About debnrooDefining debnroo, inc. traditionally, we are retailers of Home, Garden, and Pet products. Annual Sales for 2006 just topped $1 Million, we employ 4-6 people on a full or part-time basis, and we have annual growth of approximately 30%.
Our evolution has taken us from a small mom-n-pop sole-proprietor collectibles seller on eBay, to a nationally recognized S-Corp retailer of many popular brand names. While all entrepreneurial paths are unique, ours shares many of the common characteristics, challenges, anxieties and successes of anyone pursuing their dreams through Small Business.
Deb and I met in 1987 in college, and by 1997, we had left Corporate America in frustration. By 1999, we had chosen self-employment as our path to freedom. My dad, Jim Mowery, asked us to help him sell antiques from his large store on eBay in late 1999. Little did we know where that would lead us.
After 3 months, we realized eBay created a genuine opportunity for self-employment. We named our business "weauction4you.com", and planned to eventually open a retail store offering consignment services. We tried to run the business from Telluride, a small mountain town with a population of 1500, but there were many difficulties with that location.
So, we moved to Ft. Collins, CO in late 2000. Ft. Collins offered urban conveniences, and access to the mountains we loved. We had no idea it would eventually be named Money's #1 Place To Live in the United States.
While collectibles offered significant margins (some say treasure hunting), the long process of creating unique advertisements, and the significant labor to create these listings sent a clear message - the business would be difficult to scale up to anything significant. It would require many people, and ultimately we would need to be people managers, primarily.
Throughout 2001, we found more opportunities to sell different types of consumer products, and we found that opening accounts and building sales was relatively easy. There were so many BAD sellers on eBay, we could gain significant market share just by offering common-sense customer service.
By 2003, we had found that by simply looking for products that would be interesting to our own demographic (home owners with pets & gardens), we were able to deliver a very nice selection of quality consumer products to our buyers on eBay. We sold them at reasonable margins, and charged S&H based upon the premise that our shipping was a service. We enhanced our sales by always offering International shipping.
By late 2003, our 1-1/2 car garage was packed to the rafters, and we had to put up a tent in front of our garage. We were selling over 250 products from 15 manufacturers, and coordinating processing of 200-400 transactions per week that were simultaneously shipping from in-house, subcontracted, and drop-ship locations. It was clearly time to move the business from our garage.
We also made two significant changes to the business that year: 1) We changed our name from weauction4you.com to debnroo, inc., becoming an S-Corporation in the process; 2) We discontinued sales of collectibles.
The name change made us less likely to be rejected by suppliers for using eBay as a Sales Channel, and incorporating had significant benefits regarding expenses and how we were "employed" by the corporation. Discontinuing sales of collectibles simply freed up more time to develop our consumer product lines. In hindsight, the decisions were the right ones, just made about a year later than they should have been.
Our quest to automate the business and move it from our garage turned out to be a journey of itself. We had friends who were interested in fulfillment and did well for a while, but after a year, we ended up getting our own warehouse and running the operation directly. It took most of 2004 and 2005 to fully equip and staff our warehouse. It took all of 2006 for us to formalize our training and compensation programs.
In some ways, we have found that the challenges we faced in recent years have been far more difficult to overcome than those of our early years - when we were just trying to build enough sales to support a company. Building an organization is definitely more difficult than building a company. Keeping profitable and sane amidst it all is just another level beyond that.
We have heard this echoed from our peers over and over - it is one thing for two self-motivated people to build a business to the point where it sustains them, but it is entirely another to change that arrangement to one that sustains others' livelihoods and requires a team of individuals who may not feel the same types of motivation.
As we enjoy our 8th year in business, and move into our new home/office, we look forward to continuing to build our business both on and off eBay. We look to reduce our vulnerability to volatile fees on eBay by maximizing our presence elsewhere on the Internet. We continue to refine our fulfillment operations, and expand our partnerships with good companies that offer efficient drop-ship services.
Some have asked us what endgame we expect from this. It is a good question. Will we work here until retirement? Will we sell the company? It is just too hard to tell at this time, so we focus in the short term on building a quality company that acts responsible to the community, and provides good opportunities for employees.
And, we remain grateful that we can still do all of this from the swing in our backyard enjoying every day with our cats, Wilson and Sunshine.
debnroo in the NewsNew York Times