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Connie's Cookies to go international with a new company

WICHITA — For years, Connie Hamilton dreamed of doing something big with her Connie's Cookies.

She moved her business to Sweetbriar at 21st and Amidon. She doubled her space there. And she entered into a licensed agreement for two women to open a Connie's Cookie's in Kansas City, Kan.

But she still wanted bigger.

With customers like Tom Devlin and Gayla Carney, Hamilton has always known "I have resources I probably could have called upon."

"I just never felt confident enough to do that."

Instead, Arthur Kerr, chief executive of Kerr Enterprises in New York, came to her. And with his help Hamilton took what she calls a "big and scary" move to form Connie's Cookies International and take sales worldwide.

Kerr is in sales, marketing and supply chain management and represents several artisan products, such as gourmet popcorn, internationally in places like Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom.

"I was looking for a cookie line," Kerr says.

A contact he first met through Wichita's Dean & DeLuca mentioned Connie's Cookies.

"I was amazed at the quality," Kerr says.

First, he sampled Hamilton's assorted cookies. He was sold, in part because of the long shelf life of the cookies.

Then, he tried Hamilton's logo cookies, which feature corporate logos in edible paper and ink.

"He had never heard of such a thing," Hamilton says.

"One thing started to lead to another," Kerr says.

But Hamilton and her family and friends were skeptical.

"The girls in Kansas City said, 'Don't they have cookies in New York?' " Hamilton says.

"I said the same thing," she says. But Hamilton learned that "so many of these countries are just hungry for anything that's from the U.S."

Even once Hamilton was assured that Kerr was a good connection, she says, "I didn't understand a word he was saying."

Although she's learned a lot about doing business internationally, Hamilton says she still sometimes has to remind Kerr that she's new to this.

"Now I just tell him to talk Kansan if I don't understand something," she says.

Hamilton will add two 8-hour shifts completely dedicated to the national and international business, and she's looking to possibly expand her square footage at Sweetbriar.

"This is going to be launched in phases," Kerr says, ". . . so we can kind of grow into it."

Eventually, Hamilton says she'll probably have to use contract bakers around the country to help produce her cookies.

"We would like to do as much as we can for as long as we can," she says.

Hamilton particularly wants her longtime Kansas customers to know that "Connie's Cookies in Wichita is not going to change."

Until now, 15 percent of her business has been national. Hamilton expects that number to grow along with the international side.

However much it grows, it's a long way from when she started selling cookies out of her home in 1988.

It was in 1992 when Hamilton was laid off from her insurance management job that she figured she'd try and sell cookies full time.

"I got no positive response," Hamilton says. "I was told over and over again I'd never make it."

Her latest move is similarly daunting.

"It's always scary to do something unknown," Hamilton says. "But you're not going to get anywhere in life if you just keep doing what's safe. You have to take those risks to move forward."

So is there anything she'd want to say to those naysayers today?

"Yeah," Hamilton says, "but you probably can't print it."