Online pet retailer eyes growth |

Online pet retailer eyes growth

John Seelmeyer

Three years ago, Justin Hertz thought he needed a student from the University of Nevada, Reno, to help run his online pet products business,

It turns out he hired the new company’s new owner as well and she’s taking Reno-based in some new directions.

Genna Tonneslan, the 24-year-old who’s taken the reins of MuttMart, is moving the company both into wholesale distribution as well as brick-and-mortar retailing.

When Hertz moved the company to Reno from California in 2005, was positioned as a low-cost provider of pet supplies ranging from rawhide chews to dog beds, selling to consumers through its own Web site as well as eBay.

Sales growth was strong, and Hertz went looking for an administrative assistant.

He hired Tonneslan, a UNR student who was majoring in speech pathology, and she began learning the ropes quickly.

So quickly, in fact, that she soon began talking with Hertz about taking a bigger role in the company first in a kidding manner, then more seriously.

Entrepreneurial companies were nothing new to Tonneslan.

She launched her first venture cleaning stalls for horse owners near her childhood home in Washington State at age 12. Within two weeks, the youngster had more than a dozen customers.

While his administrative assistant was blossoming at, Hertz was beginning to think about leaving.

“I was ready to move on,” he says. “The company needed some new energy, and Genna had that enthusiasm.”

The sale of the private company closed in April. Hertz still comes around three days a week as a consultant he’s also selling real estate with Chase International but is very much Tonneslan’s show these days.

She launched a wholesale division, KRBC Pet Products, that’s targeting sales to independent pet retailers in the West and elsewhere.

At the same time, Tonneslan has opened the company’s bare-bones warehouse at 4890 Aircenter Circle on a couple of recent Saturdays for direct-to-public sales.

Marketing for the retail effort has been modest a few balloons and signs on poster boards, an assignment for Hertz to stand on street corners and wave a sign.

Still, Tonneslan says response has been strong enough that the company is likely to continue its Saturday open houses. She also is encouraging Reno-area customers to order online and pick up their orders in person to save on their shipping costs.

Even with the company’s wider strategy, it remains a modest venture.

Tonneslan does much of the work herself, aided by a part-time employee and Hertz’ consulting.

That doesn’t keep her from thinking big.

“We’re all in this together,” says Tonneslan. “We’re the team that is turning MuttMart into something great.”