WIND POINT - Seven years ago, Nick Fox was back in Racine from California, building a website in his apartment.
Soon he and his brother Michael were in the Rapids Business Center, launching an e-commerce website called eImprovement.com - and, by the way, trying to persuade manufacturers that they weren't just two guys in their pajamas with an amateurish website.
Today they sit atop a company with 50 employees, a projected $50 million in revenue this year, and a growth rate that many business owners would kill for.
Their company is still very much a local one, based at 4061 N. Main St., just yards beyond the City of Racine's northern
The good news is that the Fox brothers expect their business to keep growing like a California brush fire - and they plan to keep it in the Racine area.
Michael and Nick were born in London while their father, Derek Fox, a now-retired SC Johnson research scientist, was working there. But they grew up in the Racine area.
As adults, Nick had a computer programming and business background, and Michael was working in finance and real estate development. They thought the home-improvement industry was late to the e-commerce party. "Home improvement kind of got a late start," Michael said.
But they believed the Internet could be used there, too. When Nick returned from California, the brothers teamed up and, in July 2003, formed their new company.
"I built the first site from scratch by myself in an apartment," Nick said: eFaucets.com, still eImprovement's "flagship" website store. The site went live that October, and the brothers rented their first office inside Rapids Business Center, 1509 Rapids Drive.
Then they went out to build partnerships with top manufacturers. There were some early doubts to overcome.
"There was a time when e-business was a second-class citizen, and (manufacturers) wouldn't support it," Michael said. They had to teach them that the Internet really was a channel for their products.
The Fox brothers built eImprovement with Nick, now 35, as CEO, overseeing the technical side. Michael, now 37, is chief operating officer and oversees the operational side.
The company is a true e-commerce entity, never touching the vast majority of what it sells. Michael said 97 percent of products sold are shipped directly from manufacturer to customer.
The business has not only survived a catastrophic economy, but thrived in it. While the recession strangled companies across the nation, Nick cited these numbers for eImprovement since January 2007:
n Sales growth of 350 percent.
n Expected 2010 sales of $50 million.
n Projected sales of $75 million to $100 million next year as eImprovement adds many more websites.
One additional employee is required for about each added $1 million in revenue, Nick said. The company could double from 50 to 100 employees next year if they hit their target of $100 million, Michael added.
The brothers cite several reasons for their success. One is the world of product choices that eImprovement offers.
Michael said eFaucets.com has more than 250 brands of kitchen and bathroom products and about 275,000 individual products, counting all sizes, finishes and variations.
That gives them a huge advantage over the big-box home-improvement retailers, he said and added, "We ship a lot of products that you can't find anywhere but the
The recession actually helped eImprovement, Michael said. Rather than building new, larger homes, people turned to remodeling.
"It's far cheaper (than building) to buy the best faucet you can buy when remodeling the kitchen," he said.
And the people buying those faucets have money; the typical eImprovement customer makes $75,000 or more, Michael said. The websites cater to that
For example, in the company's lobby/showroom stands a handsome copper mailbox. "This is an $800 mailbox," Michael said.
TV programs that show lavish celebrity mansions also create customers, the brothers said. "People see these tricked-out bathrooms" and want to emulate that lifestyle, Michael said.
One customer might spend $10,000 to $15,000 just to remodel a bathroom, he said.
As eImprovement grew, the recession also helped the brothers build their staff.
"We have hired most of our work force from well-known local companies that laid people off in 2008 and 2009 due to the economy," Nick said.
"Some have come from well-known companies such as CNH and Baird. The down economy has actually allowed us to pick up some great talent."