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Flight Of The Buffalo


This story appears in the June 1996 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When qvc shuffled off to Buffalo during its "Quest for America's Best" tour last year, it took a fledgling business under its wing. Within five minutes on the home shopping channel, 7,000 bottles of Buffalo-Style Authentic Chicken Wing Sauce were sold, giving three New York entrepreneurs the break they were looking for.

"It opened a lot of doors for us," says Sasha Yerkovich, co-founder of Buffalo Style Foods Inc. "The sauce sold out in five minutes. We were delirious!"

But Sasha isn't counting her chickens before they're hatched; she and the other two founders have kept their day jobs. Walter Zoladz III, 35, who created the sauce in 1986, is an independent landscaper who marketed the sauce on his own for a while, selling a few hundred cases a month to local supermarkets from his Buffalo home.

When Sasha and her husband, Edward, moved to New York in 1993 and reunited with Zoladz, a childhood friend, they immediately recognized the potential for forming a team. "We have complementary skills that cover every aspect of the business," explains Sasha, who is an advertising sales director for a magazine in addition to handling advertising, public relations and marketing for Buffalo Style Foods. Edward, a TV writer, had researched mail order businesses for several years, looking for the right product.

But the sauce barely came together in time for its QVC debut. The product was designed, bottled and labeled in the two weeks prior to going on the air.

"It was a hellish two weeks," recalls Sasha. "We had to hand-label 14,000 bottles. A big shipment of glass broke. It was mass hysteria. But everybody around here kind of pitched in."

The trio's efforts paid off. Sasha says they've recouped their start-up costs, and the QVC exposure spiced up their 1995 Christmas sales.

Their first taste of success has left the partners hungry for more. "The second phase is to place the product in gourmet food stores," says Sasha. Having garnered shelf space in two large Buffalo gourmet stores, the threesome's business is poised to take flight.

Street Smarts

Sometimes one phone call really can change your life. When John M. Gill's street hockey puck garnered little attention at the National Sporting Goods Show in Chicago in 1990, he thought he was in for a disappointment-until a call from a Kmart buyer a few days later changed everything. The buyer wanted to test-market the Hot Pucks in 300 stores.

Gill's design met with amazing success: The stores sold approximately 2,700 pucks in 30 days-78 percent of his inventory. "I felt like a million dollars," recalls the Eden Prairie, Minnesota, entrepreneur.

Three million dollars, to be exact. That was the 1995 sales for Gill's company, Sun Hockey Inc. Gill, 48, got his second big boost when the producers of the movie "The Mighty Ducks" ordered several hundred Hot Pucks to use while filming in Minneapolis.

The future looks bright for the former real estate broker: Gill recently added two new street hockey balls to his line. The liquid-filled Zero Ball and flashing Fire Ball are expected to help sales reach $4 million this year. Maybe there is something new under the sun, after all.

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