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Home Connections

The next time someone tells you to turn down your car stereo, tell them how this entrepreneur turned his love of electronics into a million-dollar home entertainment company.

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Description: Home entertainment equipment sales, service and installation
Founder: Brooks Swift, 25
Location: Topeka, Kansas
Startup costs: $350
Estimated 2004 sales: $1 million

Brooks Swift, a self-proclaimed car audiophile in his younger days, parlayed his electronics savvy into a business of his own in 2001 with Home Connections, a Topeka, Kansas, company that services, sells and installs home entertainment equipment.

Recognizing that no professional home audiovideo installers existed in his town, Swift launched his company with just $350--which paid for his home theater installation certification through the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association, a global trade association. He already possessed the tools needed to hook up the VCR, DVD player, TV and speakers on his first job. Swift worked from home to handle business matters and phone calls, so he had no overhead costs. And since he didn't have to invest in inventory, he was able to use his clients' deposits to buy the products they needed.

As luck would have it, one of Swift's neighbors worked for The Topeka Capital-Journal and pulled some strings to get a front-page article about Home Connections published. The exposure led to new business, which Swift needed to fund his move into the new-construction market. "People were building housing and wanted to have home theaters and the whole-house audio system, with speakers installed all around the house," explains Swift. He bought tools and a vehicle, hired an employee and began approaching builders, winning over many who were dissatisfied with their past installers. Home Connections soon positioned itself as a specialist in the burgeoning field.

There was one competitor, Aaron Koker, with whom Swift had established a friendly business relationship. "It just made sense to combine our forces," says Swift. The businesses merged on New Year's Day in 2003, and the pair put some of their profits, combined with a $70,000 bank loan, toward opening a retail store, Home Audio Connections. Although they still specialize in outfitting new homes, the retail location sells an array of home theater options and gadgetry and provides turnkey installations for any home.

But Swift, 25, is not one to rest on his laurels. In 2004, he started alarm company Security Connection, and continues his lean operational approach by having his wife, Kelli, run the business from their home. Also focusing on new construction, Security Connection pre-wires new homes so security systems can be readily installed at the request of homeowners. With 2004 sales for all three businesses projected at $1 million and plans to expand to another city nearby, Swift continues to keep costs minimal: "You have to stay lean; it's a very competitive industry."

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