Ken Fox is a great believer in grabbing hold of an opportunity the first time it comes around. Rather than finish college, Fox used his job as manager of a Sacramento, California, "spy store" as a springboard to start Fox's Spy Outlets, which today sell $400,000 worth of personal protection and surveillance products annually.
Here's his advice to those who want to explore new entrepreneurial waters:
Act immediately on a good business idea. "I was told by my family I should get a college degree. And yes, that's important, but when I saw how new the security equipment industry was and how profitable it could be, I didn't want to wait until it was too late," says Fox. In the fall of 1991, he resigned from his job in Sacramento to move to Seattle, where he opened his first spy store.
Reinvest profits and grow carefully. Using an inheritance from his father, Fox invested $30,000 in personal protection and surveillance items, rented an 800-square-foot store in a small strip shopping center and opened for business. Within six months, he was operating in the black. With profits from the Seattle store, Fox opened an outlet in Portland, Oregon, and 18 months later used profits from that store to open a third outlet in Sacramento.
Build your inventory by developing vendor contacts. "Probably three-fourths of your success is in getting the right merchandise," says Fox. To expand his inventory, Fox attends security trade shows, purchases catalogs of dealers and talks with other spy store owners. He has built a network of 400 wholesalers and manufacturers throughout the United States, Russia and Japan.
Keep up with industry trends. Four years ago, the miniature pen-hole camera hadn't been invented. Today, it's Fox's hottest selling item. "Merchandise changes all the time and you have to offer what people want. Otherwise, they'll buy from your competition," says Fox, who markets his products through radio commercials and a mail order catalog.
Offer your customers excellent value. "We feel ours is a service-oriented company," says Fox. "I tell my customers I'll not only meet or beat someone else's price, but I'll also give a warranty with every product they purchase." -Carla Goodman