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Published: Monday, 9/22/2003

Kimco has power to fill niche needs

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

DELTA - When electricity generator sales burned out after fears of Y2K pandemonium failed to materialize, many dealers left the business. Kim Allen, operator of the Web-based Electric Generator Store, turned up the juice.

“We capitalized off of it,” said Mr. Allen, 32.

“We bought up the inventories of a lot of dealers and manufacturers.”

Today, the Electric Generator Store is among a family of businesses that operates under the name Kimco International Corp. and which brings in $6 million in sales annually.

Generator sales got another boost from an August blackout affecting 50 million Americans from Toledo to New York.

Revenues have soared 450 percent a year since 1999, when the firm launched Web sites selling generators, lawn and garden equipment, power tools, and supplies for scrapbook hobbyists.

Scrapbooks were a niche venture that Kim Allen got into at the suggestion of his wife, Jenny, who participates in the hobby.

The side business known as Jenny Craft now brings in $1.2 million annually, primarily through the Internet.

Kim Allen and his Kimco International Corp. thrived when many generator firms left after the passing of the Y2K scare. Kim Allen and his Kimco International Corp. thrived when many generator firms left after the passing of the Y2K scare.
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Kimco operates in an unassuming 10,000-square foot corrugated metal building similar to the pole barns that dot the surrounding rural landscape along Airport Highway here.

The atmosphere is frenzied as the 18-person staff serves walk-in customers, packs orders, tends to Web sites, and responds to technical questions from customers - sometimes in Spanish.

Bilingual customer service representatives have helped Mr. Allen carve out a respectable business among Spanish-speaking Americans, many on the West coast.

Mr. Allen is among the Spanish speakers, having learned the language as an exchange student and, later, a Mormon missionary in South and Central America.

Mr. Allen owns Kimco with his father, Rudy, 52, and brothers, Aaron, 29, and Scott, 34. The firm incorporated under the name Kimco International last year, but started in 1994 as a partnership called Kimco Pressure Washers, Mr. Allen said.

Eighty percent of sales are over the Internet, with 10 percent of products shipped to foreign countries.

The biggest product, accounting for six in 10 sales, is generators. The firm sells everything from $200 portable units to $100,000 systems for commercial use.

Customers include the U.S. military, which bought 45 inexpensive gasoline-powered generators to send to Iraq for powering laptop computers, Mr. Allen said.

Increasingly popular among homeowners and builders are automatic, standby generators that tie into a home's natural gas or liquid propane line.

The key to continued success, the president said, is good customer service.

“We don't sell based on low price, but on service and knowledge. When a customer calls in, any one of us can answer technical questions.”

Mr. Allen plans to expand the business significantly. The company soon will move to a new building more than twice as large on a nearby site.

The president expects employment to grow to 50 in five years, and has dreams of one day achieving $1 billion in annual sales.

Still, Mr. Allen recognizes that potential pitfalls are plentiful.

The cost of insuring the firm's inventory is skyrocketing and finding dependable employees is difficult.

But the biggest challenge, said Mr. Allen, is managing Kimco's explosive growth.

“A growth rate of 450 percent is a killer,” he said.

“We have to control the growth so it doesn't kill us,” he said.

Additionally, he said, with competition for generator business once again on the rise, “profit margins are slim.”

When officials at the city of Bryan, in Williams County, went hunting last year for generators to back up a municipally operated cable television and high-speed internet access systems, they chose Kimco.

“We compared prices and Kimco was cheaper,” said Ed Stokes, power production superintendent.

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