August 4, 2008
Who’s Who in NEPA: Solid Cactus
Scotts Santitippo and Joe Palko are two locally-grown entrepreneurs who saw the future and turned their ideas into Solid Cactus, a Shavertown-based commercial Web site development company which has been nationally recognized for its quality work and amazing growth. Scott and Joe saw it right away; there just wasn't much they could do about it.
"It" of course was the promise of doing actual business on the Internet. Scott's first job out of college was in tech support with Epix Internet Services. He and Joe had pet ferrets and had trouble finding the right food and furnishings for their furry friends.
"I thought, 'hey, maybe we could do this Internet sales thing with ferret supplies,"' Scott recalls. In 1994 TheFerretStore.com came to life. It was very early in the world of e-commerce. "In recent years, we joke that we were around when Amazon was still just a river," says Joe.
The first four years were rocky. Scott and Joe plugged away at the Internet and direct marketing, working from a closet in Scott's townhouse. "Back then no one took credit cards over the Internet. We finally left the closet for a garage, on to an incubator center, then into our own building, 20,000 square feet and 22 employees."
Scott stopped working two jobs, and was able to devote himself entirely to the TheFerretStore.com.
From the beginning they practiced a different kind of marketing and promotions strategies.
Scott had acquired a wealth of knowledge about pets' behavior, illnesses, likes, dislikes, favorite foods, and he shared it. Rather than straight advertising, they turned Scott's personality into a radio show. For years he deftly hosted a weekly program and was known affectionately as "The Pet Guy." It was informative and smart marketing.
As the Internet took off, TheFerretStore.com saw serious threats. "Remember Pets.com?" asks Scott. "The sock puppet ads? They bought a million-dollar ad in the Super Bowl. They had a multimillion-dollar IPO. We bought their inventory at pennies on the dollar when they went bankrupt." While Scott ran TheFerretStore.com, Joe worked to get their crude, early Web site to function better. Joe had been in management from the time he was a teenager. It started at a grocery store in the Cocoons. "By the time I was sixteen I was doing all the scheduling, the ordering, stocking, pretty much everything," he recalls. "Then one day the owner just gave me the keys and said 'you do it:" Joe did years of managing grocery stores and at UPS.
So when it was time to fix their Web site, Joe reached out on the Internet. As he shared ideas with other e-commerce pioneers, he started thinking of a brand new company.
Joe knew from the grocery business that products have to be easy to find and inventory has to be easy to control. As Joe improved TheFerretStore.com, word got around. "People were asking for help with re-designs of their own Web sites," says Joe.
In 2000 Solid Cactus was born. Solid Cactus devoted itself to making highly-functioning state-of-the-art Web sites and sales exploded.
At the end of '05 there were 32 people. By the end of '06 there were 64 people and at the end of '07 Solid Cactus had grown to 135. In '08 Solid Cactus will occupy 24,000 square-feet of office space in two locations.
In '07 The Inc. 500 list named Solid Cactus as its 255th fastest- growing privately held company and 28th fastest-growing IT company.
Now Solid Cactus has branched out and designed proprietary software, operates a call center and provides a full range of services to help e-commerce operators succeed. Along the way they liquidated TheFerretStore.com.
Despite doubling in '06 and '07, in each year the company was selected as one of the "Best Places to Work in Pennsylvania."
Solid Cactus actually went from No. 21 up to No. 11 out of 220,000 businesses in the commonwealth.
Joe and Scott share a house in Glenmaura, an apartment in Florida, a love of dining out and many pets.
Copyright Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal Jul 2008
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