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Web business gets food into dorms

(April 23, 2010)—While a freshman at the University of Kentucky, Chris Sammons found it was a hassle to get to a grocery store for the comfort food that college students want for their dorm rooms - peanut butter and jelly, snacks and soda.

He didn't have a car, and the nearest store was a few miles away. That meant bumming a ride with a friend who would have to wait around while he shopped.

The university did have a convenience store, but selection was limited and the items were pricey.

It is a problem that the 22-year-old Dublin resident has set out to solve.

He has created Food2Dorm, an online shopping website in which students and their families can order from a list of 3,000 items. The items are packaged, and students should get them within three days.

Operating out of an office in the "green integrator" portion of the Dublin Entrepreneurial Center, the company can serve students throughout the United States.

Sammons buys most of the items from wholesalers and stores them in a 1,500-square-foot warehouse he is renting in Plain City.

The prices are similar to what shoppers find in most grocery stores. The website lists a 9-ounce bag of Baked Lays potato chips, for example, for $3.92.

In the month that the website has been up, Sammons and his three employees have shipped about 100 orders to 40 schools. Orders have come from as far as California.

His goal is to work with parents and students during the summer to refine the company's offerings and then make a big marketing push as students head off to school this fall. He also wants to broaden the offerings to include textbooks, collegiate apparel and items students need for dorm rooms.

"Our goal is to be the kind of Amazon.com for college students," he said.

Sammons was a marketing major at Kentucky. He spent a year working for Dublin-based wholesale drug distributor Cardinal Health in Chicago before starting his venture.

So far, he has poured about $15,000, much of it from his savings, into the company, and he is beginning to talk to investors about financing.

Roger Geiger, executive director of the Ohio chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said Sammons is typical of many people who start their own business.

"Somebody has a personal need and can't find it fulfilled elsewhere," he said.

In this case, Sammons is counting on college students busy with school, work, activities or hanging out with friends who would rather go online to buy popcorn and Easy Mac instead of going to the store.

"The last thing I wanted to do was go grocery shopping," he said.

The site is also a plus for parents and relatives who want to send care packages to their students in school.

That includes Mary Frey, a Sandusky resident who has two nephews enrolled at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea near Cleveland.

Frey sent her nephews a package of food using Food2Dorm after coming across the site on Google. She said she liked the convenience of the site and the fact that it allowed her to send the food to her nephews, who were too busy studying for finals to worry about getting groceries.

"I think it's a great idea. It was easy to use, and the prices were reasonable," Frey said. "I just sent some college junk food for finals week as a way of letting them know that someone was thinking of them."

She sent cookies, muffins, juice and, yes, ramen noodles.

"I mean, how could you go wrong with 18-year-olds and food? I'd probably do it again the next time they have finals."

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