NetRush carves out niche helping businesses pitch their goods on Amazon

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If your business involves selling a product on the vast Amazon marketplace, a small-but-growing Vancouver company can help you stake your claim in that wild, wild West of online retail.

NetRush, a 10-year-old company in east Vancouver, has carved out a niche in the online retail frontier by helping companies such as Oregon-based Bob’s Red Mill and Leatherman pitch their products online. NetRush has exclusive rights to sell those companies’ products and a couple dozen other health, personal care and outdoor brands on Amazon.

In effect, NetRush is itself an independent retailer within the Amazon labyrinth for the brands it represents. Its work includes writing up product descriptions, posting photos, flagging unauthorized sellers and arranging for product shipments through Amazon’s fulfillment centers. The goal is to make sure customers find quality and pricing consistent with what they would expect at a brick-and-mortar store.

Without such skilled help, brands can easily lose control over how they are represented, said CFO Chris Marantette, who founded NetRush with company CEO Brian Gonsalves in 2006.

“Amazon can be a huge obstacle — or opportunity,” Marantette said. “It’s an ecosystem. … If the customer has options, that’s a win for the brand.”

NetRush, which, until recently, has had a low profile locally, is itself looking like a winner. The company generated $59.4 million in revenue in 2015. It is on a hiring spree and expects to reach 50 employees this summer at its Columbia Tech Center headquarters. The Portland Business Journal recently ranked NetRush the No. 1 creative agency in the metro area.

Amazon won’t comment on NetRush or any of its other sellers, but a spokesman said 48 percent of items ordered on Amazon are from sellers, not Amazon itself. In 2015, Fulfillment by Amazon delivered about 1 billion items to customers worldwide.

In such a frenzied marketplace, brands have to work hard to stand out. NetRush’s first big partner, New Hampshire-based dietary supplement maker MegaFood, recognized the value of outside help doing that.

“The world of Amazon is very confusing and also kind of wild, wild West,” MegaFood CEO Robert Craven said.

MegaFood wanted customers to have the convenience of ordering online but didn’t want to risk the brand’s image or undercut its mainstay natural-food stores. Companies such as his can suffer when sellers offer their products at a discount, or ship damaged or outdated items.

Craven said its exclusive partnership with NetRush has helped MegaFood “maintain a very premium brand image.”

“They are not money at all cost,” Craven said of NetRush. “They are about the customers.”

NetRush says that’s precisely the value it offers as a third-party seller.

“The big difference is (our) relationship with brands,” Gonsalves said. “We’re trying to see if we can make them more money.”

‘Throwing around ideas’

NetRush’s founders financed their venture themselves, and the private company is now profitable, Marantette said.

Unlike third-party sellers who make purchases on credit to be repaid when the inventory clears, “we pay for everything before it ships. We don’t take terms. We should be responsible for the risks we’re taking, not our partners. They shouldn’t have to chase money,” Marantette said.

While some online retailers flout local sales taxes, he said, NetRush complies with them. The company does not solicit online reviews, a practice NetRush finds unethical and counterproductive in the long term.

Gonsalves, 40, and Marantette, 38, who both live in Clark County, have made “do the right thing” their company’s first principle. They met in a religious education class at a Portland Catholic church as they were preparing for their respective weddings. They hit it off and began talking shop.

“It wasn’t, ‘Hey, let’s go start a business.’ It was just throwing around ideas,” Marantette said.

They saw opportunity in joining their divergent skill sets.

Even though Gonsalves launched an online retail company selling extreme sports nutritional supplements in 1997 that was acquired in 2003, he had never taken a business class. He studied physical education at Pacific Lutheran University.

Marantette studied finance at Oregon State University. He worked for a Merrill Lynch brokerage in Portland before founding a medical lab.

Together, they came up with an idea for an online platform for niche retailers.

“We realized fast that our software platform was intuitive, but it takes certain skills to market. That saying from ‘Field of Dreams’ — ‘If you build it they will come’ — doesn’t apply to e-commerce.” Gonsalves said. “We realized we couldn’t teach people to do what we do.”

So they began building sites for others, and then shifted their focus to selling exclusively on Amazon.

In 2013, NetRush opened a processing facility in Kentucky, now with 45 employees, just a few miles from a center where Amazon fulfills orders. The center houses the products that their retail customers sell. NetRush fills orders by delivering its products to the nearby Amazon center where they’re shipped to customers with no shipping costs for Amazon Prime customers.

Gonsalves and Marantette enlisted the help of software developer in India when they first launched NetRush. Their first local hire was Kim Nies, who answered a Craigslist ad and worked from the founders’ homes when she first started.

“I felt that I could make a difference at such a small company, and that feels good,” she said.

She’s had a front-row seat to rapid expansion of Gonsalves and Marantette’s company.

“They have been very imaginative in identifying the needs on Amazon and fulfilling those,” she said.

Gonsalves and Marantette said they are looking to further expand by pursuing global sales.

The office they moved into late last year, with its open-floor plan, natural wood desks and red accents, will accommodate 72. It feels a little quiet and empty now, but judging from the company’s recent rapid growth and the explosion of e-commerce, the empty desks should fill quickly.