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Business Observer Thursday, May 20, 2021 8 months ago

Keeping customers (and their pets) happy drives dogged entrepreneur

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Tricia Bolds builds business on passion, guts.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Entrepreneur: Tricia Bolds

Company: Despite being the daughter of business owners and entrepreneurs, Tricia Bolds wasn’t set on that path, at first, for a career. A Sarasota native, Bolds moved to Los Angeles in 1998 to chase modeling work. She had some success, too, yet the lure of running something on her own brought her back to Florida.

A lifelong dog owner, Bolds got into pet food and products in the mid 2000s — back when it was big but nothing like the $90 billion behemoth industry it is today. Her company, Gulf Coast Pet Supplies, got its start in 2007 when she sold Litter Quitters and Cat Genies of out of her garage. (The former is a cat toilet-training system.) Self-taught and determined, Bolds says she learned many key lessons as she went, growing rapidly through a series of ever-bigger storage units and warehouses.

Today Gulf Coast Pet Supplies has both a thriving ecommerce business and a retail store on McAshton Street in Sarasota, off McIntosh and Ashton. She recently expanded the storefront there, and now has three freezers to accommodate frozen raw food and treats for pets The company is on track to do $3.1 million in revenue in 2021, Bolds says, which would be up 34.8% over 2018.

Most of the revenue, around 90%, comes from Amazon and other ecommerce channels. Bolds, 45, says hiring good people — both for the retail store and a manager to help her move from working in the business to on the business — is a constant challenge. She currently has two full-time employees, and a web designer in Indiana. (Her husband Chris Bolds, a Sarasota County paramedic and firefighter, helps out in the store, too.)

Through all the growth, Bolds is proud that her mission remains the same as when she launched the company: to provide pet owners a go-to resource with a premium on find-a-way-to-yes customer service. “I work with the client and the pet until things are fixed,” Bolds says. “Anyone can sell a bag of food, it's truly caring about the customer and their pet that makes my store different.”

Best advice: “You reap what you sow,” says Bolds, who notes she’s normally up at 4:30 a.m., printing labels to get the day going. Bolds says the axiom “you get out of your business what you put into it” applies to her — even though she’s worked the past few years on cutting down (some) of the hours she puts in.

Mark Wemple. Tricia Bolds with Sarasota-based Gulf Coast Pet Supplies says her passion is helping her customers help their pets.

Best decision you’ve ever made with your business: Deciding to become an actual storefront and not only do ecommerce. The personable Bolds, raising a teenage son with her husband, says her passion is working with and helping customers. And that’s hard to do over a computer or a smartphone.     

“My main focus was always to educate, learn and advise people who have issues with their pets,” Bolds says. “One of the best parts of my job is helping my customers. When their pets are happy, so are they. It's what makes me want to come to work every single day.

Biggest mistake you've overcome:  “At one point,” says Bolds, “we grew too quickly.”

That problem hit the business in 2014 — when the company had peaked at $4.5 million in annual revenue. Bolds recalls back then she had four employees, “limited space, limited time and I felt as if I was constantly chasing employee errors or employee issues, more than concentrating on the business.”

She’s since gone from working more than 80 hours a week to a more manageable 50-60 hours. The business, with access to some 35,000 products, keeps it to 4,000 on its website and 800 on Amazon. “If the last year with this pandemic taught me anything, it’s that family is the most important thing to me, and working all the time wasn't healthy,” Bolds says. “I know I can grow the business when I’m ready, but currently I’m comfortable where I’m at.”

Up-at-night worry: Finding and keeping employees. “One of the things that keeps me awake at night,” she says, “is how much work is always here.” One of her employees has been with her for seven years. “He is my right hand here, very reliable, trustworthy and runs the store when I am not here,” Bolds says. “I need another one of him.”

Like in hospitality, Bolds has dealt with being ghosted — people she’s interviewed and hired who then just don’t show up for work. While her business isn’t really seasonal, the next few months, she believes, offers a slight reprieve to the worry. “During the summer, when the kids are out of school, is the best time for us,” Bolds says. “The kids want to work and make money.”  

 

 

The topsy-turvy life of an entrepreneur can be maddening — but also rewarding. Nine of the best in the region share their ups and downs in our annual Top Entrepreneurs issue. Click the links below to read more:

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