Vacation wasn’t enough to pull Derek Beary away from work.
Beary, who has special needs, makes dog treats for a new company called Wigglewow.
“It’s a job I actually look forward to,” said Beary, 19. “I have a positive boss who’s a Christian.”
That boss is Mark Pfeifer, a Southeast Christian Church member who founded Wigglewow to provide jobs for adults with special needs and their families.
Wigglewow manufactures all-natural dog treats without any preservatives, artificial flavors or coloring.
“It started about five and a half years ago when I was talking to my brother, who lived in the Philippines at the time,” Pfeifer said. “He made the comment that he couldn’t remember how many times he couldn’t go to sleep. He said, ‘You can’t relate because you don’t have a son with severe autism. I’m haunted by the thought of who’s going to take care of my son when I die. I want you to do something about it. I want you to start a business to provide short- and long-term opportunities for folks with special needs.’”
That’s a tall task for anyone, but Pfeifer couldn’t shake that conversation despite having a stable job and a comfortable living.
When Pfeifer talked to his wife Kathy about it, she encouraged him to do a startup in something dog-related.
Shortly after that, Pfeifer noticed that the pet industry was experiencing dramatic growth.
“I felt like God took a 6-by-6 and hit me on the side of the head and said, ‘Listen to your bride and do something in the pet industry,’” Pfeifer added.
When parents find out their young one has a disability, a dual-income household often dwindles to a single-income home so that mom or dad can take care of their child’s needs.
Pfeifer said that changes only slightly after the child enrolls in school.
“When the child is able to go to school, it gives that parent an opportunity to go back to work, but their options are still limited,” Pfeifer said.
After the child is old enough to work, finding employment is difficult.
“People don’t realize when the individual turns 21, the government doesn’t provide any more support,” Pfeifer added. “That population graduates from school. Now you have a full-grown man or woman who is a full-time responsibility for the mom and dad again because they’re at home during the day. That’s where Wigglewow comes in.”
Wigglewow has hired three “epic chefs” so far—Derek, Dante and Andrew—but is in the process of hiring more. Wigglewow also hires a parent to work with their child.
“We start $1.25 more than the Kentucky minimum wage,” Pfeifer said. “Our epic chefs make $8.50. Our parents make $12. That’s a total of $50,000 a year together if they’re working full time.”
Wigglewow’s pay scale is an anomaly because the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to pay disabled workers according to their abilities, with no bottom limit to the wage. Many companies pay well below minimum wage, sometimes as little as $1 an hour.
But the biggest hurdle for those who are capable of employment is finding employment.
“Our first hired employee, Dante, was turned down for five years by every job he applied for,” Pfeifer said. “His first day here he made over 200 dog treats.”
Wigglewow has been up and running since August and is now FDA approved in Kentucky and Tennessee.
For more information, contact Pfeifer at (502) 558-5100 or visit www.wigglewow.com.