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Ferreting Out a Fortune

From selling ferret pet supplies to website redesign, these entrepreneurs have built an online empire.

Neeps Inc. & Solid Cactus
Description: Pet supply websites, including AnimalCages.com and TheFerretStore.com; website development and internet marketing group
Founders: Joe Palko, 33, & Scott Sanfilippo, 34
Location: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Projected 2005 Sales: $7 million

Pet Sanctuary: Scott Sanfilippo and Joe Palko became ferret owners in 1994--and soon discovered few pet stores carry ferret food or toys. While ferret supply manufacturers exist, retail stores are reluctant to devote any shelf space to such a small niche market. From their home, the friends decided to start a website, TheFerretStore.com, to serve ferret owners like themselves. Sanfilippo, an ISP sales engineer at the time, and Palko, a UPS manager, spent nights working on their venture until devoting themselves solely to their business in 1999. Today, they offer over 1,500 unique ferret products. Recently, Sanfilippo was thrilled to see another order from their first customer ever: "I found that to be a testament to our company."

Under Development: In 1999, when the partners were ready to expand their company, Neeps, beyond ferrets, Yahoo! Merchant Solutions enabled them to create ActiveK9.com, AnimalCages.com, CritterStore.com, PetCareCentral.com, RabbitCentral.com and TheKittyStore.com. It also led them to a group of Kyrgyzstan-based recent college graduates who had responded to TheFerretStore.com's website redesign bid. Though he and Sanfilippo opted to use another developer, Palko developed a strong friendship with the young men. When the partners spun off their website development and internet marketing group to create Solid Cactus in 2000, Palko successfully immigrated two of the Kyrgyzstanis to the U.S. to work for them. Palko and Sanfilippo have since brought over two more Kyrgyzstanis and one Indian, and Solid Cactus has already created 1,700 websites for clients such as the Kennedy Space Center and the National Wildlife Association.

Single-Minded Approach: Today, Neeps continues to develop the specialty market with more supplies sold online for small and popular pets (three of the online stores also have print catalogs), while Solid Cactus creates and maintains websites for clients. Solid Cactus and Neeps are separate companies that share one philosophy. Says Palko, "It's about servicing our existing customers and making sure we did everything we possibly could."

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