Lois and Bob Gamerman on Growing a Small Business


What started as a humble ice cream business for Lois and Bob Gamerman has blossomed into one of the mid-Atlantic region’s premier specialty food distributors.

(Courtesy of Lois and Bob Gamerman)

The Gamermans are the co-founders of Soft Stuff Distributors, which services businesses and universities in Maryland; Virginia; Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

Lois Gamerman was recently selected as Maryland’s Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration, giving their venture an even wider audience. But no matter how big the business gets, it’s still a family affair for the Glenelg couple, who describe themselves as “couplepreneurs.”

“We started out of the sunroom of our house when we lived in Colonial Village in Baltimore,” Lois Gamerman said. “Bob and I both have the same vision and goals, so it’s rewarding to be able to work with your best friend.”

Lois Gamerman, 64, and Bob Gamerman, 61, were both raised Jewish in Northwest Baltimore, though they attended different high schools. The couple would not meet until they both attended the Restaurant Association of Maryland’s food show in 1988. One of Bob Gamerman’s many businesses was a cookie and ice cream business, while Lois Gamerman was working for the Taylor Company, which distributes freezers and cooling equipment for kitchens. The Taylor Company also manufactures self-serve frozen yogurt machines, which Bob Gamerman was interested in.

“He wanted one of the machines. He got me, and then got the machine later,” Lois Gamerman quipped.

Soft Stuff was founded on Aug. 1, 1989, a date that Lois Gamerman still remembers in detail. In the 33 years since, the business has grown exponentially and is now headquartered in Jessup.

Lois and Bob Gamerman grew their ice cream business by incorporating things that many take for granted today but were innovative back then, such as adding mix-ins like M&Ms and crushed Oreos to their stock. They soon started adding other foods to their offerings, such as cheesecakes, and continued to grow from there.

A cursory look at the company’s website shows the breadth of the food they sell in 2023 — their Spring 2023 catalogue runs the gamut from Serrano ham to organic smoothies. Of course, ice cream is still featured.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Lois and Bob Gamerman as business owners, though. The COVID-19 pandemic put a significant dent in their profits, affecting approximately 85% of their business. They quickly had to figure out how to pivot to survive the pandemic.

“We lost everything,” Bob Gamerman recalled. “But the hardest part was managing the explosive growth over the last year and a half as we tried to climb out of that hole. We’re about 45% larger than we were in 2019, but it’s still difficult to maintain.”

Lois Gamerman said that their partnership helped them push through the losses caused by the pandemic.

“Because Bob and I shared the same vision and we’re the same kind of people, failure was never an option,” she explained. “We had those conversations and worked together to figure out our paths to world domination.”

Lois Gamerman credits her recognition as Maryland Small Business Person of the Year to Deborah Goldberg, the senior vice president of SBA Lending. Goldberg nominated her and is a longtime friend of the couple. “She’s been an amazing advocate and champion for us,” Lois Gamerman noted.

The couple were recently invited to Washington, D.C., to celebrate the award and gather with the Small Business People of the Year from other states, where they met President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

“It’s an honor in all kinds of ways, but it doesn’t change anything about who we are and what we do,” Bob Gamerman said. “But it showed us we weren’t as small as we thought we were. It felt natural to be there; it wasn’t intimidating.”

While Lois and Bob Gamerman do not belong to any area synagogues, they are frequent participants in Chabad events and are involved in supporting local Chabad houses in Columbia, Clarksville and Ellicott City.

“We’re very culturally connected to our Judaism,” Lois Gamerman said. “It pulses through our veins, and it’s important to us to be able to show the greater community how we support our local community in anything they need to do. Anytime there’s an opportunity to help support any organization, we try to participate.”

Looking toward the future, the Gamermans are hoping to continue expanding Soft Stuff. They also would like to host more social gatherings, something that they did frequently at their home until the pandemic put a damper on things.

If there’s one thing that Lois Gamerman wants people to take away from her receiving such a high honor, it’s that anyone can make a change.

“Everyone has an opportunity to make a difference, even at the lowest level,” she said. “You can either go in the corner, or get up and make stuff happen. And make sure to acknowledge not only the bad, but the good in the world.”

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