Thurston Economic Development Council presented its annual real estate forum today in Olympia, with guests hearing from a principal at one of the area's largest local retailers.

The keynote speaker was Marisa Wulff, CEO of Mud Bay — a very successful chain of 45 pet accessory stores stretching from Bellingham into Oregon. Each retail shop features a complete offering of all-natural pet food and recreation products.

Wulff's mother and sister purchased the original feed store, The Grainery, located near Olympia on Mud Bay Street. Her brother, Lars, joined in as the sister checked out to attend law school, so the family rolled up their sleeves to convert the store into its focus today: To meet nutritional needs of dogs and cats, bringing joy and satisfaction to their owners.

They researched the producers of every pet food product that is sold in Mud Bay, so they could provide information and guidance to customers.

“The beauty of a small business is that you need fewer customers (than a 'big box') and you can provide more customized services that they will value,” Wulff said.

Compound annual growth rate is about 26 percent, compared to a more typical six percent. The current projection is for $77 million dollars in this fiscal year.

New augmentations to Mud Bay's business model will expand services to be delivered by “muddies” — the internal name for the company's employees. A custom app to help customers keep track of their pet's needs will be ready in mid-2018. Self-service and professional treatments with cleaning, nail clipping, etc. and expanded private label products will be on the menu, too.

Wulff noted that they have increased both salary and hourly wages by 20 percent over the last two years. The owners have also set up an ESOP plan to enable employee ownership.

Also at today's event, Kaufman Construction & Development Inc. received a Lifetime Achievement recognition for its 52 years of growing Thurston County and beyond. Brothers Vic and Marvin Kaufman have added dozens of buildings in several developments, particularly around south Thurston County and Tumwater. More recent projects have been to house Ice Chips Candy, Volkswagen of Olympia, Northwest Helicopter and Setina Manufacturing Company's expansion.

Kaufman is especially proud of Deschutes Industrial Park that is home to Alaina, Simpson Door Co. and Port Blakey Tree Farms.

Editor note: This blog post has been edited to correct the spelling of Wulff's name and to clarify the historic origin of Mud Bay.