Pamela's barkery: Snacks go big time
When Pamela Peterson started making dog treats in her kitchen three and a half years ago, she was simply trying to find a way for her beloved Labrador, Sam, to get his chocolate chip cookie fix without the chocolate. Now she's preparing to begin a franchise program to bring human grade dog food and treats to hungry pups– and their caretakers– across the country.
"There's been huge demand," says Peterson, citing an increase in sales of the dog food from 2,000 to 20,000 pounds per month– a 1,000 percent jump– since she opened for retail business in February 2002.
Not bad, especially considering the food doesn't come cheap. A 33-pound bag– the largest size offered by her company, Sammy Snacks– runs about $37. By contrast, a 40-pound bag of Iams is around $24 at PetSmart and similar stores– about half as expensive pound for pound.
But Peterson, 34, says the food is well worth it– and she says happy customers have been the force behind the business' national growth– which includes the recent move and expansion to its current location on Garrett Street in the Gleason's Hardware building.
"We rely on word of mouth," she explains, citing tourists who stop by the store, buy the treats and then begin ordering the products online at sammysnacks.com.
"They see what a difference it makes in their own animals," she says.
While the food is manufactured at a plant in Texas– the only such facility, says Peterson, willing to use only human grade ingredients– the treats are still made in-house.
And Peterson says that's one of the things of which she's proudest.
Through a program she developed with Virginia Neurocare, Peterson hires individuals with brain injuries to do the baking.
One of those employees, Peterson says, has been with her for more than two years and recently was promoted from the kitchen to sales.
"A lot of people told me I'd never make it this far," says Jon Mootz, who suffered a brain injury at age four, when he jumped from a dresser onto a towel rack he was using as a play sword. Now 21, Mootz lives in an apartment off the Downtown Mall and works full time for Peterson.
"She's like a second mother to me," he says. "She's helped me in so many ways."
Peterson, who also looks for ways to help the animals, sponsors the "Cell Dogs" program with the Fluvanna SPCA in which inmates at the Fluvanna Correctional Institute take in and train a shelter animal. In addition, she helps sponsor Service Dogs of Virginia, which trains animals for use by disabled individuals.
"I want to make a difference in the community," she says, "and be a part of the community."
Now that's loyalty even Fido could be proud of.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
Sammy Snacks employee Jon Mootz, who suffered a brain injury as a preschooler, says Peterson is like "a second mother."
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO