Monty Bates is the Founder and CEO of Camera Gear, Inc. – an Oklahoma-based eBusiness specializing in camera parts, equipment and accessories. Camera Gear, Inc. owns and/or operates more than 100 camera-related domains. Despite spending tens of thousands of dollars in domain acquisition, the company currently operates with zero debt.
Prior to starting Camera Gear, Inc., Bates was the Executive Vice President of National Career Education, a California-based, post-secondary vocational school offering medical, administrative and optical career training programs.
Bates currently lives in Oklahoma City, OK with his wife and two sons.
First off, why cameras and camera equipment? Turning a hobby into an income? Or was there a vulnerable on-line market for the niche?
I had no interest in photography or camera equipment when I started. My interest was in the Internet. I started about 10 different Internet businesses including … resume writing, want-ad listings, tool sales and sporting goods sales to name a few. All of them flopped except one – selling camera filters. It took off like a rocket, all because I purchased the domain CameraFilters.com. I paid $10,000 for the domain. Looking back, it was the best money I’ve ever spent.
Care to share the names you used in your prior business ventures? And why do you think they failed?
They actually failed because of the names. I learned the hard way. It’s tough to create a brand. For a resume business, I bought the domain aaaResume.com. For want-ad listings, I bought eWant.com. For tool sales, I bought ExpensiveTools.com. They all failed.
What I did learn was to purchase the domain with the generic words that people would type in the search engine to find your product. In other words, if I were starting a resume business now, I would attempt to buy the domains: Resume.com, ResumeTemplates.com, ResumeExamples.com and so on per Google’s recommendation.
As an entrepreneur, the tools we have today are one of the reasons why the Internet is by far the best place to create a business. When I started in the mid 1990s, there was a lot of guesswork. And there still is. But with the tools available today, we can make more educated guesses. Launching a successful business is always going to require a little skill and a lot of luck. If it didn’t, all of the businesses would already be created by somebody else.
While $10,000 may not seem like a lot of money for getting a business off the ground, I know a lot of people who give strange looks when they find $10,000 was spent on a single domain. In addition, inventory needs to be amassed, storage secured … things a regular bricks-and-mortar model also take into consideration. How’d you get the capital to launch Camera Gear, Inc.?
The seed money for the business came from working as a Software Engineer at GTE Government Systems in Northern California. Instead of a salary, they offered company stock for compensation. My advice to anybody that works for a company that offers a stock purchase plan – take advantage of it! The stock price doubled several times throughout a period of 10 years.
In the beginning it felt risky to launch the internet business, but by being cautious and wise, the risks became more tolerable. The great thing about an Internet business is you can start small and grow it to be as large as you like. We now ship packages to nearly every continent every week.
As an early stage Internet startup, our sales have exceeded every expectation. However, quality control, rather than growth is our priority. Of our 100+ websites, we currently only have 20 active. We are in the process of increasing our staff, inventory and warehouse space, and at the same time improving our process. We will not sacrifice quality control for growth. We operate completely debt free and generate a positive cash flow for every quarter.
Speaking of staff, inventory and warehouse space, how did you go about setting up distribution channels for your products?
Our goal is to keep distribution as simple as possible. We have one distribution center – Oklahoma City. We are centrally located in the USA and that allows for fast deliveries to both the east and west coasts.
Behind the scenes, it’s a bit more complicated. We have multiple storage warehouses in different parts of the city to house our inventory. Oklahoma is prone to tornados, plus we have the normal concerns of fire, theft, water damage and so on. If we lost one or two of our warehouses to a disaster, it would be tragic but it would not shut us down.
We offer free shipping for any order over $23, which applies to most orders. As for our shipping department, we use USPS to ship most packages. When selecting products to sell, we take into consideration the size and weight of the product. Smaller and lighter products are obviously better. We self insure each package to help keep costs down. The USPS loses less than one in six thousand of our domestic packages.
Who handles your customer relations? Do you outsource or handle in-house?
We try to be savvy in every possible way, including customer relations. We utilize our website to reach our customers providing information in an easy to read and concise way. Since the beginning, we’ve taken every customer question and comment seriously. When we do receive a question or comment, not only do we give the answer to the customer, we update our websites with the hopes the next customer will find the answer automatically.
We offer technical support by farming out email messages to experts in the area of the question. We hire people on a part-time basis for this.
Considering the success of Camera Gear, Inc., are you planning to parlay that success into another on-line venture or another business? In short, what’s in the foreseeable future for Monty Bates?
Recently, I’ve increased my volunteer efforts specifically in the area of education. I’m at a point in my life where I’m more interested in “giving back” than “acquiring more”. However, I will always have a love for creating businesses. My plan for CameraGear.com is to eventually deliver it into the hands of an organization that can accommodate its tremendous growth.