Geoffrey Lewis, WYNIT: Serial Entrepreneur
If you look at Lewis’s past, it’s probably no surprise that he ended up starting a distribution company. He got the sales bug while attending Rochester Institute of Technology in the early ‘70s. “I never graduated,” Lewis said. “I was too busy being entrepreneurial. I’d go to school when I had time, which wasn’t a lot.”
Instead, he spent his time selling ads for the school yearbook and newspaper. Fate intervened one weekend when he was visiting his parents’ home in Haverhill, Mass.
On the den table were three portable calculators, representing the cutting-edge technology of the time. His father, who worked in the shoe manufacturing industry, had picked them up from a client. Lewis asked if he could try selling them back at school. He placed signs around campus and sold them within a few days. He sent the money back home and asked for six more. Six eventually turned into nearly 200. Lewis never turned back.
During the next several years, he worked as sales manager at the Office Equipment Company of Rochester, where he learned the ins and outs of commercial sales (especially with copiers) and how to manage a sales force. He also worked with his father, overseeing shoe component manufacturing processes, a job that took him throughout Asia and Europe. Despite spending as much time in the air as on the ground, Lewis earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in import/export. He also picked up a few important lessons from his father.
“He taught me about the importance of building relationships with customers and suppliers,” Lewis recalled. “He said, ‘It’s not all about fashion and it’s not all about price. It’s all about customer service.’”
During a six-month hiatus plotting his next move, Lewis noticed an increase in grey-market sales of copier components and printer consumables. “Instead of cold-calling for hardware sales, I had a better idea. I’ll sell the supplies,” which few established players were doing at the time, said Lewis, who began leveraging his vendor contacts at Canon, Hewlett-Packard and elsewhere for supplies. “That was the beginning of my wholesale career.”