#1: COKeM

Lightning really does strike twice in this case.

By Amanda C. Kooser • May 16, 2003

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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

While COKeM's sales have skyrocketed in recent years, thenumber of employees has stayed steady at 65. "I'd ratherhave fewer people and pay them more than have more people and paythem less," explains Bond, 47. Something else that hasn'tchanged about the company is the cloak of privacy COKeM employs.Search the Web for "COKeM," and you'll hardly find apeep out of them. That humble attitude stems directly fromBond's personal down-to-earth, no-need-to-brag approach to hisbusiness. "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 overthe past year lies in purchasing large amounts of product and thencreatively repackaging or building customized sets of games andsoftware for customers such as Best Buy, Sam's Club andWal-Mart. The COKeM team works to keep all their products at lowprices--"under the ATM-machine $20 bill," as Bond putsit. Those low price points, in combination with the strength of thevideo game market, help protect COKeM from the whims of anup-and-down economy.

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

Bond's favorite advice for other entrepreneurs is not to setany limits for themselves and not to fear failure. With COKeM, hebrings those valuable pieces of advice to life. "We'drather not react; we'd rather be the leader," he says."We don't mind taking chances. Occasionally, we take anarrow, but that's what pioneers do."

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