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Selling By Instinct At OBI

Apr 1, 2008
by Judi Perkins

Tim Choklett, President of Opportunity Buys, Inc. (OBI), instinctively understands what people want. In grade school, he removed the centers of books to sell pieces of bubblegum he had purchased in bags. Later, he pre-sold several hundred gallons of milk to families in his neighborhood, then had the bulk delivery made to his house, prior to distribution. At age thirteen, he was selling at flea markets.

So it is no surprise that in a wholesale world where it seems everyone's dream is to sell to the big guys, Choklett checked that off his list in OBI's early years. His pursuit of Wal-Mart finally yielded fruit when he was given the opportunity to meet the buyer in Indianapolis. The catch was Choklett had to find him. So Choklett went from store to store until he cornered the buyer in a snack bar, and sold him an order for NASCAR Brickyard 400 merchandise, the first year it took place.

Today, he can return to Target, Kmart, and Wal-Mart anytime. His vendor numbers are still active, it is just that they are... inactive. "We decided we wanted to own the business, not have the business own us," said Choklett. "My whole ambition is for the ma and pa operation. We have 7,000 customers, most of whom own one to five stores. I do not want to sell to five guys. If Wal-Mart is 60 percent of my business, and they decide they do not need me, we are out the door." He views their customers as family. "It is John, Susie, Joe, Betsy. It is not, 'Hi, I am sorry you dealt with Bill, now it is Ann.'"

He views his employees as family, too. "I own the business, but it is always 'we.' When someone asks who the owner is, I say, 'It is ours.' It is everybody's. I will pick things up off the floor just like anybody else, or help somebody load their truck. I will talk on the phone to any customer. I go to the tradeshows, and sit in the booth just like everyone else." His philosophy is to be a great wholesale supplier of, "Great products that are very hot, good sellers, and provide great margins." Since their wholesale pricing ranges from $1.50 to $20 per item, and the recommended mark up is 50 percent, it is no wonder that OBI frequently hears, "Thank you for making our store money."

What began as one man selling closeouts from his two car garage has blossomed into a successful national business with an increasing number of original products designed in the U.S., manufactured in China, and available so retailers can provide items not everyone else is selling. Choklett's philosophy is to be the market leader, instead of a market follower. But how does he know what is hot?

"We listen to everybody and talk to people in New York. We communicate with friends and business associates, and look at every opportunity. At the beginning, my kids were young, and I would find out what they were into."

After that, it is pure intuition. "When I go to China, everybody has a list. They ask me what I am looking for, and I say, 'I do not know. I have not found it yet.' You need to be the first to have it, because somebody will be next. I am worried about what we are going to do in six months or next year. In six months our unique items will not be unique, so we are working to find the next group of items."

Their website has been up only three years, but already it has done twice the business compared with this time last year. In fact, their website was an afterthought. Their showroom was such a success, they were contemplating adding additional ones in surrounding areas, but when they compared the cost of a website to infrastructure and management, the Internet was the logical decision.

Since OBI is customer focused, the website continues to evolve. "We are always changing and improving it to make it easier. We try to keep the categories consistent, but everyday we are talking about how to make it easy to find stuff, so it is not so overwhelming."

One way OBI has eliminated confusion is by separating the site into two parts: showroom and shipping, each of which needs separate registration. The shipping side is for national customers, and maintains an inventory of original products and unique imported items. The showroom side is for buyers who live within a few hundred miles, and pick up their merchandise. "Our showroom has a lot more stuff, but we do not ship those items," said Choklett. "They have to buy them from the showroom. Our shipping site has items we primarily import or make and ship nationally. It avoids a customer wanting a low or out of stock item." All shipping items are in the showroom, but not all showroom items are in shipping. Additionally, not all showroom items are originals. "It is a big showroom, so I will buy from other importers. I do not always want to be nationally competitive on those items. I buy them for variety, so that somebody in town can buy them cheaper than ordering from California," said Choklett.

The shipping side has about 1,500 products, and Choklett notes why it can be confusing. "We have 100 styles of burners and 150 styles of candles. There are 35 to 40 categories, and 50 to 200 items within each category." To help eliminate confusion, OBI created a Favorites option. Many of the buyers use it to easily access the products they buy. "One store said they only carried ten blanket designs, and seeing all the others was too overwhelming. Now he can click on his Favorites, and if he dragged the items there, it shows what he bought."

Everything on the site is real Choklette inventory, but only members can view the numbers and prices. "Once a member signs in, they see inventories and in-depth information," said Choklett. OBI also sends newsletters to customers. Michelle Gilmore, Marketing Manager, said, "There is no charge to become a member, and we add them to our newsletter list once they have been approved. We list prices in our newsletters, and we only share pricing with customers. Membership approval helps to ensure that only businesses see our pricing."

At tax time, customers find the invoice feature helps their accounting process. "People were calling up during tax time saying they lost an invoice, and we would print the invoices off for people," said Choklett. "Now customers are able to go to their account, and print any of their invoices within the last five years."

To ensure their customers' success, OBI interviews new customers to determine the best product mix. "We want to send the customer what is going to sell. Some times people call us back and say, 'That was so successful! Can you do it again?'"

Choklett wants to make sure his customers know that he will, "Take care of them 100 percent. We always want to service the small customer. We will do everything in our power to do the best we can and offer them as many opportunities as possible."

Minimum order is $100. Unit quantities of items vary. Wholesale pricing ranges from $1.50 to $20. Recommended mark up is 50 percent.

For more information:
Opportunity Buys Inc.
1515 Brookville Crossing Way
Indianapolis, IN 46239
Tel.: 317-353-6684
Fax: 317-353-6694
Toll Free: 800-894-2816

Topic: Company Profiles

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Article ID: 575

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