JennyGems wins 2022 SBA award

Jenny McMillan shares honor with employees and husband-partner
May 12, 2022

Story Location:
26850 Lewes-Georgetown Highway
Milton, DE 19968
United States

The employees and owners of JennyGems know how to throw a party.

With a catered brunch, open bar and music May 6, they celebrated owner Jenny McMillan and the company being named as the Small Business Administration Woman-Owned Business of the Year.

JennyGems, located at 26850 Lewes-Georgetown Highway near Harbeson, opened its doors in 2019 and has had to overcome major business obstacles including a shutdown caused by the COVID-19 state of emergency.

The company produces and sells a large variety of wooden signs and other home décor items at its local retail shop, at other area shops, and nationally and internationally through its e-commerce partners, including Amazon and Walmart.

“I really want to celebrate my team,” Jenny said as she accepted the award. “My biggest thank you goes out to them because they helped us build from the ground up. This team is so special. Together we have faced the pandemic and many other challenges.”

Jenny’s husband Dave said the business near Harbeson started out selling other people's products as First State Trade. “Jenny told me that we should sell signs. I thought nobody would buy signs, but look at us now,” he said.

The company has seen a 56 percent increase in sales over last year. JennyGems sells 200,000 products online each year and thousands more through custom orders in house and in local stores.

The business began from Jenny and Dave’s home. The couple started selling antiques and collectibles as a part-time hobby to supplement their income while raising their daughters Jillian and Sarah. Jenny was laid off from her full-time banking job at MBNA America, and she pursued selling items online as a full-time career. Dave joined the business a few years later and left his job as an animal control officer. At the end of 2015, they officially launched JennyGems.

The couple began their brand by having their designs manufactured in China. After being affected by the trade wars in 2019 and the inability to find a United States supplier to keep up with the brand’s demand, the couple decided to use all their resources to purchase manufacturing and wood shop equipment. Timing was not on their side, as the equipment arrived the week before the COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency in March 2020. Their sales went to nothing overnight, and the couple was forced to lay off all of its workers.

They regrouped, and using social media, highlighted the “Made in USA” theme. They also began offering inspirational gift products for nurses on the front lines of the pandemic. The couple recalled all of their employees and hired 12 more.

Doug Bates and Debbie Evans are two employees who have been with the company since it started.

“She makes a great leader because she genuinely cares for her employees,” Evans said. “She wants us to better ourselves.”

The company is preparing to relocate to the Delaware Coastal Business Park in Georgetown to a building with twice the current square footage. Jenny said the move will take place either this fall or early 2023.

Jim Provo, SBA representative, said JennyGems was chosen based on the growth of the business and the number of employees, revenue and profit, and community involvement.

Anna Lucas, national SBA field operations associate administrator, said the award is presented during National Small Business Week to celebrate the more than 31 million small businesses in the country.

“This all started with a vision,” she said. “You made the tough decision to move away from overseas manufacturing to make your own products in the USA, and you were able to expand during the COVID pandemic. SBA has been your partner through your journey.”

Jenny presented gifts to several people who have helped the company, including Bill Pfaff, Sussex County economic development director; Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown; and Linda Price, Georgetown Chamber of Commerce executive director.

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