Inside Track: Entrepreneur gives old TVs a spinoff role

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 28, 2012 - 9:14 PM

Jimmy Vosika calls himself the director of partology at his Bloomington company, ShopJimmy.com.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Jimmy Vosika has turned the dark side of our love of flat-panel TVs into a growth machine, five years after he started ShopJimmy.com in his garage.

Vosika, a one-time Delta Air Lines baggage handler and computer programmer, turned an idea he had while working for his father-in-law's recycling company in 2006 into a specialty recycler that refurbishes plasma and LCD TVs, and sells parts nationally through a workforce of nearly 100 full-time and contract workers.

This one-time "junk," amounting to 15 747s' worth of electronic gear, generated nearly $9 million in revenue in 2011.

ShopJimmy routed nearly 2 million pounds of electronics, metal, glass and plastic from the garbage back into the economy last year.

"Basically, the screen on a plasma or LCD TV is the most expensive and fragile part," he said last week. "Often they will break during shipping or in the customer's car. At that point, the TV is junk. The screen is worth more than the rest of the TV. We focus on brand-new, broken-screen TVs. We deal with retailers and shippers.

"The screen is junk, but the power supply and parts and circuit boards are good. The parts are essentially brand new, but we sell them as good working pieces to do-it-yourselfers who fix their own TV, or we sell to TV repair shops, manufacturers ... and even to casinos in Las Vegas."

HELPING OUT EMPLOYEES IN NEED

CEO Stuart Henderson led a several-year turnaround a decade ago of once-ailing Western National Mutual Insurance of Edina, and the property-casualty insurer has grown profitably to 400 employees in recent years.

A few years ago, amid the recession, Henderson observed that a lot of folks are a paycheck away from disaster. More than two-thirds of Western's employees are hourly workers, making $15 to $20 an hour.

"Our mantra is: 'We want to be the employer of choice,'" Henderson said. "We try to pay reasonably well, and we have pretty rich benefits and we've been able to give raises, but I thought we could use an emergency-loan program, targeted at that group. We had the capacity."

Henderson had the HR department implement an employee-loan program of up to $1,500 at no interest for up to two years, payable through payroll deductions.

"We had a little meeting about it and I sent an e-mail to all employees -- and HR had the first application in five minutes. There are always 45 or 50 loans outstanding, and some people ... have taken up to 13 loans in four years. We don't ask them why.

"It's kind of a little salary-advance program. It's working, it's popular and I'm glad we did it."

MOVIE NIGHT

About 300 plaintiff's lawyers and others turned out this month at Joe Minjares' renovated Parkway Theater in south Minneapolis for the Minnesota premiere of "Hot Coffee."

The documentary may make you think differently about Stella Liebeck, the New Mexico woman who suffered scalding burns from McDonald's coffee and was mocked by Letterman, Seinfeld and others for an initial, eye-popping $1.9 million jury award. The 79-year-old woman nearly died.

Liebeck's story is one of the featured cases in the film, which looks at how big business throws its weight around in the courtroom, judicial elections and political campaigns. The event was sponsored by Minnesota Association for Justice. More information at www.mnaj.org or www.hotcoffeethemovie.com.

SHORT TAKES

Thomas Beimers, a onetime prosecutor on a federal Medicare fraud strike force in Detroit, has joined the Minneapolis office of Faegre Baker Daniels. Beimers, most recently senior counsel to the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, will represent health care clients who get in trouble, and will otherwise work on compliance, risk-management and corporate integrity programs to keep them out of the soup.

Best Buy's chief ethics officer, Kathleen Edmond, will be interviewed by Prof. Kenneth Goodpaster at 6 p.m. on Feb. 9 at the University of St. Thomas business school's Schulze Hall. Audience questions will follow the one-hour conversation. Register for the evening, which includes a free reception, at www.startribune.com/a944.

Community Reinvestment Fund (CRF), the Minneapolis-based nonprofit financial intermediary with a national span, is one of only 14 nonprofit and Community Development Financial Institutions nationally selected to offer the U.S. Small Business Administration's 7(a) loan program. Although many banks participate in the popular federal loan-guaranty program, the SBA limits the number of non-bank licenses.

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