Posted: Jan 2, 2013 11:29 AM by Chet Layman
Updated: Jan 2, 2013 11:48 AM
BOZEMAN - One person's toy is another person's business opportunity.
A little more than two years ago, two Bozeman brothers got involved with a toy they could only order from Japan. That took too long, so they started their own business to sell these toys. Today that business has two full-time employees, is helping pay both brothers way through college and is one of the nation's top retailers of this simple wooden toy known as a Kendama.
Kendama is a traditional Japanese toy. It's made up of a couple pieces of wood and 16 inches of string that in the right hands can be something amazing.
Lex and Sam Uhlmann got into Kendama a couple years ago, while Sam was still a student at Bozeman High.
"After probably months of ordering them every single week from sites in japan and Europe, we figured there had to be a need for a U.S.-based site, so it took us a couple of months to find a U.S. manufacturer and we began importing them ourselves and started our own company in our parents basement," Sam Uhlmann said.
This Bozeman basement business, Kendama Co, started with 350 Kendamas. Today the business is in a 1,500 square foot Denver building and sells 350 a day.
Kendama Co sells several different kinds of Kenamas - the Shenzhu, the Oozora and the TK-16, which carries the Japanese Kendama Association seal, approved for all Kendama competitions. Kendama Co even sponsors its own team, a group of young people who compete in national and international competition.
Sam and Lex still play as well. Lex Uhlmann says they are pretty good, but there are kids who are much, much better.
"It's kind of like skiing I guess I can make my way down some intermediate slopes and some blacks just fine, but there's people that will just like do a back flip over me while I'm trying to make a turn, so much better than I'll ever be. But, you know, to some people I'm impressive," he said.
They both are impressive, Lex with a degree in information technology. He handles the online part of Kendama Co. Sam a junior in political science, wants to be an attorney. They are paying their way with a business they created from an activity they love doing.
Kendama Co sells toys in several locations around Bozeman and can be ordered from the company's website kendamco.com.