basement to manufacturing their products at Wayne Nell & Sons Meats in East Berlin.

The brand is a regular at the Hanover Market House, York’s Central Market, Fells Point Farmer’s Market in Baltimore, and food and drink festivals. Deals with area grocery stores are in the works. The company boasts eight flavors, including spicy bacon, steakhouse beef, mango and Old Bay.

As someone who has grown businesses before, Moses is excited to go through the process again. This time around, she feels a sense of pride in watching her children hone their business skills. Motherhood and business development have their similarities.

“They’re both challenging, but they’re both super rewarding,” she said. “You want the best for them. You try to make the best decisions every day. Sometimes you rob Peter to pay Paul. There were a lot of times when my kids made sacrifices along the way for me to chase my dream or to see a customer or do whatever I needed to do. I hope in the end it’s instilled in them that working hard – you get out of it what you put into it.”

Dakotah said his mother has been a great mentor. Living with and learning from her has given him an advantage career-wise, he feels, compared to other young people who choose to go straight to college.

Making the decision to not send her children to college wasn’t an easy one, though.

“I was a widow and I was working very hard, but I never had that extra money to put away,” Moses said. “I didn’t do what I should have done. I had to make really hard decisions and that included not getting myself into trouble with retirement but making sure that they were going to be able to support themselves.”

If the point of college is to learn how to support yourself in adult life and contribute to society, Moses believed her children could figure out a way to do that without a four-year education they would be paying for for 20-plus years.

“To me, I didn’t have money, but I had time, energy and knowledge,” she said. “Sharing that was kind of my way for making up for them not having the traditional college experience.”

And if the beef jerky business fails, college is still going to be there, she said.

The Moses Family journey

Moses and Dakotah take walks almost every day at noon to evaluate what’s working and what’s not for the business.

“Sometimes we fuss or fight a little bit, but most of the time it’s a really good walk,” she said. “We have 20 to 30 minutes to say what great things happened today, what went wrong today and what are some ideas, some takeaways, actionable items that Dakotah or Bailey can then go do. That’s really our time each day that we set aside and really focus on talking.”

Moses credits her children with the brand’s success.

“We had nothing more than a recipe we believed in,” she said. “But we took a chance and because of the hard work of my kids, who do the day-to-day manufacturing and distribution, our little jerky business is growing. We hope it keeps growing and that jerky supports my kids and their families forever. But if it fails, I believe they have real life experience that will ensure they can always find a way to support themselves.”

For other single parents thinking about starting their own business, Moses said her best advice is to simply try. Growth and opportunity come when you’re not really looking, she said, and if you’re not at least trying, they won’t come to you.

The scariest part is not knowing if it’s going to succeed, she said. Jumping in with both feet is worth it though. In the end, the rewards far outweigh the risk, she said.

“Some days I could just burst with pride, and I’m so happy with the journey that we’ve been on, and I’m excited for the future,” she said. “Other times, I look back and think wow, I could have just taken a job working for someone else, and it might have been safer and easier, but I’ve enjoyed the wild ride.”

Nicole Chynoweth
Nicole Chynoweth is the web editor for Central Penn Business Journal. Email her at [email protected].

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