THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Monday, October 24, 1994 TAG: 9410210603 SECTION: BUSINESS WEEKLY PAGE: 6 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY KAY V. FORREST, SPECIAL TO BUSINESS WEEKLY DATELINE: HAMPTON LENGTH: Medium: 82 lines
Erma Carter wanted something to keep her busy when she retired as a logistics engineer for A6 Intruder bombers.
Not long after leaving the Navy in Norfolk a year ago, Carter took her savings and launched AGS Marketing.
Now she ranks as a Hampton cookie mogul.
``I just kind of fell into this,'' she said.
What she fell into was the marketing and distribution of James Brown Cookeez. Yes, that's the Godfather of soul, singer James Brown.
How it all happened began a long way from a flight deck, or a cookie jar, although it shows the importance of friends.
In Carter's case, a friend put her in contact with Newport News native Linda Carr-Richardson of Marietta, Ga., who needed help marketing a new brand of cookie named after the soul singer.
Carter added to her own savings an advance from Carr-Richardson's company, TLCeez World, Inc. With $100,000 in hand for AGS Marketing, Carter orchestrated the research that led to the redesign of the cookie and its package.
The cookies originally came as a three-inch wafer in silver wrap sold mainly in gift baskets in gourmet stores and airport gift shops.
Carter, the AGS general manager, found a bite-sized cookie in five-ounce bags could reach a broader market.
She credited Pat Scott, vice president of sales, with much of the sales success.
Scott, who joined Carter at the beginning, had 14 years' experience in sales and marketing at Phillip Morris Corp. and the National Education Corp. (formerly Kee Business College).
AGS markets mostly through distributors. The Hampton company runs ads in trade magazines and newspapers, and promotes the cookies on national radio and television shows such as the Today Show and the Arsenio Hall Show.
Scott also calls corporate headquarters of chain stores, urging them to display the brand. She has contacted music and video stores, military commissaries and other retail outlets.
``We just go out and knock on doors,'' Carter said. ``We go out and look for customers. We go to festivals and put out our banner and display our cookies.''
Encouraged by the first account, AGS in August relocated from Carter's home to an office in downtown Hampton.
``We're so busy trying to get James Brown Cookeez distributed from coast to coast and internationally, it takes up most of our time,'' Carter said. ``Since it's so new and we're so new, that is our primary focus right now, but we're not turning down anything.''
AGS is licensed to market food products and Carter hopes to put a bottled water account in the same stores as the cookies.
The cookies come in chocolate, French vanilla, banana peanut butter and coconut flavors. Coming soon are sweet potato and watermelon.
Two new sizes will be introduced in early 1995, said Carter. A two-ounce package with two cookies will be available for vending machines, and a 12-ounce fold-down bag will be added to the grocery store and gourmet market line.
Currently, the cookies are distributed in six states and Washington. Carter estimated 60,000 to 70,000 cases have been distributed this year.
Carr-Richardson started TLCeez World in 1992 as a cookie distributor and asked her friend, James Brown, to endorse the product, Carter said.
Brown agreed, but set a condition: Donate one percent of the revenue to an anti-violence and crime prevention fund.
Donations are intended for grass-roots programs that may not get funds for violence and crime prevention from other sources.
Although Brown has been on the wrong side of the law in the past, the rhythm and blues singer has said his new life makes him a strong role model.
Brown intends to promote the anti-violence and crime prevention message on his tours, and give out free cookies at his appearances.
``We're going to go world-wide,'' Scott said. ILLUSTRATION: RICHARD DUNSTON/Staff
From left, general manager Erma Carter and vice president of sales
Patricia Scott show off their cookies endorsed by James Brown.