Sarasota native Tricia Bolds moved out west to pursue a modeling career when she turned 23 in 1998, an adventure that would take her from Los Angeles to the Bahamas.
But Bolds, who had modeled part-time since she was a toddler, knew she had to have a backup plan because so few models make it big — and even the ones who do usually only have a short time in the spotlight. So, Bolds spent the time between gigs and casting calls designing Web sites and working on html code.
A decade later Bolds' backup plan has become the starting point for her business, Gulf Coast Pet Supplies, which is on a two-year run that's counter to the recession. Indeed, with products from $8 portable dog water bottles to a Garmin GPS dog tracking system that costs $500, Gulf Coast Pet Supplies has grown revenues more than 300% since 2008, from $650,000 to a projected $3 million in 2010.
The company, through both its own Web site and third-party outlets such as eBay and Amazon, sells hard-to-find pet supplies and products. There are three employees, including Bolds.
“I can't imagine how things would be if the economy was actually good,” says Bolds, now 34. “Business has been so good, we almost can't handle all of it.”
Not surprisingly, then, the company is going through some startup growing pains. Bolds wants to hire at least one more person, possibly two, to handle Web projects, such as improving the company's search-engine optimization.
Bolds also hopes to buy an office/warehouse in Sarasota, so she can consolidate her two locations: Her home office and 1,200 square feet of nearby warehouse space.
Bolds spends a bulk of her time figuring out how she can add more products to the company's Web sites. She says the business has access to more than 6,000 products through its distributors, but only has 600 listed on its Web site. Says Bolds: “We can't get all of our products listed fast enough.”
Not that she doesn't try hard. Scott Stegemann, a sales executive with Cincinnati-based UTM Distributing, Gulf Coast Pet Supplies biggest distributor, says he speaks with Bolds up to six times a day. Bolds has gone from back of the line to one of Stegemann's largest accounts in the last 12 months.
“She spends way more time building her business than any other customer we have,” says Stegemann. “She's constantly looking for new items and new ideas.”
The $11 billion-dollar pet supply industry, in which industry analysts say the 50 largest companies account for 60% of the revenue, wouldn't appear to be fertile ground for an upstart with new ideas.
But Bolds has battle scars — literally — from working in tough fields. Besides modeling, Bolds participated in a pay-per-view boxing event, Perfect 10: Model Boxing, that aired in 2004.
Bolds was done with boxing after a few bouts. “I got hit pretty good,” she says about one fight. “I heard bells ringing.”
Still, Bolds lacked a business to channel her entrepreneurial energy when she decided to give up boxing and modeling. In 2005 she created a Web site for Coastal Chemical & Paper Supply, a Sarasota-based company her parents had co-owned since she was a young child.
Bolds decided to get into the retail Internet business fulltime after her parents sold Coastal Chemical. She started by selling a CatGenie, a litter-free cat box, and a Litter Kwitter.
The latter product, invented in Australia, does what it says: It's a three-step total cat toilet training kit, including instructions via DVD. It retails for $60. “It was one of the goofiest things I'd ever seen,” says Bolds.
Bolds turned goofy to gold. She became one of three U.S.-based distributors for Litter Kwitters by 2008. And that year, the company's first full year in business when it sold solely pet supplies, it reached $650,000 in revenues, says Bolds, primarily off Litter Kwitters and CatGenies.
“I was going though pallets of these things,” says Bolds. “I thought maybe I should focus on pet supplies instead of janitorial supplies.”
The decision paid off. The company reached $1.8 million in revenues in 2008 and it matched that number in 2010 by June.
Bolds now relishes her recession-era growth. She also appreciates that in pet supplies, she has found another passion to pursue.
“I always loved pets,” says Bolds. “It makes it easier to come to work.”