From the time he turned 18, Jeffry Radspinner knew he wanted his own online business.
But finding the right product and model took time.
“I started messing around with all kinds of different businesses,” Radspinner said.
“It was basically just e-commerce with different niches. I tried selling name brand designer clothing, video games … one time I bought 20,000 books and decided that I was gonna start my online bookstore. So I was just kind of jumping around different niches until I found one I really liked.”
In 2016 Radspinner founded Venture Surplus — an online Army surplus store that sells everything from military clothing and gun accessories to medical supplies and tactical equipment.
“It’s all the gear and the uniforms that soldiers need when they’re in the field or deployed,” Radspinner said. “So the gear is really cool. And we don’t always know what we’re getting. So it’s a lot of fun digging through it all … sometimes it’s really good, sometimes it’s not so good. But it’s always different.”
Venture Surplus acquires most of its products at auctions or through companies with extra inventory or factory seconds, but also works with several brick-and-mortar surplus stores around Colorado Springs, buying their excess goods.
“For some reason some of their gear will not sell in-store, whereas it sells really well online,” Radspinner said.
“So we work with them and trade them and buy the stuff that they can’t sell, and figure out how to sell it.”
The company’s inventory is constantly rotating, with new products featured on the website each week.
Outside of military members who need the business’ products for their official uniforms and kits, Radspinner said most of Venture Surplus’ typical customers are hobbyists, collectors, or “veterans that just want the nostalgic gear that they used to use when they were [serving].”
But with the arrival of COVID-19 in the United States, a segment of the business’ clientele that is usually pretty quiet, recently became incredibly active — the doomsday preppers.
“Those guys back in January went absolutely crazy buying stuff from us and prepping,” Radspinner said. “And that was before the general public had its weird panic.”
As the pandemic has made its way across the country, prompting the issuance of local, state and federal regulations on social distancing and staying at home, he said business has continued to boom.
“It really took off,” Radspinner said.
“After the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] announced that we should start social distancing, all of our [meals ready to eat] were gone within a few hours. And then from there, our medical supplies all sold out.
“People couldn’t go to the store anymore so they needed to buy stuff online and we were all set up for that. So last month was our busiest month ever.”
With Venture Surplus well positioned to respond to the challenges of the pandemic, Radspinner has been trying to find ways to give back to those reeling from its catastrophic impacts to their livelihoods.
He said the business has been placing larger-than-average orders with some of its local brick-and-mortar counterparts to give them additional revenue, and he’s also hired three part-time employees to help out around the warehouse while they remain laid off from their usual jobs.
With a small shop and limited resources, Radspinner says there’s unfortunately not a ton of work to go around at the moment, but his goal is to provide employees with enough work to “at least cover their bills” during the pandemic.
Venture Surplus also recently began selling its own cloth masks to help people comply with the state’s request for citizens to wear masks while out in public, and is trying to provide work opportunities along the way.
“It was actually my product manager’s idea to start making the face masks. He’s a veteran who just got out [of the service] about a year and a half ago … and his wife is stuck at home right now and she’s also a veteran,” Radspinner said. “So we got her to start making masks and … they came out really well. We made about 40 of them to see how they would do and they were gone in half an hour.”
Radspinner said Venture Surplus is looking to expand the opportunities for mask-making to “find people that are stuck at home that know how to sew that might be interested in making some extra money.”
And he’s still seeking other ways to make a positive impact on his struggling community. He’s encouraging those who might need his help to reach out to him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’m still trying to figure out like the best way to actually help in the long run, rather than just giving people money to pay the bills and stay open, because I want to do more than that,” Radspinner said.
“I want people to reach out to us if they need help.”