By G. David Doran
In the real world, a newcomer to the retail computer ac-cessories market like AMT Component Inc. in Irvine, California, would have a very slim chance of successfully competing with established megastores like Comp-USA and Fry's Electronics. But in the virtual world of the Internet, AMT, which sells more than 35,000 computer products, ranging from printer ink cartridges to network routers, through its Web site, has become a force to be reckoned with. It posted sales of $2.1 million in only its second year of operation, helping to earn it the No. 83 spot in Entrepreneur's Hot 100 ranking.
Alex Chen, 24, started AMT in 1996 with a little help from his savings and his parents' credit status, selling computer peripherals such as monitors and hard drives through ads in computer magazines and a small Web site.
As the number of people purchasing goods and services through the Internet grew, so did AMT, allowing Chen to add more products to his database until the number of offerings began to rival that of the mega-stores-only Chen doesn't have the high overhead of a large retail location or a sales staff.
Chen, who moved to the United States from Taiwan in 1986, nursed the fledgling company along by putting every penny of profit back into the operation and building strong relationships with customers. Paraphrasing Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, Chen asserts that customer satisfaction should be the first priority of any online business.
"When you fail to satisfy a customer at a retail store, he'll tell 10 people," says Chen. "But if you [upset] a customer at an e-commerce site, that person will tell 6,000 people by posting his complaint where everyone on the Internet can see it."
The news that Egghead Computer had closed all 80 of its retail locations in February to concentrate its efforts on the Internet was no surprise to Chen, who believes e-commerce will eventually revolutionize the way business and consumers interact in the marketplace.