Allentown Morning Call
Kaitie Burger’s love affair with the online retailer Zulily began a little more than a year ago on a tip from a friend.
The young company started out as a discount site with mainly children’s clothing and gear marketed to moms. But Burger, who has no children, found herself browsing anyway, clicking through an ever-changing selection of brand-name products, like Toms shoes, at “huge discounts.”
The merchandise, drawing from about 15,000 brands, changes daily with 9,000 new offers that some dub flash sales, luring customers like Burger again and again.
“I shop for a variety of things, depending on what sales they have,” said Burger, 24, of Bethlehem. “Shipping is quick and easy.”
She’s hooked, one of the 4.1 million loyal customers who increased Zulily’s revenues by 97 percent in the last year. The demand propelled the 41/2-year-old Seattle company to announce this week the opening of an East Coast hub — and it’s practically in Burger’s backyard.
In the first half of next year, Zulily plans to open a fulfillment center in Bethlehem where ultimately 1,200 employees will package orders for shipment. It will be in an 820,000-square-foot warehouse on former Bethlehem Steel property.
One Lehigh Valley economic official called the project the Valley’s biggest employment coup of the year — and with 1,200 employees, Zulily would rank as one of the Valley’s largest companies.
Liberty Property Trust is building the $43.6 million warehouse, which will be slightly bigger than Zulily’s two other distribution centers, in Ohio and Nevada, and will increase its workforce by about a third.
Zulily President and CEO Darrell Cavens said in a webcast Thursday in front of industry analysts that the company can make those investments because of a loyal customer base.
He said half of the people who visit Zulily are still buying the following year, and they stick with the company. If the company had failed to attract any new customers this year, its revenue would have grown by 13 percent from existing customers.
“This is what gives us the confidence to make these investments in the fulfillment centers and in the hiring,” Cavens said. “Because as we acquire these customers, they are so stable over time. They stick with us. They buy more. It’s that level of engagement that is just so unique and special here.”
Economic development officials, coordinated by Gov. Tom Corbett’s economic development staff, have been working since March to make sure that investment — and the jobs — came to the Lehigh Valley, competing with communities in New Jersey and Maryland.
Pennsylvania officials, cloaking their efforts with the code name Merlin, offered Zulily a package that included $3.6 million in job creation tax credits and workforce recruitment and assistance.