SPARTA – It may be mini, but the Geekbox Bluetooth speaker sure packs a punch.
At least Charles Bell, developer of the product and owner of White County-based Compugeeks, thinks so, and in more ways than one. Since its debut in 2013, the Geekbox has been a boom for his bottom line; in only its second year of sales, it’s grown to encompass almost 50 percent of the business. But it’s meant some growing pains as well.
Bell wasn’t even looking to get into the portable speaker market when the prototype for Geekbox was introduced as a sample. He thought it’d simply be a way to drive a few extra customers to his Sparta store. Almost a side project; a little boost for the upcoming Christmas shopping season. It’s been anything but inconsequential.
“It was just kind of dumb luck,” he said. “A year ago, we were looking in the total opposite direction. This was so far from even being a concept. Now we’re just trying to hang on and figure out where to go next.”
Bell started Compugeeks, a computer and technology store, in 2008-2009. He had recently moved back home after his job in banking and the real estate market went bust. During his time in the mortgage sector, however, he did learn how to maintain the company’s computer systems. So he decided to put that skill set to work – and seeing a void for commercial IT in White County, Bell aimed to fill it.
Fast forward to 2014, and Compugeeks is seeing growth. The company added a wireless Internet option almost three years ago and expanded with another storefront in Livingston in 2012.
But it was an unassuming trip to China that forever changed the company’s course. Bell was meeting with some manufacturers to check out cable box prototypes. They introduced him to a number of different products. Bell in passing asked for a few samples. One happened to be earliest version of the Geekbox, a small Bluetooth speaker, which allows users to stream music wireless and with better sound quality.
“The one they sent us was junk, but it gave me the idea to modify,” Bell said. “We took about three months, adding and removing options, features, changing the speaker, changing the design, until we got to where we thought we could sell it in the U.S.
“There’s thousands (of Bluetooth speakers) on the market,” he added, a market that continues to grow as quality increases and prices drop, “but we developed our specific design and modified it to the way we thought we liked it.”
Apparently others liked it, too. Bell first hooked up with country music artist Aaron Tippin and took the speaker to market via Tippin’s tour bus. The star-studded following only escalated from there. The Geekbox has made rounds at the ESPY’s, a sports-related awards show on ESPN; the Rose Bowl, an annual college football bowl game; and college basketball’s Final Four.
Select record labels have also bought in; they liked that the Geekbox could be customized with different wrap options and pre-loaded songs promoting a particular artist. The Geekbox is sold in eight different local retail locations. And Bell is shoring up another national deal that could further expand the Geekbox reach.
Sales figures show it: In 2013, Geekbox’s first year of sales, around 6,000 speakers sold. In 2014? Bell expects to move roughly 100,000 units – a growth of more than 1,000 percent year-over-year. Each unit sells for $80.
“It just keeps growing and growing,” he said. “When it started, it was supposed to be 1-3 percent (of our business). I just thought it would be neat to have something Walmart didn’t have. And now it’s getting real close to 50 percent of what we do.”
Of course, with that growth comes challenges, everything from finances to shipping to importing – Bell said he’s been unsuccessful in attempts to find ways to manufacture the product stateside. Bell is hoping to get a Geekbox call center up and running in Sparta by November to assist with sales and support, but it’s tough to gauge how many employees will be needed to assist.
“It’s a fast, fast moving story,” Bell said. “We’re having to learn on the fly on some of this stuff. We’re just trying to figure out how to handle it without overgrowing and trying to deal with it the best we can, but that’s complicated.
“If you would have told me a year and a half ago that our company would be based on this little speaker, I would have thought you were crazy,” he added. “We were just a small company – and we still are a small company – but we’re doing things multi-million dollar companies do. It’s pretty neat.”
Charles Bell is owner of Compugeeks in Sparta, 386 W. Bockman Way, and Livingston, 713 W. Main St. For more information, visit www.comp-ugeeks.com or call (931) 837-4546.