Since 2003, Rush Direct has manufactured pet treats, jerkies and other products—some under its own brands and some in partnership with other petfood companies, including in Brazil. Now the company has launched a new all-natural premium brand, Ferrera Farms Naturals, that includes dog chews, freeze-dried treats and products from red propolis, which comes from beehives. "The company has grown from almost an exclusive focus on private label of pet treats into a company with a portfolio of successful brands that also does private label," explains President Vera Ferreira when describing the changes in the young company over the past several years.

"In the past 12 months we have rebranded our two main lines, Ferrera Farms Naturals and the Ultra Chewy bones," continues Charles Ferreira, executive director. "This brand refresh included packaging redesign, investment in social media, PR and marketing, and work on new products, such as our Bee The Best line of supplements for dogs." This new line uses the exotic Brazilian red bee propolis with National Animal Supplement Council accreditation. This flexibility and willingness to try new concepts, paired with their speed to market, help Rush Direct grow and keep growing, says Charles. "We understand that we are competing with talented teams in Fortune 500 companies, so we need to differentiate ourselves by being nimble and by accepting risks," he states. "At Rush Direct we love to bring new treats and concepts to the market, and we also enjoy working with our clients in private label programs where, on average, we are able to bring an idea to life in 90 days."

Rebranding and internal organization may have turned Rush into a sleeker, more efficient operation on the precipice of significant growth and distribution expansion, but Stenio Ferreira, vice president of marketing, points to relationship-building as the real secret to the company's success. "The factor that most helped us achieve our growth is our relationships in the industry," he says. "We work hard to build strong connections with our clients, suppliers and reps, and this involves maintaining a great level of customer support, acting ethically and transparently, and overall just nurturing friendships with the great people and pet lovers throughout the industry."

Rush Direct will continue to expand in the natural pet specialty and in the mass merchandise markets with Ferrera Farms Naturals and Ultra Chewy bones as their main lines. Both lines will be strictly focused on natural and healthy products, a move which the Ferreiras hope will position their company as a leader in those petfood segments. "Our vision is to be a company that is able to excel in natural and premium items in pet specialty, and at the same time is able to decode these gourmet characteristics in treats that fit the mass merchandise channel," explains Vera Ferreira. "This allows us to be in a position where we can be trendsetters and bring the latest innovations to the natural market, like our Brazilian red propolis dog supplement and the South American odor-free bullysticks, and translate the spirit of these innovations to our mass merchandise products."

Another thing that makes Rush Direct so unique: not only is the company family-run (Charles and Vera are married and their son Stenio heads marketing), they are also a WBENC (Women's Business Enterprise National Council)-certified company, which recognizes the efforts of their president and her role in the petfood industry. It is a role Mrs. Ferreira takes very seriously, often using her position to emphasize the need for stringent safety in the industry's production of foods for dogs and cats. "Business concerns are manageable, but every pet’s life is precious and invaluable," she says. "Due to the recent recalls other companies have had, we keep increasing our product safety measures, which involve requiring quality certifications (such as ISO, GMP and HACCP) from our suppliers, traceability of raw ingredients, metal detectors and several other procedures to minimize the risk of a product safety issue. A company should not say they will never experience a product recall since in the end we are humans and failure is possible; however, we try to lower the risk as much as possible to guarantee some of the safest treats on the market."

Business Basics

Headquarters: Wood Dale, Illinois, USA

Officers: Vera Ferreira, president; Charles Ferreira, executive director; Stenio Ferreira, vice president of marketing

Sales: Rush Direct has experienced an average annual growth in the United States of 17%.

Brands: Ultra Chewy, Ferrera Farms Naturals, Prime Taste Treats, Mr. Bone

Employees: 12