Sloan Williams is living proof that those with the right combination of perseverance and work ethic can make their dreams come true. Proprietor of S&S Outdoors in Cleveland, North Carolina, she has transformed a lifelong passion for the outdoors, hunting and dogs into a thriving full-time training and boarding business that shows no signs of slowing down.
Her journey began more than two decades ago. Williams was just three years old when she first joined her father afield. “He headed into the woods loaded down with a blanket, snacks, me and his hunting gear,” she recalls. “He was afraid I’d get cold and that would be the end of my hunting career, but nothing could have been further from the truth.”
Williams loved the experience, which set the stage for countless future adventures. Over the years, she and her younger sister, Samantha, hunted everything from ducks and pheasants to squirrels and whitetails with their father—and Sloan remains a diehard hunter to this day.
Dogs were another big part of Williams’ childhood. “My family always had dogs around, and I loved them,” she says. “My interest in training began when my dad got ‘Sharkey,’ a yellow Lab puppy, for duck hunting. Once she was trained, he ran her in a few Hunting Retriever Club events and pretty soon I wanted my own dog to work with.”
Beginning Of A Business
When the family made a road trip to Kansas to have Sharkey bred, Sloan kept a female puppy from the resulting litter and appropriately named her Kansas.
“I did all the startup training before Kansas turned six months,” she recalls. “Then we took her to the same trainer who worked with Sharkey—Charlie Jurney at Beaverdam Kennels. I was there every day after school working with her, and before long, I was working for Charlie, helping him train other dogs.”
Prior to her sophomore year in high school, Williams made the decision to be home-schooled—which would allow her more time for working with dogs. “I could get my schoolwork done by 11 a.m. and work full time at Beaverdam,” she says.
Samantha Williams shared the same interest in dogs, and in 2011, the sisters founded S&S Outdoors. “We decided to break out on our own” Sloan recalls. “My sister is no longer a part of the business, but my parents are a big help with it.”
From humble beginnings, S&S Outdoors grew to offer a variety of training services. “We train obedience, retrieving, upland, blood tracking and shed hunting,” says Williams, who, as sole proprietor, oversees the training and care of canines from across the Southeast, and beyond. “Most of our customers come from the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia. But as we’ve grown it’s branched out; we’ve had dogs from other areas, including Texas and Alabama.”
Williams says her favorite part of the profession is being able to blend her life’s passion into an occupation. “I’m an avid hunter and love to do anything outdoors,” she says. “And I’ve always loved dogs. Combining these three interests into a career is amazing.”
Also satisfying, she says, is making a breakthrough with a dog that’s having trouble learning. “Sometimes you get to the point in training where the dog hits a wall and is having trouble understanding what you want them to do,” she says. “Then a light switch clicks and they get it. I love that part of the process.”
Not surprisingly, Williams enthusiastically encourages other young people—particularly girls—to follow similar paths. “I highly recommend trying it,” she smiles. “If you do, you’ll probably fall in love with it.”
She also notes that the hunting and dog training industries are more welcoming than ever. “When I first got into training, there was a little jealousy and resistance from some of the older men who didn’t care much for me doing it,” she recalls. “But as more women have gotten involved and we’ve proven ourselves, such attitudes have largely become a thing of the past.”
Looking forward, Williams has no plans on putting on the brakes anytime soon. “I’ve been very impressed with the growth since 2011, and the last two years have been almost busier than I can handle,” she says. “I would love to see S&S Outdoors continue to grow and be able to train dogs around the world.”
While Williams wouldn’t mind finding a protégée to someday take the reins at S&S Outdoors, she doubts she’ll ever totally let go of her dream. “Eventually, I’d like to find someone who wants to get into the business, take them under my wing and teach them so they can eventually take over,” she says. “Although, I enjoy this so much, I’ll probably continue doing it as long as I can.”