Description: High-end antique sales
Founders: Diane Bingham, 40, and Michael Bingham, 53
Location: Provo, Utah
2004 projected sales: More than $4 million
It wasn't their last $20, but it felt like it. In 1998, then 34, Diane Bingham had recently exited an alcohol rehab center. She recalls that she was about 18 when she first had a drink, and for a long time, she was simply a social drinker. But in her late 20s, it became a problem.
"I didn't know how to stop," says Diane. She and Michael spent their life savings "to save [my] life," she says. They didn't have health insurance. "We spent every penny we had," Diane adds. "I had a lot of guilt over that." It didn't help when Michael had his own health crisis and needed an emergency triple-bypass operation. His life was saved, and so was Diane's, but with their financial situation in tatters, their future looked grim.
Diane wanted to bring some income into the family, yet stay at home with their five children. Her father was an antiques dealer, and Diane liked to search flea markets and auctions for rare antiques and sell them to the general public. When she told this to Michael, who earned $10 an hour at a local hardware store, he gave her $20.
"Hey, see what you can do," he said.
"I'm serious," said Diane. "Never challenge a woman."
That made Diane more determined. She drove around in a beat-up truck, started making purchases, and then used the proceeds from her sales to buy more items to sell to antique dealers. As she became more immersed in the world of antiques, she learned about eBay, and, as she puts it, "I found heaven. That's when I said, 'Why not sell on eBay?'"
She borrowed $3,000 from her father so she could buy a computer. She says her father and her husband thought she was "nuttier than a fruitcake," but one year later, as Michael headed to work, he observed his wife in the backyard. She was struggling to pack a lime-green vinyl chair into a box.
"That's it," Michael sighed. "I'm going to quit my job and help you."
"That's when things really started going, having both of us working on the business," beams Diane, who offers an aside about packing that lime-green chair: "And don't think I wasn't making it look a little harder than it was."
Today, Diane and Michael have a company that made $2.2 million in 2003 and is poised to double that in 2004. "We double every year," says Diane, who has approximately 60 employees and contractors, some who work in England, France and Italy.
Her secret? "I know it's a clich�, but it really does boil down to passion," she says. "If you're passionate about selling something, you will be successful." But she adds that it's also crucial to set up systems. For instance, the entire process of shipping has to be a system, explains Diane. "You send it to point A, you wrap it, it goes to point B, it's put on a plane, it goes to point C." That system has to run smoothly and be virtually the same in quality every time.
And you have to get over your intimidation about starting a business. "That was huge for me," says Diane, who also acknowledges, "I had no choice. I needed food money, I needed rent money."
Now through her work, Diane says she has sold antiques to several famous actors, actresses and at least one big-name director; but she can't divulge names, because she respects her customers' privacy. Still, it's another example of how far Diane has come from her former life.
Even selling antiques must feel like a quantum leap from her high school days, a time when she was a cheerleader who was embarrassed that her father sold antiques for a living. "The last thing I wanted were ugly, gross, dusty antiques in my house," she says.
Those feelings are long gone.