It's Getting Hot in Here

COKeM & Arbitech

Lightning really does strike twice in this case.

He did it again. Chuck Bond, founder and owner of COKeM International Ltd., has taken the top spot in the Hot 100 for the second year in a row. With 2002 sales of about $125.5 million, up from $77.8 million in 2001, the value-added Plymouth, Minnesota, video game and home-entertainment software marketing company is really cooking. Those sales figures represent a heady rise from the company's start in 2000 with $250,000 out of Bond's own pocket. What's more, Bond expects COKeM to reach sales of $150 million in 2003.

While COKeM's sales have skyrocketed in recent years, the number of employees has stayed steady at 65. "I'd rather have fewer people and pay them more than have more people and pay them less," explains Bond, 47. Something else that hasn't changed about the company is the cloak of privacy COKeM employs. Search the Web for "COKeM," and you'll hardly find a peep out of them. That humble attitude stems directly from Bond's personal down-to-earth, no-need-to-brag approach to his business. "I don't buy a bright, canary yellow new truck. I buy a black one. It's still a truck," he says.

One reason for COKeM's remarkable growth and success over the past year lies in purchasing large amounts of product and then creatively repackaging or building customized sets of games and software for customers such as Best Buy, Sam's Club and Wal-Mart. The COKeM team works to keep all their products at low prices--"under the ATM-machine $20 bill," as Bond puts it. Those low price points, in combination with the strength of the video game market, help protect COKeM from the whims of an up-and-down economy.

When we spoke with COKeM last year, they were about to embark on a major bank financing expedition. It turned out to be one of their greatest challenges in 2002. Eight months of intense work finally landed them the cash infusion they sought. "Cash is king," Bond explains. "It enables you to play at that next level." They are also looking into expanding their "playground" by offering video games or computer software at places like children's hair salons and other nontraditional locations. Further growth in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Canada is on the list as well.

Bond's favorite advice for other entrepreneurs is not to set any limits for themselves and not to fear failure. With COKeM, he brings those valuable pieces of advice to life. "We'd rather not react; we'd rather be the leader," he says. "We don't mind taking chances. Occasionally, we take an arrow, but that's what pioneers do."-Amanda C. Kooser

Life's a beach for these successful entrepreneurs.

A "board meeting" at Laguna Beach, California-based computer commodities trading company Arbitech is more likely to include the Pacific Ocean and surfboards than a big table and office chairs.

Co-founders Torin Pavia, 31, and William Poovey, 32, really know how to have fun. Lunches for all 26 employees are catered every day, the group often surfs together, and an annual corporate retreat sends everyone off to lovely locales like Puerto Vallarta. Arbitech has the opposite problem most businesses do: "I have to call people and tell them to go home at my company," says Pavia.

Pavia and Poovey also know how to get down to business. Arbitech doubled its 2001 sales by hitting the $60 million mark last year. They've come in at No. 2 on our Hot 100 list for the second year in a row. They're shooting for $90 million this year and are already well on track.

Founded in 2000 with $500,000 from the founders' savings, Arbitech is blazing its way as a less expensive alternative to big computer products distributors such as Ingram Micro and Tech Data. Most people don't think of computer memory being a commodity like corn, but Arbitech does. "We take a securities and commodities approach.

It's very much like Merrill Lynch or PaineWebber," explains Pavia. "Why reinvent the wheel?" Their sales floor looks a lot like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. This way of conducting business helps them offer computer products at low prices to mostly small resellers across the country. "We sell HP cheaper than HP sells HP," Pavia boasts.

Integrity is a way of life at Arbitech. Its marketplace has long been tainted by used and counterfeit goods and shady businesses, a fact that spurred the company's slogan: "Bringing integrity to the channel." Judging by its growth and the increasing number of small resellers that rely on the company as a lifeline, Arbitech is doing just that. Looking ahead to the company's healthy future, all we can say is, the surf is most definitely up.-A.C.K.

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This article was originally published in the June 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: It's Getting Hot in Here.

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