The pandemic’s lockdowns and stay-at-home orders forced many pet owners to purchase their food, supplies and toys with a mouse click. A year later, even as the country has reopened, that change in consumer behavior has stuck. Just ask online retailer Hearty Pet, which was flooded with digital orders early in the pandemic last spring. “When COVID hit … we saw a 1,000% increase in our sales volume — it was insane,” said Austin Colby, chief technology officer at Hearty Pet, based in Hagerstown, Maryland. “We were doing everything that we could to support it, but there were days where we would even have to shut our online store down just to make sure we can get the packages out and support our customers.” The growing demand, Colby said, prompted Hearty Pet to look into expanding its footprint. Like many companies throughout the pandemic, Hearty Pet chose to plant its flag in the booming warehousing hub that is Northern Nevada — in early May, the business moved into a 27,000-square-foot fulfillment center at 900 Southern Way in Sparks. Described as a family-owned company carrying “premium and super premium products designed to keep your pet in peak health,” Hearty Pet also has a 44,000-square-foot warehouse and retail store in Maryland.
Hearty Pet’s Austin Colby, left, Brittany Colby and Ryan Chapin pose in front of the company’s retail store in Hagerstown, Maryland.
“I think it’s everybody’s natural desire to have their food within two business days, per the Amazon and the Chewy model,” Colby said. “We have a lot of folks that love buying from us, but they didn’t like the fact that if they shipped it from the East Coast facility here, it was taking five to six days to get to them. “So, in order to serve our customers better, it was a strategic move for us. Sparks seemed like a nice, centralized location.” Currently, Hearty Pet staffs five employees in Sparks. Colby anticipates the company will create at least 25 total jobs in the coming years. He said the company is working with Express Employment Professionals, a Reno-based staffing agency, to help determine the wages it will offer. “I think that facility is going to grow rather quickly,” Colby said. “It gives us the opportunity to get our feet wet and make sure that we have everything down. And then I would almost imagine that the volume is going to eventually supersede our East Coast operations, just because of the demand in California and the western states.” Brittany Colby, CEO of Hearty Pet, said many of the company’s customers across the U.S. set up automated online orders during the pandemic. “They found the ease of that and never canceled them,” she noted. “So, we’re definitely seeing much larger online numbers.” She added that the manufacturers and brands Hearty Pet partners with are “really excited” about the company’s expansion to Sparks. The move comes a little more than a year after the Hearty Pet’s Maryland facility was damaged in a fire last April. The blaze didn’t cause any injuries, but it damaged nearly all of the company’s products. “It was a major step back for us,” Austin Colby said. “In the middle of this whole pandemic, we kind of had to restart the whole business again.” Two days later, though, Hearty Pet was back up in running and shipping products out of a different manufacturing facility it secured in Hagerstown. The company has been humming along ever since. “That took a substantial amount of time to rebuild and get the volume back and a lot of the product back in,” Colby said. “But it was cool to start seeing packages flowing out the door rather quickly.”