Classroom to boardroom


Fresh-faced student Sean Belnick does not look like a typical OP company chief. But from his student dorm on college campus, the 20-year-old juggles the pressures of completing his studies with owning one of the fastest growing private companies in the US.
At the age of 15, Belnick set out on his remarkable journey by setting up an online office furniture site from his bedroom and sourcing his stock direct from China.
In his first year, Belnick fulfilled $2 million- worth of orders and in just five years he is now on target to report annual sales of an incredible $42 million.
And last month he announced he is expanding his company’s warehousing capacity by 200 percent after taking over Herman Miller’s former Atlanta-area facility located in Canton, GA, occupying more than 225,000 ft².
Belnick agreed to the milestone investment after making the decision to target the education and healthcare sectors with his extensive range of discounted office furniture.
And the student company chief took time out of his busy schedule to describe to OPI his amazing bedroom-to-boardroom success story.
He explained how he first realised his entrepreneurial vision when he was a 12 -year-old schoolboy by pocketing a small fortune from trading collector cards over the internet.
Three years later, he used his experience and extensive online knowledge to set up after sourcing office chairs direct from the manufacturer in China.
He explained: "I was 15 when I started the business and that first year we reported sales of nearly $2 million. We have increased our revenue every year by between 80 and 100 percent ever since. This year we are on course to report sales of about $42 million.
"I started out trading Pokémon cards when I was about 12 and still in middle school but is my first proper business, I still find it hard to believe that we have achieved so much in such a short space of time.
"People in the industry really can’t understand how I got this far, but I can. We were extremely fortunate to have launched at the same time as an upturn in the office furniture market combined with a consumer’s acceptance of online trading. I had all the tools I needed to make a success of it, but with hindsight I think I was in the right place at the right time."
Belnick devotes his spare time between classes to company decision-making and emails his conclusions to his fellow board members – his mum and stepdad.
He described how his company goes direct to the manufacturer and passes on the saving to his 150,000 customer base.
"We have a sourcing agent and an interpreter in China who scour the country, dealing with the manufacturers directly, and we import the furniture by the container-load," he described.
"I never had the need for a sales force; I just kept a very close eye on my nearest competitors and reduced my prices accordingly. All our activity is web-based, all transactions are conducted online."
Belnick admits he occasionally struggles to mix his responsibilities of business with life as a student at Goizueta Business School at Emory University in Atlanta.
"Sometimes it’s tough fitting in my studies with running the business and vice versa, but I stay in constant contact with the office through emails," he said.
"I live on campus in normal student dorms but I always find the time to run my company.
"I make some sacrifices with my social life, but that’s to be expected. It takes a lot of time to keep on top of everything. The buck stops with me. I make all the decisions, develop the plans and strategies and pass them on.
"My fellow students sometimes ask me to look over their ideas and business plans and I am happy to help out when and where I can. People ask me for my advice and I can only say ‘don’t take on debt’. My entire business has been built on sustainable, organic growth."
Despite driving around in a top-of-the-range BMW M3, Belnick does not pay himself a huge wage, preferring instead to reinvest in his company.
He added: "I don’t take a huge salary out of the business, none of us do. We are more interested in reinvesting our revenue to encourage the company to grow bigger and bigger.
"We are now beginning to stock our product, which gives us a great competitive advantage, and we always buy in bulk to enable us to discount our prices."
As for the future? Belnick admits: "I have no plans for the future, I’m so busy I can’t even begin to think past next year."
The switch to Herman Miller’s former Atlanta facility will enable to double its call centre and IT department while adding additional accounting and other administrative staff and managers. The new headquarters will have more than 16,000 ft² of office space.