Never too young to start your own business


SUPERIOR, Colo. -- If you see Sam Gambee walking the halls of Superior's Monarch High School, 15 minutes southeast of Boulder, Colo., ask him for a business card.

The 14-year-old freshman just opened a retail storefront called Slam-Gear near Superior's Safeway, where he offers wooden sunglasses, brightly colored silicone rubber belts, watches and dog collars.

"I've been a pretty hard worker and always worked hard at school," Gambee said, sitting at his shop's simple counter and snapping on to his wrist one of the watches he sells. "I've always wanted a job."

Gambee first followed the traditional labor-seeking route for a teen, trying to land a gig at a restaurant or retail store.

"But no one wanted to let a 14-year-old work because of the labor laws that come with it," he said.

So, last week, they threw open the doors to the public. Gambee runs over to the store after Monarch lets out, and works the counter on weekends as well.

With the help of his parents, Gambee formed his own company. Through connections at his church back in Michigan, where his family lived before moving to Superior in August, he landed Woody's sunglasses as a product line to sell. And after meeting an Aspen entrepreneur at the Taste of Colorado who was looking to unload her line of silicone-based clothing accessories, Gambee amassed enough inventory to go off on his own.

He built a website and took a bunch of belts ($25), sunglasses ($50 to $100), wallets ($15), and watches ($15) to last month's Colorado Ski & Snowboard Expo to see how they'd do. In less than three days, Gambee sold $3,000 worth of product.

"People think it's cool," Gambee said of his company, which pays homage to his nickname, Slam. "I wear most of the stuff to school and kids will say ‘sweet belt' or ‘sweet sunglasses.' "

They tried for a kiosk at a mall in nearby Broomfield, Colo., but needed an arrangement where they could better manage their hours. After all, the contact page on states: "If you want to talk to Slam ... Just let us know what's up and he will call you after school."

The silicone rubber material makes for head-turning snap-on wristwatches, easily adjustable belts -- which come with a choice of interchangeable buckles -- and water-repellent dog collars that don't smell like wet canine as soon as Rufus hits the creek. Gambee said rubber wallets are especially popular with cyclists, who find themselves bagging their leather money carriers so they're not drenched in sweat by the end of a ride.

Sunglasses are made of bamboo and layered maple and are surprisingly strong for being so light.

While he has been selling some Slam-Gear items online, Gambee and his father felt the best way to get the word out about the company, especially during the holiday season, was to open a local brick-and-mortar outlet.

Gambee's father, Tony, found a vacant space in a former Baskin-Robbins, and with a couple of fences and a homemade sawhorse, they setup their display cases.

"He was just telling me he isn't getting the chance to ski, and that's what he was excited about doing when we moved out here," Tony Gambee said. "But he's a kid that would rather be doing something than not doing something."

Slam-Gear will only occupy the space through the end of the month, in hopes of capturing some of the holiday traffic circulating through the shopping center.

"We're hoping to do enough sales to be able to do a re-order of the stuff and start to put our own ideas into what the product looks like," Tony Gambee said.

Heather Cracraft, executive director of the Superior Chamber of Commerce, said she is happy that such a young person is taking an interest in business and occupying an empty retail space in town, for however short a period of time.

"It's very exciting to see the younger generation get involved with business," she said. "I think it's a great use of that space for the time of the season."

Gambee said running his own company beats sitting around watching TV or playing videogames. And it gives him a chance to spend quality time with his father.

"Me and my Dad were looking for a hobby," he said.


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