Chuck Bond is at the top of his game. The 46-year-old founder and owner of COKeM International has seen his company's sales figures more than triple from nearly $17 million in 2000 as a start-up to $77 million in 2001. If this were pinball, his initials would be first on the high-scorers board. As it is, COKeM tops our list of the fastest-growing new entrepreneurial businesses in America.
COKeM is a home entertainment value-added marketer in Plymouth, Minnesota, that specializes in buying up overstock and publishing or re-publishing low-cost video games and computer software. The company counts Sam's Club, Costco, Office Depot, Best Buy and Target among its customers. There's a bit of family tradition here. Bond's father worked in the scrap metal business, and Bond likens his company to being in the scrap metal business for video games and PCs. Bond's own background is in accounting and finance, a career that eventually landed him in the software industry. He soon gave up number-crunching though to move into marketing, and then gave up that for entrepreneurship. He credits fast turnover, varied product offerings and smart marketing techniques with keeping COKeM's inventory moving.
Go online and look up COKeM in any search engine, and you won't find much information. The company stays very private. "That's the way my dad was," says Bond. "Just do what you do and work hard, and there's no reason to brag." His accounting background shows through in the down-to-earth attitudes and financial philosophies of COKeM. Calculated risks and financial discipline are recurring themes.
But don't think for a minute this business is stodgy. "Fun" is another recurring theme. His proudest achievement in all of this? "My kids get to play a lot of video games. I'm able to provide for myself and my friends and family a lot of fun time."
That outlook flows over to COKeM's 60 employees. Flexibility and responsibility are emphasized. "I'm only as good as my team behind me. They understand my madness and understand and appreciate my style of rewarding those that go above and beyond the call of duty," says Bond. "We have minimal structure [in most of the business]." There's at least one sure sign that this approach is working: COKeM expects to rack up $120 million in sales in 2002.
Bond's secrets to success aren't very secret. At the top of the list are honesty, fairness and following through on commitments. "Service is definitely the key to our success," he says. "If you service at a higher-than-expected level, you usually outperform the competition." COKeM watches customers' inventory and is always ready with new promotions, packaging ideas and product mixes tailored to each retailer's consumers.
While Bond doesn't actually play video games (he'd rather spend his time on real grass at the golf course), he knows that entering that market has helped push his young enterprise to its incredible growth. You won't see them plastered all over the business news, but his company is definitely going for the win. And it adds up to a simple future outlook for COKeM: Says Bond, "More growth, more fun." -Amanda C. Kooser