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Young and in charge

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Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2008 10:00 pm

Joseph Stacher is the man behind 4 Seasons Sports in Downtown Lodi. He found the location. He got a loan with his own good credit. He handles the inventory - from ski boots to life jackets to lift tickets - and pays for it with his own money. He dedicates more time to his shop than anywhere else.

Most people would say he's like every other entrepreneur. Except, Stacher, well, he's only 25.

While his friends are settling into after-college jobs and working for other people, he has put himself and his credit on the line and become a self-starting businessman.

In Lodi, there is a small group of young people making it in their own business ventures. 4 Seasons Sports is thriving at its Downtown Lodi storefront. So is Alan Chan's Comic Grapevine. Jeff Nickell's custom bikes have made it to the cover of national magazines. And Brandon and Chelsea's Pumpkin Patch is going into its 10th year. Their businesses may be completely different, but they all agree it takes vision, money and a little risk.

Alan Chan, 28, owns Comic Grapevine in Downtown Lodi. When the previous owner left, Chan saw comics as a career opportunity. (Brian Feulner/News-Sentinel)

Making money with comics

At 26, Alan Chan didn't really see himself owning a business. And, at 28, he still doesn't see himself as a businessman.

"I just happened to come across a business opportunity," Chan said.

The previous Comic Grapevine owner, Doug Blevins, wanted to sell the store. So Chan thought he'd chance it and "see what happens."

"It really wasn't as easy as the previous owner made it look," Chan laughs.

He realized there was more to owning a comic book store than broadening his knowledge on new super heroes, Manga creators, anime and splurging on the best action figures (because, afterall, it's all for business, right?).

"It's tempting to want to take stuff home. I have to be very selective," he says, looking at his shelf of elaborate action figures.

Learning discipline and staying on top of bills and paperwork were the biggest challenges.

He must be doing OK. After two years in business, Chan's store is not only filled with merchandise, but with people. His customers are loyal, and most days, friendly faces sit around a table in middle of his shop playing games or watching new movies on a TV that sits on his glass counter.

Joseph Stacher, 25, owns 4 Seasons Sports in Downtown Lodi. He took over the sporting goods store after working at Dobler's Ski Cottage for eight years. (Brian Feulner/News-Sentinel)

Who's paying the bills now?

Stacher also took over Dobler's Ski Cottage when the previous owner, Don Dobler, wanted to retire. He used to work for Dobler, but now Dobler works for Stacher at 4 Seasons Sports.

"Don's working for me now. He gets a paycheck now and I have to pay the bills," Stacher joked.

4 Seasons is like Dobler's Ski Cottage, but in a new location and with summer sports stuff, like tubes, wakeboards and boating accessories. They still offer the same snow boards, skis, clothing, gloves, goggles and bindings that were available for so many years before.

As an employee, Stacher learned what customers wanted. He kept the best, but made a few changes, too. His first executive decision was selecting a new location. He moved the store from its Lodi Avenue spot to a storefront in the center of Downtown Lodi.

"I kind of like Downtown. It's a cool addition," he said. "It's cool that the kayak place is Downtown. It brings diversity."

Owning his own business isn't all fun. Now, Stacher spends most of his time at his store, and the days of hitting the snow at least once a week are in the past - at least for now.

What a man wants

Growing up, Jeff Nickells, 33, saw what it took to run a business. Watching his father run the family construction business, he learned the importance of responsibility and hard work.

But he also learned how to have fun.

For as long as he can remember, his father always had motorcycles and hot rods. And as a student at Galt High School, Nickells even had his '55 Chevy truck that was restored and fixed up.

It's no surprise to Nickells or his classmates that he's made a successful business out of designing and building custom motorcycles that sell for between $30,000 and $60,000 each. His bikes grace the covers of motorcycle magazines. He even has customers in Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand.

It was in his twenties when he starting taking motorcycles seriously. He knew what he wanted. Only that didn't exist.

"I couldn't buy what I wanted," he said.

His bikes are long, with a stretch that bikes didn't have in 2000. Every part of the motorcycle is detailed, from fat tires to shiny chrome and spiked handles. They are, without a doubt, his works of art.

While he makes complete bikes from scratch, a lot of his every day work is fixing up older or stock motorcycles.

As a 28-year-old trying to start a motorcycle business, Nickells faced challenges. The biggest risk was turning his hobby into a full-time career, especially knowing he had a wife and two children to provide for.

"I started with nothing," he said.

He had to get a line of credit and had to spend $8,000 on parts that he hoped he could sell. If not, he would lose his accounts with suppliers.

It's been five years since he opened Nickells Custom Bikes.

One of the best things he did was create his own stepping stones financially.

"You can't go conquer the world broke," he said.

Chelsea Kundert owns Brandon and Chelsea's Pumpkin Patch on Lower Sacramento Road with her brother, Brandon Kundert. (Dan Evans/News-Sentinel)

A decade of pumpkins

Driving down Lower Sacramento Road in October, it's hard to miss Brandon and Chelsea's Pumpkin Patch. The patch is owned and operated by Brandon Kundert, 24, and his sister, Chelsea Kundert, 19. It's a family tradition that has also become a Lodi tradition.

They first started selling homegrown pumpkins on the back of a diesel truck by the Old Sunwest Liquor on Kettleman Lane and Lower Sacramento Road. It eventually moved down the street to an empty lot that is transformed into a pumpkin and hay center during the month of October.

Brandon Kundert

The job had its perks - profits made after selling pumpkins ranging from $2 to $8, and their friendsthought it was cool, too.

"They all call me and my brother pumpkin head and pumpkin king and queen," Chelsea Kundert said.

Jeff Nickell
Nickells Custom Bikes
Age: 33
Years in business: 5 years
Where he lives: Acampo
High School: Galt High School
When started designing custom bikes: In 2000
Why he did it: Couldn't buy what he really wanted, so he made it himself.
Skills: Welding, ability to fabricate frames
Prices for custom bikes: $30,000-$60,000
How many bikes he does every year: 8 to 10
What else he does: Revamps old bikes or stock bikes
What he did before: Worked with father, Steve Nickell, in construction.
Mentors: Those who are successful because they have a drive, his father.
Where he sees himself in the future: Growing in bikes, hot rods, as well as construction.
Advice for young entrepreneurs: Make sure you have stepping stones. Be willing to take risk of trying to stay a step above what others are doing. Advertise smart.
Important traits to have as a business owner: Self pride and a conscience
Misconception about his business: People often think he only builds expensive bikes, but he also works on other bikes.
Hobbies: Motorcycles. He owns one.

Joseph Stacher
4 Seasons Sports
Age: 25
Hometown: Lodi
High School: Lodi High School
How long in business: Six months
Previous jobs: Worked Dobler's Ski Cottage for eight years
How it happened: Don Dobler, wanted to retire from the ski shop. Stacher took over the business, moved it to Downtown and changed its name.
What he sells: Ski equipment, snowboards, wakeboards, tubes, boating accessories.
Advice to young entrepreneurs: Just work hard and stay on top of things.
What it takes to open a business: Some money and good credit
Mentor: Don Dobler
Hobbies: Skiing

Alan Chan
Comic Grapevine
Age: 28
High School: Bear Creek High School
How long in business: Two years
How it happened: Owner was selling store. Chan saw it as business opportunity.
How he got money to start: Asked for small loan from parents and grandparents
Easy as he expected: No.
Hardest part: Being disciplined, not taking merchandise home
Mentor: Doug and Ruth Blevins
Inspiration: He learned how to run a business from his parents, who owned Shadows, a Chinese restaurant on Lower Sacramento Road for 17 years.
Biggest worry: Getting sick because, as a business owner, he doesn't have health insurance.

Brandon and Chelsea Kundert
Brandon and Chelsea's Pumpkin Patch
Ages: Brandon is 24, Chelsea is 19
Hometown: Lodi
Relationship: Siblings
Years in business: 10
How it happened: They started growing their own pumpkins and selling them on the back of a truck parked on Kettleman Lane and Lower Sacramento Road.
What they do now: Brandon is a student at Cal State Sacramento. Chelsea is a student at ITT Technical Institute.
Hardest part of being an entrepreneur: Finding time to work their pumpkin business while going to school.
What their going to do with this year's earnings: Pay for school.



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