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When qvc shuffled off to Buffalo during its "Quest forAmerica's Best" tour last year, it took a fledglingbusiness under its wing. Within five minutes on the home shoppingchannel, 7,000 bottles of Buffalo-Style Authentic Chicken WingSauce were sold, giving three New York entrepreneurs the break theywere looking for.
"It opened a lot of doors for us," says Sasha Yerkovich,co-founder of Buffalo Style Foods Inc. "The sauce sold out infive minutes. We were delirious!"
But Sasha isn't counting her chickens before they'rehatched; she and the other two founders have kept their day jobs.Walter Zoladz III, 35, who created the sauce in 1986, is anindependent landscaper who marketed the sauce on his own for awhile, selling a few hundred cases a month to local supermarketsfrom his Buffalo home.
When Sasha and her husband, Edward, moved to New York in 1993 andreunited with Zoladz, a childhood friend, they immediatelyrecognized the potential for forming a team. "We havecomplementary skills that cover every aspect of the business,"explains Sasha, who is an advertising sales director for a magazinein addition to handling advertising, public relations and marketingfor Buffalo Style Foods. Edward, a TV writer, had researched mailorder businesses for several years, looking for the rightproduct.
But the sauce barely came together in time for its QVC debut. Theproduct was designed, bottled and labeled in the two weeks prior togoing on the air.
"It was a hellish two weeks," recalls Sasha. "We hadto hand-label 14,000 bottles. A big shipment of glass broke. It wasmass hysteria. But everybody around here kind of pitchedin."
The trio's efforts paid off. Sasha says they've recoupedtheir start-up costs, and the QVC exposure spiced up their 1995Christmas sales.
Their first taste of success has left the partners hungry for more."The second phase is to place the product in gourmet foodstores," says Sasha. Having garnered shelf space in two largeBuffalo gourmet stores, the threesome's business is poised totake flight.
Sometimes one phone call really can change your life. When John M.Gill's street hockey puck garnered little attention at theNational Sporting Goods Show in Chicago in 1990, he thought he wasin for a disappointment-until a call from a Kmart buyer a fewdays later changed everything. The buyer wanted to test-market theHot Pucks in 300 stores.
Gill's design met with amazing success: The stores soldapproximately 2,700 pucks in 30 days-78 percent of hisinventory. "I felt like a million dollars," recalls theEden Prairie, Minnesota, entrepreneur.
Three million dollars, to be exact. That was the 1995 sales forGill's company, Sun Hockey Inc. Gill, 48, got his second bigboost when the producers of the movie "The Mighty Ducks"ordered several hundred Hot Pucks to use while filming inMinneapolis.
The future looks bright for the former real estate broker: Gillrecently added two new street hockey balls to his line. Theliquid-filled Zero Ball and flashing Fire Ball are expected to helpsales reach $4 million this year. Maybe there is something newunder the sun, after all.