Teenager sits atop office chair empire

Teenager sits atop office chair empire

Andrea Jones – Staff
Friday, April 28, 2006

Sean Belnick is sipping hot chocolate at the Caribou Coffee across from Emory University, sounding like a typical 19-year-old freshman as he dishes about a recent spring break trip to Panama City.

Then he lifts his arm and you notice his shiny silver watch. A Breitling, he tells you (worth thousands, you find out later). The talk turns to 401(k)s and retirement accounts and he's using phrases like, "our lawyers advised us" and "my financial planner says." Yeah, he drives a BMW, he says almost sheepishly. And yes, he recently bought a 40-inch TV for his dorm room (with American Express reward points, of course).

Another spoiled teen, the product of overindulgent parents?

Hardly. This kid made his own way.

 Belnick is the owner of a multimillion-dollar company, a business he founded with the help of his stepdad, Gary Glazer, while still a ninth-grader at Pope High School in east Cobb. Five years ago, the two paired Glazer's expertise as a business rep in the office chair industry with Belnick's skill as a Web designer and launched www.BizChair.com from Belnick's bedroom. Now, the direct shipping company does $15 million in sales a year, employs more than 40 people and offers more than 2,000 products online. Belnick and his stepfather expect the company to be listed later this year in a national magazine as among the top 500 fastest growing private companies.

"It just took off," said Belnick. "It has been amazing."

The teen remembers waking up at 5 a.m. the first day the business went online, breathlessly waiting for the first order to beam through cyberspace.

Soon, the family installed an 800 number — it rang in Belnick's room — and the teenager chatted with customers when he came home from school.

"I don't think anybody knew they were talking to a kid," said his mom, Lesley Glazer.

Sean has always seemed mature for his age, she said. He also has always had the entrepreneurial bug.

At 10 he was mowing lawns in the neighborhood for cash. In fifth grade, he started a mini-Pokemon card empire on eBay after figuring out that he could buy packs of cards and sell off the most valuable on the Web for a profit.

"We would go to the mailbox and the checks would just roll in," Glazer said. The preteen made more than $4,000.

"That was Sean, always trying to make a buck," his mother said, laughing.

Belnick taught himself Web design and the basics of HTML in middle school and made Web sites for family members and friends. Gary Glazer remembers Belnick bringing up over dinner one night the idea of creating a site that sold office chairs. "He gets all the credit," Glazer said, recalling how the teen locked himself in his room until he had created the site.

Soon, the company was getting hits from all over the nation, filling big orders for universities such as Harvard and Yale and various government agencies, including the Pentagon. The company recently sold chairs to "American Idol," Belnick said, and the business expects to increase its sales next year to between $20 million and $25 million. It advertises through sponsored links on Google and has made it into free listings as well: Type in "office chair" on the search engine and up pops BizChair as the No. 1 entry.

While Belnick is understandably squeamish about talking about his personal wealth, his mom will say the family has moved into a bigger house and has made a few "upgrades" since the business launched. BizChair has not only made the family money. It also has made them closer, Glazer said.

Belnick told few of his high school classmates about his business, his stepdad said, and never considered skipping college despite his early success.

He graduated from Pope High near the top of his class with a 4.3 grade-point average and started at Emory this fall. He is majoring in — what else? — business.

While Glazer is running the day-to-day aspects of BizChair from the company's 40,000-square-foot Kennesaw warehouse, Belnick concentrates on school. But the two exchange "about 50 e-mails" a day about the business.

"He is still very involved," Glazer said. "No decisions are made without his approval."

So does having a million-dollar company affect Belnick's social status as a college kid? His roommate, Daniel Mandel, doesn't think so. Although since his profile appeared in The Emory Wheel, he has gained a mini-celebrity status, Mandel said.

"He doesn't go around telling people 'Hi, I own a business,' " Mandel said. "But it's an incredible accomplishment. There's a lot of money at Emory, but for the most part, nobody is self-made."

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