By the end of the year, Chewy will double what had been its early estimate of 600 workers for the company’s new fulfillment center near Dayton International Airport.
The popular online pet goods company has seen skyrocketing sales nationwide — and Dayton finds itself providing the sweet spot for Chewy and other new companies near the airport, which need to quickly move goods across the United States.
The company expect to have around 1,200 workers before the start of the year at its 700,000-square-foot distribution center just south of Lightner Road adjacent to airport property, minutes from the interchange of two major interstates, I-70 and I-75.
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“We had anticipated hiring about 600, but we’re over 1,000” employees, said Gregg Walsh, vice president of fulfillment center operations for Chewy, which is based in the Fort Lauderdale area of south Florida. “We’ll be hiring 200 more by the end of the year.”
The new workers are needed to support the growth of the business and its online business. The new Dayton facility supports shipping in the Northeast as well as the Midwest, Walsh said. “The growth character of this site has been great,” he said.
In April 2017, PetSmart bought Chewy, which was becoming an online sales powerhouse, for $3.35 billion, at the time the largest e-commerce acquisition ever.
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Though industry analysts were initially skeptical, the deal appears to have more than worked out, with the Wall Street Journal this month declaring the acquisition “one of the most successful private equity turnarounds in history.”
The “secret sauce” to the Chewy.com saga? For starters, the company refers to its customers not as “pet owners” but “pet parents.”
“If a customer has to call customer service, they’re talking to a person within six seconds,” Walsh said in a recent interview at the Lightner Road center. “There’s no menu; there’s no ‘press this for that.’ You talk to a person right away.”
Walsh said the company teaches workers to learn about customers’ pets and to build a relationship with them.
“On their pet’s birthday, we’ll send a gift,” Walsh said. “Fun stuff like that. That really builds that connection.”
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But the company is about more than good vibes. The Chewy fulfillment network gets goods to customers quickly, in most cases within two days, he said.
“They don’t have to go to the store to get a 40-pound bag of dog food, cat litter, all that heavy stuff,” Walsh said. “It can just come right to their doorstep.”
The Dayton warehouse covers 692,000 square feet, with a ceiling offering 40 feet of clearance.
Dayton fits well within Chewy’s existing network, which includes distribution centers in Indiana and Pennsylvania. In March, a Charlotte, N.C. fulfillment center will open.
“We’re finding those spots where we can continue to build out our network and improve that service level,” Walsh said.
Workforce is a concern for every company in the Miami Valley, but Walsh said Chewy did its due diligence, speaking with other local distribution companies about whether they were able to find the workers they need.
“We’ve been really happy with the market,” he said. A visitor at the center Thursday could see applicants for jobs visiting the site.
Chewy is hardly alone in the neighborhood. Northpoint Development has built five large warehouse buildings near the airport in the four years.
Its first building opened with Spectrum Brands in early 2017 in a 570,000 square-foot center. A second Northpoint building is home to Alpla, an international manufacturer of plastic packaging. Crocs and Purina also are located in Northpoint buildings.
Procter & Gamble and its giant distribution center is also nearby in Union.
By March this year, city officials said development around the airport in those five buildings employed around 2,200 people worked, representing nearly $93 million in capital investment.
What’s the potential at the new Dayton-area Chewy site? Said Walsh, “I couldn’t even tell you.”
The new center offers room to expand with its existing footprint. “We’re going to keep growing and keep supporting our customers.”
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