How We Did It: Sara Wilson and Warren Wilson, The Snack Factory
As told to Aviva Yael
Industry Leader: Food & Beverage
Three-Year Growth: 18,371.3%
If you've ever enjoyed munching on a bagel chip, you can thank Sara and Warren Wilson, co-founders of The Snack Factory. The Wilsons have built a $42 million business by regularly coming up with new snack versions of traditional foods. After bagel chips came pita chips and now, pretzel crisps. Sara Wilson explains how the couple went from county fairs and scooping ice cream to supplying some of America's largest retailers, including Sam's Club and Whole Foods.
Warren got his start selling funnel cakes based on his grandmother's recipe at the Allentown Fair in 1969. For 10 days in a row, he worked the griddles as customers lined up. He saw a business opportunity and paid his way through college with proceeds from the funnel cakes.
Five years later, Warren opened a store selling funnel cakes in the Paramus Park Mall in New Jersey. I was scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins next door to where Warren was selling his grandmother's funnel cakes. As soon as we started talking business, we never looked back.
We eventually hit on bagel chips, a concept we loved from the beginning. Flat, crunchy chips made from bagels -- it was a new idea, and people loved it. We built Bagel Chips through hard work, focusing on the product and getting it into the right stores in the right places. We sold the company to Nabisco in 1992.
A few years later, we sold the funnel cake company to J&J Snack Foods. Selling the Funnel Cake Factory was very difficult for us. It was a personal loss in some ways. It's where we started.
But we like to keep going. And we had long envisioned a thin but very crunchy pretzel that could be great for spreading and dipping. It took several years of research. These things don't come easy. As in our two previous businesses, we built Pretzel Crisps little by little and with great attention to detail and care.
We both have a "do" mentality. We didn't just daydream ideas; we figured out a way to make them happen. We are extremely hands-on owners. We work day and night. The upside is that we get twice as much done in a day as a single owner, and this is why we've been able to expand this business so quickly. We have two teenage children, and our whole family is involved.
One of our biggest challenges is constantly adjusting to the market. The supermarket industry is always consolidating and changing. We deal with some of the biggest companies in America. They change the dynamics of how we play the game, and sometimes it's difficult to adjust. We've had to let them take some ownership in flavor and package choices for new products.
One of our favorite ways to market our product is through in-store samplings, because that's where we interact with customers directly. We believe it's the product that catapults us. Sure, we do some marketing, but our success came before we did any marketing. The product itself makes people come back for more.
We're proud to have a line of products made in the USA, many of which are all natural, fat free, and contain no trans fats or cholesterol. We plan to expand to Asia and Europe with multitudes of flavors and products. Our goal is to grow and keep it personable and family oriented.