Chris Chapman began his own ski equipment business in 1998 and sold it to another company in 2017. He came to tell his story Friday at Sprocket Innovations' "Startup Stories" at the Coke plant.
After managing a number of ski shops, Chapman's first solo venture was selling used skis, naming his company Loucon after his sons, Louis and Connor. He was a wholesaler, selling ski equipment to resorts in the East and stores like Play It Again Sports.
"My first business model was to be sold out by Thanksgiving, go skiing three months and write it off as research," he said, but that didn't work out as planned.
He sold racing skis online at eBay - they were an oddity in his business - and they sold quickly. People who were on eBay sent Chapman emails asking where they could get skis for recreational use.
"The next day, I took five pictures, put them up for a seven-day auction, and they all sold," he said. "It got to be every night - five pictures, then 10 pictures, then I got to 20 pictures, and I thought, 'This might actually be something.'"
That "something" became SnowSportsDeals.com, which sells all kinds of ski and snowboard gear and winter apparel.
Soon after, Chapman was in a conference with people from Amazon at a time when the company was branching out from books. They asked him to test some of their sports items. That got him more involved with e-commerce.
"The most exciting part of business has been the transition to e-commerce," he said. "It was like the wild west back then. I joined different groups online - there were no tools back then - and we all worked to put category trees on our own apps.
"Every day was a new experience to try and get seen and meet other sellers."
Chapman worked in Washington, D.C., where he worked with eBay and PayPal and also lobbied Congress at committee meetings about internet sales tax issues, net neutrality and other related issues.
A Murray State University graduate in geology, he moved back to Murray in 2013. He also moved his warehouse from Maryland to western Kentucky and was able to improve his shipping setup. "Sixty-eight percent of my market is two-day shipping," he said. "We're forced to have free two-day shipping now because of Amazon, so we had to be somewhere in the middle of the country."
His location in Murray enables him to reach most of the eastern U.S., as far as Boston in the Northeast.
Last year, Chapman sold his business to a competitor, but was able to stay on as the general manager of his original company, Loucon, at least through April.
"After 20 years, it's really hard to work for somebody else," he said. "It's nice having a paycheck, but not being the final authority sometimes can be quite difficult."
While he was more interested in science in college, Chapman said he always enjoyed running businesses, including a lemonade stand as a child.
"I'm always looking for other ideas," he said of his future after SnowSportsDeals.com. "I started an e-commerce group in Murray, and I want to grow it for people who want to get together and talk about e-commerce. I want it to encourage people who want to start a business and help them with questions.
The e-commerce network is called Kentucky E-Commerce Network, and is for anyone interested or currently doing business using the internet. The next meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 28 at 3332 U.S. 641 North in Murray. More information can be found at meetup.com.
Startup Stories is a forum for area entrepreneurs to tell their business stories to inspire others to start their own businesses. It meets at 7:30 a.m. on the first Friday of the month on the second floor of the Coke plant at 3121 Broadway St. It is sponsored by Sprocket Innovations, which has a maker space at the Coke plant.