Soft Stuff savors its success in Howard County

03/18/2024| Amanda Winters

Soft Stuff savors its success in Howard County

03/18/2024 | Amanda Winters

From ice cream provider to specialty frozen food distributor, plenty has changed for Jessup’s Soft Stuff  over the last 35 years.

In 1990, shortly after starting their humble soft serve distribution company, Bob and Lois Gamerman decided to attend a National Restaurant Association event in Chicago. It was there that they understood the power of a major trade show and the benefits it could bring their business.

“Our customers are always looking for something better and something unique,” said Bob. “Once you go and see what opportunities are out there, it is easier to become acquainted with new products. We’re a pretty curious group of people and we’re always looking at something new.”

Bob and Lois Gamerman

Seeking out new ideas and products has helped the company’s portfolio blossom and allowed the business to expand in Maryland over the years. Now known as the premiere frozen food distributor, Soft Stuff stocks products for more than 60 companies around the world—including Sodexo, which recently named Soft Stuff its North American Partner of the Year.

From breads to hors d'oeuvres to soups, Soft Stuff keeps a little bit of everything on hand for its customers. To help keep up with demand, the business recently purchased a 72,000 square-foot facility with double freezer capacity, which provides a significant amount of room to continue serving hospitality businesses throughout the Mid Atlantic. The company employs approximately 50 workers in Maryland.

Moving forward, the company is looking to purchase more property in Central Maryland where it can expand its capabilities and begin operating a cold storage facility. It also has plans to focus more on workforce training, as well as automation and other advanced technologies, to elevate its competitiveness.

“We were ready to grow before the pandemic, and now we have recovered to a point where we’re having conversations about geographical expansions and new segments of products that we didn’t have before,” said Bob.

Outside of Maryland, Soft Stuff believes it can replicate its business model in other major markets throughout the U.S. The company is also interested in working with global partners and importing products from overseas, particularly for the kosher market.

“There are opportunities for expansions and joint ventures that can provide quick growth in other markets,” said Bob. “We would love to have 50 ‘Soft Stuff’ sites across the country in five years.”

Last year, Lois was recognized twice by the Small Business Administration – once at the state level , and once on the national scale  – as Small Business Person of the Year. She credits hard work, and a nomination from their partners at Fulton Bank, for the awards.

“Not everyone was able to survive the pandemic. We did, and we are grateful every day,” said Lois. “We didn’t do this alone. We have an amazing team of people—our ‘stuffies’—and it's a collaborative effort to figure out how to get Soft Stuff to the next level.”

The Howard County company was able to pivot – or as they say “swivel” – when the pandemic hit in 2020. Many of the businesses that were forced to close made up Soft Stuff’s customer base, according to Lois. With help from government funding, as well as new selling tactics and partnerships, Soft Stuff was able to stay afloat.

“We made a lot of changes while sourcing tons of new products,” said Lois. “It’s evolution. Something is always coming along that makes you change and be adaptive. Sometimes it works…and we’re just happy that it worked for us.”

With business back to normal, the company continues to put one foot in front of the other, but its end goal remains the same.

“We’re looking to be the largest specialty food distributor in the country,” said Lois. “And we love Maryland – we can’t imagine ever leaving.”

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