HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — One of the few business success stories in recent years is unfolding in the loft of a nondescript garage along a dead-end street in the McKee City section of Hamilton Township.
At first glance, it would appear to be the domain of college undergrads. The main room is crowded with dorm-room furnishings: pinball machines, a Foosball table, a pingpong table and a futon for midday naps. In the back room, a tennis match blares — thwack, thud, thwack — from a flatscreen TV.
“I try to have a work ethic other people can look up to, so most of the time I’m working,” says Joshua Davidson, a 19-year-old with a knowing smile and a nervous laugh. “Don’t get me wrong — we have some epic pingpong tournaments.”
In the last year, Davidson has tripled the number of employees at his homegrown Web design firm Chop Dawg Studios from six to 18 team members. And last month, the rising business relocated from Davidson’s cramped bedroom in his parents’ Egg Harbor Township home to a larger space about a mile away.
While he’s not doling out benefits yet — the employees all work as contractors, paid per project — one of the fringe benefits is an office that would be the envy of most workaday office drones.
“It doesn’t matter what time I come here; if it’s at three in the morning, somebody’s here,” said Rauf Tur, the firm’s executive creative director and one of Davidson’s first hires.
The new office goes a long way toward getting the creative juices flowing, Tur said.
“I can set up a laptop in the corner, talk to a few people, get some ideas and get back to work,” said Tur, the second-oldest person on the team at age 28. “It’s a really nice transition.”
That transition, Davidson said, was part of the plan.
Chop Dawg started in 2009 in Davidson’s bedroom with a handful of local clients, the first being a pet boutique. But with determination and an uncanny marketing savvy, the business quickly grew to include record labels and restaurants, and even the Jitney Association. By its third anniversary this August, Davidson said the firm will have had 500 clients.
There was no choice but to expand.
Eddie Contento, the firm’s 19-year-old branding director, remembers long nights in conference rooms at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
“We’d spend some late nights working at (Davidson’s) house, but mostly we were at Stockton — until we got kicked out,” he said. “They’d be like, ‘This building has been closed two hours. What are you still doing here?’”
But it’s likely Chop Dawg won’t remain at its new brick-and-mortar — or rather steel-and-aluminum — digs for long.
“I want to revolutionize the way clients communicate with customers and the way customers communicate with them,” he said. “We’re trying to set the standard for what the industry is.”
In addition to its website designs, the firm is also preparing to launch an e-mail client that will seamlessly integrate with mobile devices, a Web editing tool that applies the functionality of Facebook to Web design and an Internet whiteboard that the design team already uses to bounce around ideas. Chop Dawg has already begun offering domain name registration and website hosting to its clients, services that were once spread across several different sites.
“Now we have one centralized hub,” he said. “You’re dealing with one person” — i.e. Chop Dawg — “and he or she’s going to have a relationship with you.”
While Davidson is cognizant of the drama that usually accompanies start-up enterprises like his, as portrayed in “the Facebook movie” The Social Network, he’s confident his family of collaborators will stay and grow together.
“I look at it as every day is a rollercoaster,” he said. “I’ve never experienced the drama of those movies.”
“What we’re doing now will be a part of our company forever,” he added.
As for the bedroom where it all began?
Davidson said he’s still living with his parents while he studies computer science and marketing at Stockton. He doesn’t ask his parents for money and his business pays for his schooling and his car payments, but Davidson concedes home still has its comforts.
“I kind of like still coming home and having dinner at the counter,” he said.
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