News

Sweet success

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

George Paulose wanted something for his large family to do, so he started importing cashews from India and marketing them from the garage of his Federal Way home.

Fifteen years later, the brood is the backbone of AMES International, a chocolate and nut manufacturer whose products are sold in a growing number of countries.

Paulose is president of the family-owned and operated company, now based in a 55,000 square-feet building in Fife’s industrial area. The plant is expected to nearly double in size by 2006 in order to keep up with the worldwide demand for the sweet products.

They’re marketed primarily under the brands of Emily's and Amy's, so-named for Palouse’s daughters. EcoSnax, Orchard Hills, Santa Cruz and Seven Seas are other brand names found across the U.S. on the shelves of, among others, grocery and drug store chains Safeway, Haggen's, Bartell’s and QFC, and duty-free shops in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Customers also include Universal Studios and Walt Disney in a far-flung market ranging from New York City to Singapore.

“My goal is to build a global company, but I want it to stay in Washington,” Paulose said, whose rule (“I can say it because I’m the boss”) is that the headquarters can’t be more than 10 miles from his house in Federal Way.

Business development takes him much farther from home and makes him a frequent flyer. In November, he was in his native India laying plans for “high-end” teas and coffees for AMES to import and sell in the U.S.

AMES is a long way from its start in 1987. Paulose, who moved from india to Ohio in 1971 and eventually came to Federal Way to work for Weyerhaeuser as an engineer, was being followed to the U.S. by relatives from his native country. His wife, Susie, who is from Michigan, suggested starting a company so everyone would have a job and be able to work together.

After a year of importing cashews (“the best ones are from India,” Paulose said) and starting to branch into chocolate products, AMES outgrew the garage and moved to a small office in Federal Way. Fife became the home base a year later.

“We started the company for ourselves, and all of us still live in Federal Way and we’re still working together. We all get along. It’s a major reason for our company’s success, Paulose said.

Amy Paulose, director of national marketing, said working with her dad and the rest of her relatives is fun but businesslike.

Business is so good. The privately owned company doesn't disclose exact figures, but it did several million dollars in sales in the past year alone, said spokeswoman Angela Staehle.

To meet product demand, AMES’ manufacturing plant runs 24 hours a day. The company’s year-round full-time workforce of 31 expands to about 70 during the peak production period of June through September.

The holidays are always busy. That’s true again this year, despite the rocky economy and partly because of it.

“Business is better when times are bad,” Amy Paulose said. “People will always buy food. They might not buy a car or some other expensive item, but they keep buying comfort food.”

In the spotless manufacturing facility where everyone wears a hairnet and the air constantly smells sweet, an unending line of 25-pound slabs of chocolate from a supplier are melted, nuts are dry-roasted and the various ingredients are blended together and packaged in state-of-the-art machinery. Different ratios of each variety of chocolate create the flavorful wrappings around fruit or nut centers.

More than 20,000 pounds of goodies is produced per day, with volume at its highest for big holiday orders. A million-plus pounds of chocolates and

more than a million pounds of nuts –– cashews, almonds, Macadamia, hazel and mixed –– are shipped annually.

“If it’s nuts, we have it,” said George Paulose.

In the company’s early days, Paulose stood in shopping malls handing out free samples to shoppers. “I wanted to know what people thought of our product,” he said.

Along the way, he learned “people will ask who you are. Your attitude must be that you have a good product.”

Other business lessons that Paulose can pass along for anyone planning to start a business: “Be entrepreneurs, but realize that it’s a big commitment. It’s not a piece of cake. The only way to succeed is through dedication and commitment. You have to be a stubborn ass, if you’ll pardon my word. And integrity is everything. When I was growing up, every day at the dinner table my parents would tell me that integrity is a person’s most important asset. That’s true for me today in business.”

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 925-5565 and editor@fedwaymirror.com

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