Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.
What do you do and how long have you been doing it? We sell gold-prospecting, rock-hounding and treasure-hunting equipment and supplies. We've been doing this since late 2006.
Owner: Eathan Mertz
Address: 710 Rossanley Drive, Medford
Facebook: Black Cat Mining.com
How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley? We moved here in April 2012 from Harrisburg.
What inspired you to go into this line of work? I had been working in Internet marketing consulting. Clients are sometimes kind of nightmare. One day I received an email from a client, saying they were shutting down. They owed me a bunch of money and I wasn't going to receive any of the back pay. ... Suddenly, having no income, we needed to do something and I saw an opportunity and an underserved niche on the Internet. There weren't that many companies dedicated to Internet sales with this type of equipment and I thought it would be more stable than working with clients.
What decision or action would you change if you could do it again? I probably would've chosen a product line that was more consistent. In Internet sales, it's all about shipping. ... You've got to support products that can you stuff in a tiny little box that weighs less than 13 ounces, to 300-pound equipment that goes on a pallet. ... That takes us back to the consistent product line, if you're using the same flat-rate box every time, shipping becomes easier. Right now, we stock 30 different box sizes.
What's the toughest business decision you've made? Buying out American Prospector, a Medford business that has gone through a couple of different owners; we bought them out two months ago. They wanted out, so it made sense, but it's a stretch financially. It definitely increased our inventory and it kind of filled up our warehouse. ... We're picking up some of their customers, and we took over their White's Electronics Metal Detector dealership. Right now our brick and mortar business is supplemental to our Internet business, but it's still an important supplement. We are an Internet company, but we also want to serve our retail customers.
Who are your competitors? When we started there weren't many. A couple of years ago, we started seeing more springing up as the TV shows like "Gold Rush" and "Bearing Sea Gold" started airing. As those gained in popularity, we started seeing more small dealerships pop up online. This year we're starting to see competition from Amazon, Cabela's, Target, Walmart, Sears and Bass Pro Shop.
What are your goals? I would like to see the business grow to where we can separate the retail from the Internet. I would like to see our presence on the Internet become the place where you go to buy mining supplies. People might see Walmart or Target, but they know they can get it at Black Cat Mining. We have variety, good service and all that. In truth, I'd like to survive the short-term competition and still be here five years from now.
What training or education did you need? I started on the Internet in 1997 and worked with a bunch of Internet startups. Some failed miserably and some were huge successes, and going through that startup environment over and over again, I think, was the best education. I learned the do a lot of things for myself. When I started out, I had a computer and was somewhat Internet-literate. Over the years, I've learned some programming, database management, server management and much better Photoshop skills.
If something has to be done, you have to figure out how to do it; there's not always funding to go hire somebody.
What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs? One of the things I see a lot with new companies starting up is that you see fancy offices and logos on T-shirts, jackets and hats. Everyone has a business card with their name on it. So often it's a waste of money because they are concentrating on looking like a company, rather than being one. Forget all that and show me the company.
To suggest ideas for this column about locally owned businesses, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email email@example.com.