At age 15, Carl Davis opened an eBay account to sell household items, a hobby he continued while studying chemistry at the University of Georgia. Upon graduating, he worked in chemical manufacturing. But he never lost his interest in online sales.
One day, Davis’s employer asked him to resell the company’s random surplus equipment. “These items sold quickly, and a light bulb went off in my head,” he says.
His knowledge of the opportunities in this area led Davis to form his own online sales business, The Equipment Hub, at home in Decatur in the fall of 2011. “I knew manufacturing companies often put old machinery in the corner and let it sit. It had no value to them.”
Davis got started by making cold calls before going to his manufacturing job. On his second day, he found his first client. He took photographs of the equipment, posted them on eBay, and they sold. “The first sold for $5,000. He paid me $750 and I thought, ‘Wow! That was the easiest money I ever made.’ After that, I knew I had to do it full time.”
That December, Davis went to UGA SBDC consultant John Ernst for advice on forming a corporation. “We walked through my business plan, and John challenged me on thoughts about the process that were incorrect. He’s good about that.”
“Carl is a startup. I’ve helped him with everything,” says Ernst. In addition to reviewing the business plan together, he helped Davis develop a competitive advantage list and marketing lists of potential clients with distinct profiles using Reference USA. They worked on using QuickBooks for accounting, website design and function, and vendor relations.
When Davis’s brother, Mark, came on as a 50-50 partner in 2012, Ernst talked to them about running different parts of the organization. “In partnerships, it helps if you have very narrowly focused duties. They tend to last longer,” Ernst says.
The company grew from Davis’s basement to a leased warehouse in Tucker. A year later they moved to a larger warehouse in Stone Mountain. All the while, Ernst advised Davis on his expansion plans, hiring and job descriptions, and getting a line of credit.
“John has given us a lot of generalized business advice. But the most important thing I’ve learned from him is to focus,” says Davis. “From the very beginning, I could sell any kind of machine, but I was struggling to get traction. John kept telling me I had to focus on key areas. That was great advice.”
This focus narrowed with the guidance of three semi-retired machinery dealers. “Bumpy and Charlie were 84 and 83 years old. When we met them in 2012, they had hundreds of thousands of dollars of metalworking equipment in their warehouse, but couldn’t sell it. All of their contacts were retired or dead,” says Davis.
“They let us broker all the equipment.” They sold it all in record time, providing them with the experience and knowledge they needed to pursue this niche.
In January 2013 they had a similar experience with a woodworking machinery dealer. “We were becoming known as the internet pros in the machinery business.”
For 2012 the brothers posted $201,252 in revenue for their company. By the end of 2015, the Equipment Hub had six employees and is planning to hire another. They expect to post over $2 million in sales and were looking at warehouse spaces ranging from 50,000-100,000 square feet to move their operation into. “It’s crazy to think how our initial $20,000 investment is now worth millions,” says Davis.
“We have an unbelievable team, and I feel the sky is the limit. I feel we could do $10 million next year. We’re going to grow to $100 million in sales, and I have some creative ideas on getting to that point.”
Davis also credits Ernst for helping him work through the processes necessary to run a profitable business.
“You’d be crazy not to take advantage of something like the SBDC. What an awesome thing,” he says. “Paying for a business consultant is very expensive. John is extremely knowledgeable. I think of him as a partner. I don’t think I’d be where I’m at now if it wasn’t for him.”