Belly bling helps launch young UNI entrepreneur
Saturday, September 12, 2009 7:00 AM
Frein got the idea from his belly button-wearing girlfriend, who couldn't find cheap rings for herself. He found discount rings overseas, developed a Web site and began selling them online. Frein now employs a few part-time employees to help with office work and said the site sells approximately 4,000 rings per month. "I really don't do anything with it except for a few hours a week," he said. "I just cash the checks." The site also allowed him to build up a mailing list near 30,000 people, which he has used to help market his offshoot sites.
Midwest Air Taxi
In his free time, Frein followed his passion for aviation, got his pilot's license, and bought an airplane. Frein identified a demand for travel to cities such as Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City and started the business with a partner. The company began selling trips this summer, on a four-seat Cirrus-SR-22 single engine prop plane flown by Livingston Aviation. The company, which sells scheduled charters, offers roundtrip flights for around $500. The service flies out of the Waterloo airport, which Frein said is advantageous for area residents needing to go to big cities. The service cuts time for its travelers, hassle at the airports and cost - flights to major cities out of Cedar Rapids, the closest large airport to UNI, often cost near $900. Learn more at www.mwairtaxi.com.
Frein launched the site before last Halloween, and sold costumes at prices greatly below in-store prices. He launched the site in just two weeks, and sold approximately 1,000 costumes a month. His overseas supplier, however, had a copyright issue with the images it was using in the packaging, which forced Frein to shut down. He plans to revisit the opportunity in the future.
Belly ring jewelry accounts for just 10 percent of the body jewelry market, so Frein launched the site a few months ago, used the same supplier as with Bellybling.net and is trying to duplicate his success in a broader market.
Bellybling.net sells normal rings for about $6 to $10, but Frein noticed a demand for higher-end gold belly rings and developed a "mini-site" which is set to launch in a couple of months selling just high-end rings.
Frein bought the outdated site, which sells dollhouses and dollhouse furniture, from previous owners who he said were in over their heads. He said he bought it for less than the value of the inventory the owners had left, revamped the site quickly, and began selling. Though it is making money, his focus is on other ventures at the moment. He will return to it when he has more time.
You've heard of serial killers, but Ben Frein, he's a serial entrepreneur.
With a creepy-crawly past.
By the age of 24, and just three months removed from graduating the University of Northern Iowa, Frein currently owns and operates five businesses, with his flagship Web site Bellybling.net, which sells belly button rings, garnering the top spot on Google searches.
You could say entrepreneurship is in his blood, and you'd be right. Frein's father started his own small co-op in Frein's hometown of Garner. Little 5-year-old Ben wasted no time showing his knack for entrepreneurial behavior, and taking advantage of both his new Creepy Crawler toy-making machine, which manufactured rubber bugs, and the neighborhood.
"I figured out all the neighborhood boys liked those things so much they were willing to spend all of their allowance to buy the little bugs from me after I made them," Frein said.
Great idea ... but.
"I did that until all the parents found out, and they weren't too happy that was where their allowance was going."
From bugs, to selling homemade buttons at age 8, to his DJ service that ran "Ben and Brady" community dances through middle and high school, Frein took what he learned and applied it in the free office space at the UNI Small Business Incubator (SBI).
"He is just really what you would call a true entrepreneur. He just has the gene pattern for it, basically," said Laurie Watje, SBI manager and Frein's mentor during his college tenure.
Watje, a CPA who helped Frein with his accounting needs, said the most businesses launched by any other student was maybe two or three.
Frein double-majored in computer science and finance and formed E-Holdings LLC, which holds all his Web sites.
And in case you were wondering, no, Frein doesn't wear a belly button ring.
That would be creepy.
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