Instagram’s COO on How To Find Your Voice – And Own It

Brett Rose.
Brett Rose.

UNCS

Brett Rose.

Brett Rose, 40, runs United National Consumer Suppliers in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The company buys overstock merchandise from manufacturers and retailers at steep discounts, and sells to thousands of vendors, from big players like Macy’s and Marshalls to mom and pops. A quarter of its buyers are among the rapidly growing ranks of so-called Amazon resellers, who Rose says will account for half his business by the end of this year. His sources range from big box retailers like Home Depot to a Belgian chocolate factory to crayon-maker Crayola. Rose says his gross margins exceed 20% on revenue that came to $30 million last year. In this interview, which has been edited and condensed, he talks about the future he sees for both online sellers and brick-and-mortar stores.

Susan Adams: How did you get your company off the ground?

Brett Rose: In 2002, right out of college, I got a $20,000 credit-card loan from my parents and I set up a desk in the garage.

Adams: What was your plan?

Rose: A friend’s dad who ran a distressed merchandise retail chain of 20 stores in Massachusetts had told me he was stuck with four truckloads of ladies’ handbags. He used to joke that I should buy them. I was a gutsy kid with nothing to lose so I bought them for $1 a bag.

Adams: How did you think you were going to sell the bags?

Rose: I had no idea. I picked up the phone and started making calls and I stumbled on a company out of Chicago called The Bazaar that paid $2 a bag.

Adams: What did you do with the money?

Rose: I paid $20,000 for a truck-load of rubber bands from The Bazaar.

Adams: How did you know you were making a good deal?

Rose: I walked into Office Depot and Staples and OfficeMax, who were all selling rubber bands for more than I paid. That shipment I sold for $35,000 to a retailer called Christmas Tree Shops, which is now a successful division of Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Adams: How has your business evolved?

Rose: The bulk of our 98,000 customers are retailers like Macy’s, Marshalls, T.J. Maxx. In the beginning we were a wholesale business and we used a little bit of technology. Now we’re a technology business that’s using wholesale.

Adams: How did you build your network of merchandise sources before the technology changed?

Rose: There’s a trade show for everything you can imagine, from housewares to adult toys. We did six shows a year. In a pre-tech world, it was face to face – here’s my card, tell me if you get into this kind of situation. A garden hose company may make 15 million hoses to sell to Walmart…