STARTUP: Radcliff Electric Supply
PROPRIETORS: David Chandler, Jr.
If this story doesn’t inspire you, you may want to check your pulse. I came across David Chandler, Jr. by chance – a random discussion with a neighbor, who happens to be David’s father, David Chandler Sr. who founded Radcliff Electric Supply over 35 years ago.
Radcliff Electric Supply has been a local presence in Hardin County providing electrical products since it began. David Jr., began working with his father late in 2014. His father happened to mention that he wanted to find a way to sell his unused inventory that was cluttering up his warehouse. At the time, David knew very little about the Internet and even less about computers. “I barely knew how to use email,” said David Jr. “I wasn’t intimidated by it, but I had little use for it at the time. But I told Dad I’d look into trying to sell it on eBay or something like it.” It was a pivotal decision that would eventually lead to a success that neither of them expected. While David Jr. is operating under the Radcliff Electric Supply corporate name, what he’s done has expanded well beyond electrical supplies.
Less than two years later, David Jr. has managed to establish an impressive online business selling products through Amazon and other channels. His sales routinely exceed $100,000 per month (no, that’s not a typo) and they’re on a growth path that might actually scare some startups. Not David. He’s up to the challenge and motivated like few other people I’ve encountered. And what makes this even more fascinating is that he is entirely self taught. He didn’t buy a book or some online course to teach him how to do all this. It was by sheer determination, perseverance, and long hours that he learned what he needed to do to make it happen.
His business is not what many others do by selling on Amazon. He’s not simply drop shipping products he never sees or touches. He buys products he believes will be useful to a niche consumer base, has them shipped to his warehouse in Radcliff, packages them and in some cases brands them with his own brand, and ships them to any number of Amazon warehouses throughout the country. “I like to see and touch what I’m selling,” said David. “If it’s not up to my standards, I simply won’t sell it.” During my interview with David at his office, I witnessed what appeared to be controlled chaos, but make no mistake, there is a method to the madness and things are actually running very smoothly.
David uses some carefully selected software tools, all cloud based, to manage his inventory, his sales models, his shipping, and his product listings. He’s learned through trial and error which of these tools best help him manage this business. His growth has been so fast, that he seldom has free time for anything else. He’s constantly challenged with how much time to dedicate toward ordering products, warehousing them, and shipping them out, and finding and introducing new products. But he is very careful to manage the growth. He is well aware that growing too fast can be a death blow to some businesses and he’s determined not to let that happen, yet looking at how fast it has grown already, you might think otherwise. He reached $10,000 in monthly sales in his first six months and by the end of the first year, it had grown to $60,000. Another six months later he reached the $100,000 milestone. His target for the immediate future is ten percent per month, an extraordinary pattern. He expects growth to level out for a while while he works on establishing his own brand of products.
Until six months ago, everything about how to run this business was all in his head. Things got so hectic that he finally decided to hire some people to help him manage the rapid growth. In the beginning, he operated almost entirely on a used laptop and did everything himself. Watching him do his magic facing three giant monitors is fascinating. He knows exactly what’s selling, how fast, and precisely what’s on the shelves at Amazon to sell his products and he can tell by a quick click of the mouse. Don’t try to follow him though. He zips through it so fast, you have no idea how he got there. But he does.
He currently has three employees, one of which is quickly learning the ropes and establishing herself as an integral part of the operation. When he hired Casce Ploude, she had no more knowledge about computers and software than he did when he started, but he noticed a spark in her that gave him the confidence he needed to train her and keep her on board. It turns out, he’s a great judge of ability because she’s quickly learned what it takes and is exceeding even his high expectations.
Part of David’s strategy is to establish his own brands with his products. He’s already built partnerships with product manufacturers and marketers, allowing him to re-brand or co-brand the products. So far he has two of his own brands, which represent two of his biggest selling products. By now, you’re probably wondering exactly what he sells, right? He has over 550 SKUs (business lexicon for stock keeping units), but he has three product categories that really shine and trust me, you’ll be scratching your head when you learn what they are. Ready? Okay, here they are:
- Tool Belts
- Tractor Hitches
The tool belts are designed specifically for electricians and carpenters, but that’s where the tie in to the electrical supply business ends. I asked David why people want magnets. He said, “I’m not really sure. Maybe because they’re just cool or fun, but they can also be very useful in many applications.” The tractor hitches were invented by a former employee of David’s father many years ago. After he invented it, he went off on his own, and fifteen years later, he has his own manufacturing facility in Brandenburg and he sells them all over the world. And now that David sells them online, his sales have grown substantially.
The two brands he’s established already are Manic Magnets and Trade Gear (for the tool belts). He also sells other brands, but he’s working hard to establish his own brand identity on his internet presence. David places a high degree of importance on his online reputation and his ratings status makes that abundantly clear. He’s had over 470 product and service reviews and his rating is 100 percent positive. There are zero neutral and zero negative reviews. That’s nearly unheard of in the online retail space. When I asked him how he achieves this he said “I believe the customer is king. If for some reason they don’t get their product or it’s damaged, I don’t try to blame the delivery service. I just take care of it. It’s not rocket science. People like it when merchants stand behind their products.”
About the time I was finishing my interview with David, I asked him if he had ever considered consulting or offering some seminars to teach others about how he accomplished his successful enterprise. He gave me one of his characteristic, infectious smiles, as he carefully considered how to answer me. It took him a while before he began his answer and I was assuming he wanted to keep his secrets to himself, but that wasn’t what he was thinking at all. “I’m not doing anything magical here. There aren’t really any secrets or special formulas,” said David. “You can’t teach people how to be driven. You can’t teach them to never give up. You can’t teach them to work sixteen or more hours in a day. You can’t teach them to never take no for an answer. I went into this knowing nothing about it, and I simply taught myself how to do it. I learned from my mistakes and charged on. Those are the characteristics that made me successful. If someone wants to duplicate what I’ve done, they need to do what I did. Just jump in with both feet, commit to your goals, and make it happen for yourself.”
David sees his biggest challenges as taking the steps necessary to shore up his supply line. He purchases his products wholesale. Some originate here in the U.S, others from as far away as China. Some shipments may take as long as six to eight weeks to arrive. “I have to plan three to four months ahead to make sure I have the products available,” said David. Even then, he has to make sure the products meet his quality expectations and they are properly boxed and labeled to meet the requirements of Amazon and in some cases, marked with his own brand name.
I expect to hear more terrific things about David’s online businesses as time progresses and wouldn’t be surprised to see him become a notable employer within the next few years. All good news for Hardin County. What a terrific success story. Click on the Hardin Local startup badge below to learn how you could be featured in this column.