January 5, 2001
Beginning of the Road
By Dane Sorensen
When I moved to our little piece of paradise that we call Ely, I figured my big business days were over. No cell phones, no international faxing, no writing checks with over five figures. That is just what the doctor ordered. After 15 years of retail and manufacturing I was tired of the rat race. Now some six years later I find I am going to the well again. No, I am not moving back to the mess they call Minneapolis. I think I would rather be a volunteer for medical research in Iraq than go back to Minneapolis.
People have been wondering for months what Candy and I are up to in the former "Bear Paw Books" building. All sorts of speculations have been made as to what kind of business we are planning. I have enjoyed the guesses. I enjoyed even more telling any inquisitive merchant that we were going to open up a store like their store. Several offered to just let me buy their shop, but I have had my fill of retail for this life and the next to come.
Our main business is a dream business. No set hours. No set product. Buy low and sell high. It is not dependent on tourists, nor do we need local support. It does not compete with any established business in Ely. We intend to be good business neighbors by not seeking local trade. There is little enough for most of our hard working businesses to live off of.
Our new business isn't even new. It all started with my spending last Spring break on my computer. One thing lead to another and then it just mushroomed into a real business; complete with cell phones, email, faxes and the like. We even have had to go on a business trip. That is something I never did for our last big business back in Minneapolis. Now we probably will have to travel several times a year to maintain and enlarge the business.
So this May we will celebrate the first anniversary of our new business. D&C Sorensen and Associates is the name. Even that is not new. I have used that for our real estate business since we came to Ely. Now that name works for all our efforts, both old and new.
So what do we do? It is not a new business idea. I think the Greeks did it over 2500 years ago. The English got rich off it. Okay, I will stop being obtuse. Imports. D&C Sorensen and Associates import items from the East and sells them over the Internet for a good return. Sounds easy doesn't it.
You don't know what redtape is until you have dealt with the U.S. Customs Office. It is amazing anything ever enters this country. Even a simple miscount of the number of cartons can keep a shipment locked up for a month. Plus, I still am unnerved at wiring money to half way around the world and wondering if the product will ever show up. Russia is notorious for bad transactions.
Another amazing fact is half of all our shipments have shown evidence of rain on the boxes. You would think we had everything sent over on rusty freighters. The truth is we mostly use air freight. It is very expensive, yet all airlines seem to pride themselves on sloppy service and little if any attempts at protecting your merchandise. After seeing countless shipments come wet on the outside, I am not amazed at horror stories of luggage being lost or smashed. The US Post Office treats packages 100% better than the best airline. We have seen cartons containing thousands of dollars of merchandise disintegrate because the cardboard is soaked. Luckily, we lose only about 7% due to shipping damage.
So what do we import? Most of the items are musical instruments such as violins and violas. Since November we have branched off into some electronics and soon other items. Our customers are all from our Internet site. Email is my main tool.
The world has changed. There are opportunities on the Internet that can change your life for the better. I am still amazed at how fast this business grew to where it is our main support. By no means are we expecting to be the next .com millionaires. Companies like Amazon and their ilk are now finding out that eventually they have to make a profit just like the corner store does. You can't loose billions forever. Not even our government could do that. So while many of these yuppie.coms are folding there are thousands and thousands of Internet businesses that are providing good livings for their owners. The trick is to find your small spot in the sunshine.
I probably am not the first in Ely to find a way to live off the Internet, nor do I hope to be the last. If our community is to survive with a healthy school district, happy homes filled with families, and a strong local economy we must learn better ways of bringing cash to Ely and not always sending it out. Tourism will always be important to our town, but it never will be consistent day after day as so many other businesses manage to do.
I urge any business minded person to explore the Internet for opportunities. It is amazing that it does not require billions of dollars to accomplish success. You can start small. Our first shipment was no more than 16 items. Much of the Internet world doesn't even involve things - it is all about information and services. Let the Internet surprise you. If a 49 year old fat guy can do it, so can you.