What started as a hobby for Jack Malone, poking around websites, buying whole-sale laser pointers and other gadgets for his friends, is now shaping up to be a growing business venture.
Malone, 17, said he started buying cheap gadgets online when he was in middle school. By the time he was a freshman, he had expanded his business, and the next year he had an online catalog.
Last year, he and his friend Riley Gasiorowski decided to see how far they could take the idea, so they created a website for product orders and jumped through the hoops of licensing their business, WFB Gadgets, with the state. All of this was done without any financial assistance from a bank or their parents, they said.
Ever since then, the two Whitefish Bay seniors have been working tirelessly to grow their business, get the word out and add new gadgets to their catalog. They currently make about five online sales a day, and they continue to sell to their classmates at the high school.
“We think if we can get the word out enough, even to a small group of people, then we can start to expand more heavily,” Gasiorowski said.
Their website, WFBGadgets.com, offers everything from lighters disguised as gum packages and pistols to coffee cup warmers powered through a computer's USB drive to a universal remote control watch – one of their best sellers, along with a light-up touch screen watch.
The products are similar to those found on other gadget websites, such as thinkgeek.com, but Malone said their competitive advantage comes from their low overhead and low markup percentages, which allows them to undercut the larger competitors.
“On some items, we take as little as 10 percent margin just to get that market share because right now we are competing for market share rather than profit,” he said.
By buying directly from manufacturers and distributors, they are able to select their products from a large pool of inventory at a wholesale price, but there is also a certain amount of risk involved in dealing with both domestic and international vendors. Their job as retailers is to sift through the hundreds of products on the market and find the best products, Malone said.
"Customers come to us and they expect us to be the barrier from a market that is filled with items they might not have confidence in,” he said.
They also hope to find products that they can rebrand with their own brand names, but they haven't settled on any specific products or brand names yet.
Low overhead also means long hours for Malone and Gasiorowski. They said they put six hours a day into the website, and sometimes they have worked into the early morning hours.
“People ask us, ‘Why do you spend so much time doing this? You could be out doing things on Friday night but instead you are doing this.’ I think I speak for both of us when I say this is our passion,” Malone said. “I have a passion for making a business and seeing how successful we can make it…It’s always kind of a game to see how big we can make it. I by no means see this is as work. To me, this is more fun than anything.”
Malone and Gasiorowski plan to continue the venture as they head to college next year. Malone plans to attend the University of Iowa for Entrepreneurial Studies, and Riley plans to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering.
They hope the business eventually takes off and attracts outside investors, but in the meantime, the two are just enjoying the process of building something new and sharing the gadgets they have found along the way.
“I would say ultimately the entire thing so far has been heavily driven by a passion not only for the technology and the cool gadgets that we love but also a passion to be able to share that with other people," Gasiorowski said. "We want to make things affordable, make them accessible and make sure other people get to find out about these really cool items and experience that for themselves."