Women in Business: Roshel Donwen of 3 Sisters Market, on Whidbey Island

The Women in Business series is an ongoing feature about women business leaders. As a women-owned business, Primal Island is dedicated to sharing learning and insights from women across the business spectrum.

Perched on a hillside with a commanding view of Penn Cove on Whidbey Island, 3 Sisters Market is part of a 5th generation family farm operation. The core offering of the market is the all natural grass fed beef and lamb and all natural pork from the animals they raise, along with many grocery products grown or produced on Whidbey Island.

The market is managed by Roshel Donwen, while one of her sisters and her parents run the farm operation.

Roshel Donwen, Co-owner and Manager, 3 Sisters Market on Whidbey Island

We caught up recently with Roshel to talk to her about her business and to ask her about the three things that she wished she’d known before starting her business, that she’s since learned through trial and error.

Without hesitation, she pointed out that marketing has been the most daunting and overwhelming task.

In the early days, Roshel explains, when the farm was part of the Darigold dairy co-op, marketing was taken care of by the corporation. But now that responsibility rests on Roshel’s shoulders.

In addition to initially not knowing where to start, Roshel identified the time-consuming nature of marketing as a challenge, especially with today’s reliance upon social media.

“Social media is not my passion or my love, so it can be a struggle,” she says, adding “but I learned you have to set aside the time to do it.”

While Facebook and Instagram are the primary marketing channels used by 3 Sisters Market, Roshel has learned that Likes aren’t metrics to judge social media marketing success.

“I listen to the feedback people are giving me in the store, such as ‘Hey, I saw this on Facebook and had to come try it’,” she explains, “so feedback in the store is my measure of return from our social media posts.”

2 Sisters Market is located alongside Rt 525, on Whidbey Island, just south of Oak Harbor.

The second lesson Roshel has learned is a lesson passed from one generation to the next, this tip coming from her father.

“One thing that my dad really instilled in us girls when we really wanted to start this was to start small, don’t expand too quickly and to grow at the capacity that we were comfortable with” says Roshel.  

For Roshel, managing the inventory balance between their meat case and the rest of the store’s grocery products is a key to not growing too quickly or beyond capacity. With a chuckle, she explains that she dislikes food expiring as much as she dislikes empty shelves, so inventory management is an ongoing process of trial and error.

Lastly, Roshel says being open to suggestions and being willing to change is an important piece of insight she wished she’d had earlier on. Suggestions from others can lead to better approaches to doing things or to making more money, she points out.

“I have business partners, employees and customers who are really dedicated to the business, also,” Roshel explains, “and something I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is to really listen and to take suggestions.”

About 3 Sisters Market
Since April of 2013, 3 Sisters Market has been offering customers a selection of grocery products from local sources on or around Whidbey Island, in Puget Sound. The 3 Sisters Family focuses on their all natural grass fed beef, all natural pork, grass fed lamb, all natural chicken & chicken eggs. Visit the 3 Sisters Market website to learn more about the family, the farm and the market.