Sharnece Holmes is the founder of Holmes Healthy Solutions LLC, a healthy vending business located in the Washington, DC area that provides healthy snack and beverage products to organizations seeking alternatives to traditional vending machine items. It was Sharnece’s passion for health and wellness and her desire to improve her family’s health, that inspired her to make her dream a reality with Holmes Healthy Solutions.
Since your commitment to a healthy lifestyle is what led to you starting your business, I’d love to learn more about where this passion came from and what “healthy” means to you.
In my family, generationally, we have had a history of chronic illnesses and diseases that range from diabetes and obesity to high blood pressure, and everything in between. And at an early age, seeing how those health issues impaired my family members’ quality of life, I didn’t want that to be me, so I took steps to prevent that.
A lot of what I did was, obviously, through eating well and through physical activity, but I also took the steps to educate myself as to the foods that were being put into my body, what they meant to me, what they meant to my body, how they affected my energy levels. And I’ve just persisted on that lifestyle.
So, even if it means I’m super busy, I will still make time to go to a class at my gym or go for a run when it’s nice outside. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be as direct, it can be going on a bike ride downtown, or it could be playing laser tag. And of course, although I have my cheat days, I usually try to eat well, making sure that I have a good balance of fruits and vegetables in my diet, as well as carbs and fats.
So, when did you make the transition from living a healthy lifestyle to trying to help others do the same through Holmes Health Solutions?
Well, it actually started with a family tragedy, unfortunately. My father had become really ill in 2016, and he was known as the person who never got sick. Even though he had diabetes, he was in pretty good health. This illness that he suffered from came out of the blue and I just took vigil by his bedside because the situation was so critical.
I stayed in the hospital with him for weeks to ensure he got the appropriate care and medications to not only survive but to make a full recovery. The cafeteria was not open 24 hours, and there were moments when I was too afraid to leave for fear something may happen. Since I was there 24/7, I was relying a lot on vending machines which I tried to avoid.
So, one day, a few weeks into his hospitalization, I had to get up early for some tests for my father, and the cafeteria was closed. Since I was starving and didn’t feel like leaving the hospital and driving 3 miles down the road to get something healthy to eat, I had no choice but to go to the vending machine. I saw that there was nothing there that could provide the kind of sustenance an sustaining energy that I needed; not even granola bars or any type of 100% juices. None of that was available. It was completely junk food. I thought, I can’t believe I’m in this situation where I have to choose between leaving the hospital to get healthy meal or stay and satisfy my hunger with junk food.
And in that moment, I also said to myself, I’m pretty sure other individuals like me feel this way. Not even just people who want to eat healthy, but also people who have dietary limitations or restrictions like gluten an lactose intolerance. Where are the options for those people? I didn’t see those options there for them.
So, you get to a situation where you’re faced with a vending machine that’s full of unhealthy choices and it makes you not even want to try to be healthy because you don’t have the choice to be. And most people turn to vending machines because it’s convenient, or because they work long hours and you have no other choice. It’s discouraging.
I started Holmes Healthy Solutions because I didn’t want people to feel like this anymore. I started my business to give people access to healthy foods in a convenient way.
That’s a very inspiring story! So, what’s next for your business?
My goal is to eventually have my business in large areas, like arenas, corporate offices and things of that nature. I don’t want my vending machines to only be in places that are geared towards a healthy lifestyle; I want them to be in every facility that you could possibly think of, even for the sports fanatic or kids at amusement parks. This way, people won’t feel like they have to be in a health-geared place to get healthy vending options.
That’s a great goal. What would you say is the biggest obstacle to that happening?
The biggest obstacle would probably be the perception of vending machines and people’s concepts of “healthy eating.” People tend to have the mindset that vending machines are old, not aesthetically appealing, and the food is stale and not fresh. That deters people from purchasing from a vending machine. And if I won’t even buy a snack, a bag of chips or a granola bar from the machine, why would I buy a salad from one? And the vending industry is doing a good job at changing these perceptions, by trying to be more technologically savvy with their machines, making it more interactive for the consumer.
For getting healthy food in places like arenas, what I think is going to be an obstacle is the fact that when people go out to events, they want to have a good time and they often have certain things in mind that they want to eat. When I go to an amusement park, I know I’m having a funnel cake. So, getting around those mindsets will be a challenge but it can be done.
So, what would you say to another entrepreneur, particularly a woman entrepreneur, who has a business idea but is afraid to pursue it?
I would have to say that there is nothing worse than not trying. For me, knowing that I have a great idea but I’m too afraid of failure — that is more heartbreaking to me than implementing my idea and failing. I would tell people that even if you are afraid, don’t feel like everything has to be perfect. You should do your research, and consult your resources, but don’t think that it has to be perfect before you pursue it. And look forward to the mistakes, look forward to the failures, because that’s how you learn.
And sometimes, out of the failures come opportunities. For me, this happened recently when I was preparing to put machines in a coworking space and a week before installation, I found out the venue was closing. Luckily, I had not purchased the machines yet, and did not lose any money, but you can see how it was a disappointing experience for me. I even thought, in that moment, that this wasn’t meant to be –not just this location, but the whole business. I thought it was maybe a sign that I should cut my losses and get out before I was in too deep.
But something great happened from that experience, because I was given another opportunity with an even larger organization for a longer term. Had I gone with the coworking space, I would not have had the chance to work with the larger venue because it would have just been too much too soon, and eventually I would have let something fall through the cracks and possibly ruined both relationships. I could still have gone out of business and lose way more money. Sometimes things just work out the way they are supposed to, and you shouldn’t take mishaps as a sign that you aren’t meant to do this.
I also recommend pursuing as many networking opportunities as possible, including connecting with those you might think are competition. You’d be surprised at how many people are willing to share their knowledge. Go for it — the worst thing that someone can tell you is no.
[Editor’s note: For more tips and resources to start and grow your business, check out helloalice.com]
That’s great advice. It seems like you’re an open book, but what is something that most people don’t know about you?
What most people don’t know about me is that I didn’t want to be in any type of health or nutrition field at all. I had a bad experience with science in the 8th grade, taking biology, so I just steered away from anything that was science related or had to do with chemistry. I didn’t think that I would be in any type of a health, science or medical field. Surprisingly enough, my passion led me in that direction. So, I tell people, if you have passion about something, throw away any preconceived ideas you may have. If you felt one way before, about a particular topic, and you get older and learn from your experiences, don’t be afraid to re-tap into that interest.