Back in the early 1900s, you could buy a bag of penny nails at the Tempe Hardware Store at 520 S. Mill Ave. You could also deposit a handful of pennies in your account next door at the Tempe National Bank at 516 S. Mill Ave.
Today, hundreds of thousands of dollars are being earned by an online marketing company occupying both historic and restored locations.
“We’re combining the old and the new in more ways than one,” said Chris Johnson, founder and co-owner of Terralever, an online marketing firm with office space at the old hardware store at 520 and 20 yards away at the old bank building at 526 S. Mill Ave.
Johnson, 31, and Andy Richter, 31, managing partner, three months ago opened executive offices at 526 S. Mill Ave., marking another step in what is becoming one of the Valley’s most financially successful marches of an online marketing firm.
In four years, the partners have increased their gross annual income from less than $100,000 and about a dozen clients to more than $1 million and 90 customers throughout the Valley.
Gross annual revenue is expected to reach $2 million next year and they hope to earn more than $10 million by 2011.
“And, we have no debts,” Johnson added.
Terralever offers a variety of services, including creating Web sites, modifying existing sites and developing marketing programs such as online pay-per-click purchases.
“Basically, we leverage technology to improve marketing,” said Richter, a native of Sierra Vista in southern Arizona.
One of the firm’s first steps is to meet with clients and discuss goals and marketing objectives. Once a marketing plan is established, they begin developing a technical program aimed at increasing their clients’ profits. They also produce printed products on paper as well as electronically designed and produced printed materials.
“Sometimes, our clients just want potential customers to check out their Web sites,” said Johnson, a native of New Mexico.
The costs vary, depending on Terralever’s input. The average for developing a new Web site — about 80 percent of their business — is $25,000.
“One of the important parts of our company is that, unlike some other forms of advertising, you can measure the success of an online program immediately,” Richter said.
“We also find when working with a client, their marketing people and their technology staffs usually don’t communicate very well,” Johnson said. “Our job is to bridge that communications gap.”
One of Terralever’s major clients, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is looming in the background.
Their company and Esser Design were selected from hundreds of candidates to develope a Web site for NASA’s Mars Scout program, which will showcase all aspects of the mission, beginning from the planning phases to the launch in August 2007 to the landing in May 2008.
“The Web site for this project is integral to keeping the public, educators and enthusiasts alike updated on the mission’s progress,” Johnson said. “We’re excited to be part of it.”
Terralever was selected by University of Arizona’s Phoenix Mars Mission, which operates the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory for NASA at the university in Tucson.
A few feet from Johnson’s office at the historic bank building is an iron door that once closed on an ancient bank vault. The door now leads to a conference room, located in the old vault, where high technology is discussed.
“We like the historic feature of our headquarters,” said Johnson, who started the company out of his home. “It’s not only fun to work in, but it attracts walk-in visitors and potential clients.”
When he’s not analyzing the electronic marketplace, Johnson spends his spare time remodeling his home while Richter enjoys traveling.
Among their primary charities is the WellCare Foundation, a health care program for single, working mothers.
Chris Johnson and Andy Richter
Ages: Both 31
Family: Wife Kim Johnson and two children, Jarod, 5, and Sydney, 3; Richter unmarried
Reside in: Both in Phoenix
Education: Both graduated in 1997 from Arizona State University’s College of Engineering with degrees in engineering
Business: Co-owners of Terralever, an online marketing company in two restored, historic buildings at 520 and 526 S. Mill Ave., Tempe
Key achievement: In four years, increased gross revenue from under $100,000 annually and a dozen clients to more than $1 million and more than 90 clients, mostly Valley companies. Expects to earn $2 million next year and $10 million annually by 2011
Success philosophy: “We’re a service company so we have to hire qualified people to serve our clients. People are our only asset and our professional employees are the main reason we’re succeeding.” — Chris Johnson and Andy Richter
Information: (480) 839-1080 or www.terralever.com
“Terralever is taken from an ancient quote from Archimedes — ‘If you give me a long enough lever and a place to stand, I could move the Earth.’ The idea is that if in this competitive marketplace we can leverage our depth of expertise, we can move forward and far ahead of our competition.” — Chris Johnson
Catholic Charities of Arizona, Courtesy Chevrolet, Hewlett Packard, Jokake Construction, CSK Auto, Ensynch, Mesa Arts Center, MorganAZ, NASA, Red Bull and SunCor