Web Exclusive:

A small investment goes a long way

Jan '69 and Carol (Gregg '66) Benroth
Concord, Ohio

In the mid-1990s, I was hired as treasurer of a small, independently owned training company. Ford Motor Co. was its only customer at the time. Our contract with Ford was to provide on-site training to dealerships. One of our additional assignments was to sell promotional supplies for those dealerships that had retail-vehicle rental departments.

Jan and Carol BenrothMy employer started a website to handle those sales. After some time, the promotional supplies website was consuming too much employee time, considering the meager and declining sales volume of rental supplies. So, in 2003, I purchased the remaining inventory, created my own website and selling these supplies to Ford dealers became a part-time job for me and my wife Carol (Gregg '66), who was retired from teaching.

We turned around the declining sales, and this business made a little profit, but also provided a lot of on-the-job training in Internet sales. In 2007, as fewer dealerships maintained rental fleets, I decided to use what we had learned and, with an investment of $250, launched a new website www.dealerstockroom.com.

The number of products offered was expanded from about 30 to well over 300. We expanded our target customer base from the narrow focus of Ford dealers who rent vehicles to include all brands of new and used vehicle dealers. We quickly learned how to improve the website, create custom artwork for dealers, provide valuable customer service and use Internet tools such as Google AdWords to promote our business.

I used my Bluffton degree in business administration and years of experience as chief financial officer and treasurer of several corporations to grow our $250 investment into a leading national Internet source for auto dealership supplies. Dealerstockroom has enjoyed high double-digit sales growth each year since it began in 2007 and now serves more than 3,000 new- and used-vehicle dealerships.

Our business's operation has been mainly on Carol's shoulders until I recently retired from my "day job" in June 2011. Carol handled the customer orders, purchasing and customer service while I developed the website, managed the accounting system and did the required artwork for custom items during evening hours.

My goal now is to double the number of products offered on the website and add 2,000 new customers in 2012. Our business is portable, in that it can be operated from anywhere there is a computer and an Internet connection. Nearly all of our merchandise is drop-shipped from the manufacturers.

We are accomplishing our goal of developing a flexible, profitable business of our own that we can own and operate in this next chapter of our lives.