If you ask Sean Belnick, CEO of BizChair.com, to tell you what he’s learned over the past nine years of running his company, you’d hear some familiar themes: that you should be always prepared for the unexpected, know when to cut your losses, and always be flexible. In many respects, he’s much like any experienced entrepreneur… except that he’s 23 years old.
Sean started BizChair at the age of 14, when he applied his web skills toward developing an e-commerce site for his father’s office furniture company, essentially becoming his father’s customer. Since then, Sean’s business has grown quickly, appearing on the Inc. 500 list twice. Now, BizChair has 130 employees, 40 of whom were hired this past year.
I asked him how he was able to achieve such growth, especially during the recession, and he shared with me another lesson he’s learned: “Be cautiously aggressive. Don’t try to do too much or take on too much risk. You may be tempted to over-leverage yourself, but it’s better to take smaller steps.”
Over time, BizChair has taken a number of steps, including introducing their own line of products. “When we first started, it was drop-ship businesses. We took orders online, and then went to the vendors and had them send it. It was low risk, but easily duplicated. We’re now at a point where we can start stocking and shipping our own, which allows us to cut out the wholesalers and distributors. We save around 30 percent and can pass those savings on to our customers.”
These lower-priced options were well timed with the economy: “Our business has been built on being the mid-budget options. As more businesses have become price conscious, they’ve come to us.”
But the economy did present them with challenges: “It was initially tough for us to expand. We couldn’t get an increased credit line from our bank. So we relied on our PLUM Card and pushed out to 60 days so we could manage cash flow.”*
When they pay early and take the early-pay discount, they consider that “found money” to be used for sales incentives and employee rewards. “We try to put everything on the PLUM Card to get the early pay discount back. We tell vendors that they have to accept the Card in order to do business with us.”
They also have a Platinum Card and Centurion Card, and they use the Membership Rewards points they get on those for travel. Given the number of meetings with their manufacturing partners overseas, it’s another way they’re fueling expansion through their Cards. “We evaluate our expenses on a weekly basis to determine what to put on each Card to make sure we’re getting the most from our benefits.”
As BizChair continues expanding – including recently launching home furniture and school furniture sites – I hope to hear more from Sean on how he’s using his Cards toward growth.
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