Working like a dog: Richmond startup shows off its tricks

bullystick-copyMan’s best friend is a loyal and lucrative customer for a Richmond startup.

Best Bully’s has quickly grown as a web-only retailer of organic dog treats. The company sells more than $1 million a year in products (and less than $5 million) and will expand soon from 2,500 square feet to 8,500 square feet on Marshall Street near VCU.

The secret: tasty treats and a website that draws in customers through a blog, Twitter feeds, contests and other search optimizations. “Customers look to the blog for new product releases and to see what’s we’re doing today,” said Avrum Elmakis, who started the business in 2007 with his wife.

The company has 10,000 repeat customers. Revenue for the first quarter is up 40 percent from the fourth quarter of 2008, Elmakis said.

Elmakis and his wife, Lauren, started the company with its Bully Sticks brand of chews. Because the company has little overhead, it can sell the dog treats at about half the price as similar products at pet stores, Elmakis said. A bag of 25 Bully Sticks costs between $20 and $50, depending on the flavor.

This is the couple’s first business.  “I was watching my wife and what she was spending on all natural treats and chews – several hundred dollars a month,” Elmakis said. “I started to think about it: There had to be a better way to do it and to bring it to a lot more people at affordable prices.”

That was in late 2006. In 2007, Elmakis started the company while working full time for CAA Financial, leasing and financing equipment. Before that he was in medical and pharmaceutical sales.

Elmakis left CAA in February 2008. “That’s the power of the Internet. And one segment of the economy that’s outperforming is home garden and pets. People are still spending money on pets, and it’s a growing segment.”

There is evidence to back up his claim. A pet trade group estimates the size of the pet supplies market at $45 billion. Retailer PetSmart saw sales grow 8.5 percent last year and 2.3 percent in the first quarter of this year.

Best Bully Sticks operates out of a warehouse on Marshall Street. The company has three employees who help manage the orders, and Elmakis is thinking about hiring another in the next quarter or two. The company has no debt, no lines of credit and no outside investors.

One of the challenges, Avrum said, is trying to grow at the right pace. “We need to figure out when to hire another person and how many new products to bring on.”

In addition to the Bully Stick brand, which is manufactured in Brazil, the site offers a host of other dog-related food and items.

Avrum, 29, and Lauren met at James Madison University and moved together to Richmond. They test all their new products on Sushi and Espy, their two pugs.

Aaron Kremer is the BizSense editor. Please send story tips to [email protected]

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3 Comments on "Working like a dog: Richmond startup shows off its tricks"

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Henry Hutchinson
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I’ve ordered these sticks and my dogs can’t get enough of them. I’ve noticed, in the past few months, that Best Bully Sticks has been receiving increased national acclaim. I noticed that Jason Calacanis sent out a tweet on Twitter expressing his dogs love for the sticks.

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[…] Elmakis and his wife started Bully Sticks in 2007. Last year, when BizSense first wrote about the company, Bully Sticks had three employees and one main […]

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