By Chris Cox
Published Jan. 4, 2016
From the Dec. 7 – Dec. 20 edition of the Columbia Regional Business Report
Nathan Stuewer would wake up early on those cold, snowy Michigan mornings and head for his chicken coop. What little warmth those winter days would offer was still a long way off, and only a tiny electric heater was on hand to provide him comfort.
It was a “very tough time” in Stuewer’s life, he remembers now. What were supposed to be exciting memories for he and his wife Jaime were anything but. He was fresh out of college, a newly licensed aircraft mechanic, only to wind up losing his job three months in as the economic downturn took hold.
|Nathan Stuewer and his dog Roxy can almost always be found outside the store, where countless jet skis and trucks decorate the lot. (Photo/Chris Cox)|
“I didn’t have another option,” he said. “There was just nothing else out there. I applied for everything.”
So Stuewer did the logical thing anybody else would have done in that situation. He woke up early, went into his chicken coop, and started playing with toys.
An avid fan of dirt bikes and ATVs, Stuewer decided to fall back on his hobby of fixing and reselling the vehicles. It kept him sane until he found a new job, he said, and he was making a little money to “appease my wife,” he joked.
Little did Stuewer know it would be his new career. His arduous journey eventually ended with founding Lexington-based Redline Motosports, an ever-growing purchase and repair shop which Stuewer pitched recently at 1 Million Cups, a weekly gathering place where local entrepreneurs discuss the challengers of starting a business.
“I fell back on what I knew and what I enjoyed,” he said. “I could do it on the side and was using the money (Jaime) was making to kind of start it up.”
Stuewer made his way to South Carolina, where Jaime had gotten a job as a nurse, and got to work. He started in February 2011 he secured 850 square feet for $500 at his current location, spending a total of $1,000 in startup costs. He began with about 200 parts in the first month, driving for hours to get a good deal, most of the time tearing apart the toys and selling it in pieces.
In 10 months of work, Redline sold over 3,300 parts for a net profit of more than $50,000, Stuewer said. Most of that was made online, as the company sold off its inventory on Ebay.
He and his team made just $10 per hour, which he says helped the business thrive as they put nearly every dollar they made back into it. As it grew, Stuewer began gobbling up more space at the location and adding to his staff, and eventually adopted the strategy of buying inventory from closing shops.
Now Redline employs anywhere from eight to 11 team members, has a full-service department with two or three technicians year-round and has bought out 10 other closing or failing shops. It owns 160 watercraft, have bought, torn apart and sold more than 1,000 toys and serviced more than 450. It has sold more than 37,000 parts online – largely through Ebay – and is currently housing 19,000 parts in a now 8,000-square foot space.
And it all started in that Michigan coop, in the darkest and coldest time of Stuewer’s life.
“Two weeks where you don’t have work is fun. Six months, year and a half, not too much,” he said. “It’s changing a mindset from having a good time just relaxing to getting focused was a tough thing for me, especially in the middle of winter.
“But I buckled down and just continued to buy stuff as I could and do my best to be profitable with it.”
Reach Chris Cox at 803-726-7545 or on Twitter @chrisbcox.
Sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation’s Entrepreneurship.org, 1 Million Cups meets at 9 a.m. Wednesdays at Cromer’s P-Nuts, 1700 Huger St. For more information, check the organization’s website at www.1millioncups.com/columbiasc.