On the outskirts of Liberty Center, Ohio, surrounded by farmland, “in the middle of nowhere,” stands a good-sized warehouse. The heavy-duty steel racks are crammed with all sorts of merchandise: imports from China, novelty hats, power drinks, cell-phone chargers and much more.
This is DSD Express, owned and operated by Tyler Smith, a 33-year-old Marine veteran who runs what used to be called a distributor, or middleman, or wholesaler. Nowadays the popular term is “logistics,” and it all boils down to buying and stocking a variety of goods to be resold to retailers or others. Which is what Tyler does – with a twist: he operates in two separate and very different business worlds, and is highly successful in both.
First, he sells to convenience stores, which are growing rapidly all over the place: gas stations, truck stops, you’ve seen them everywhere. These shops are expanding into much more than milk, bread and cigarettes, and Tyler is racing to keep up with them. Aside from power drinks, the hot items are collectible Zippo lighters and knives of all sorts. Stickers and signs. Caps and sun glasses. Batteries and novelties.
This is an “old fashioned” business, with sales reps making calls, lots of follow-up. A printed catalog! Tyler’s philosophy is “trying to make inventory work for us; put it anyplace it will sell.” If something doesn’t sell, he will take it back and replace it with something that does. (Winter hats didn’t do well this mild winter, so they are being replaced by summer hats.)
However, this is the 21st century, and Tyler’s other business is selling through Amazon.com and Walmart.com. Most of these items come from China: they are warehoused in Liberty Center, and sent out to consumers who buy on-line. And this business is exploding like crazy: Walmart is trying to catch up with Amazon, and DSD Express is enjoying the ride.
Tyler Smith sort of “fell into” this business. After leaving the Marines, he was about to be hired by a security contractor and sent to Iraq, when he received a job offer from a convenience store wholesaler. He decided to stay home and try his hand at business. He eventually started his own company in 2012, and five years later it is a roaring success.
A year after starting DSD Express, Tyler had some questions and problems, and consulted SCORE, Counselors to America’s Small Business. SCORE is known for assisting start-ups, but its extensive cadre of experienced businessmen also helps existing companies. Counselor Tom Hass has been working with Tyler as he grows his company and plans for the future.
DSD Express is a very lean operation: in addition to Tyler there is the proverbial “woman who makes it all happen,” in this case sitting at a bank of computers linking everything together. Quick-Books Premier is the main platform that handles the details, with some specialty software thrown in. Then there are a few packers and shippers who get the orders out the back door. And, finally, the “customer service” guy and trouble-shooter answering the phone in – of all places – the Philippines! That’s how up-to-date this operation is!
By the way, that warehouse houses a couple of other things: Tyler’s boat (large enough for his wife and two young daughters), and a small work-out gym that Tyler and his friends use regularly to keep in shape!
Liberty Center, Ohio is not Silicon Valley – yet. Tyler Smith is not on the cover of Fortune or Forbes – yet. But don’t be surprised if it happens. This is a savvy entrepreneur, and he’s on the move!
SCORE – Counselors to America’s Small Business - is supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, and may be reached at 419.259.7598 and www.nwoscore.org