IN FOCUS: Small Business – Tragedy spawns success for entrepreneur

Posted on Feb 3, 2014 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer
Owners Sam Warpinski, left, and Tom Mittelstaedt own four iSupply stores in Green Bay and Appleton, offering repairs of mobile devices. Photo by Sharon Verbeten.

Owners Sam Warpinski, left, and Tom Mittelstaedt own four iSupply stores in Green Bay and Appleton, offering repairs of mobile devices. Photo by Sharon Verbeten.

Good things often come from tragedies. Perhaps no one knows that better than Green Bay native Sam Warpinski, co-owner of iSupply, a company that fixes mobile devices.

When Warpinski was only 21, he was shot in his home – a near-fatal tragedy which left him a quadriplegic. Now, after nine years, many surgeries and several business plans later, Warpinski is realizing his long-time dream of owning his own business. He and close friend Tom Mittelstaedt are realizing success and expansion with iSupply, which they launched in 2009 and added three new stores in the last 15 months, a total of three in Green Bay and one in Appleton.

“My life was completely shattered,” says Warpinski, 30. “It took me years to put the pieces together.”

Warpinski may have lost the use of his limbs, but he wasn’t going to lose sight of his goals. Through perseverance, the support of his family (his father is Green Bay allergist James Warpinski) and the help of Mittelstaedt, Warpinski was on his way to becoming an entrepreneur.

That fateful day

An admitted “bad boy” in high school, Warpinski shot someone himself during a drug altercation, leading to a jail sentence. Eventually he cleaned up his act. But in 2005, his roommate befriended a troubled man, who went on to fatally shoot Warpinski’s roommate and then shoot Warpinski just under the chin, centimeters from death. (That man is now serving a life sentence.)

Forgiving his shooter was the first part of healing for Warpinski.

“Forgiveness was one thing, but coping with the frustrations was different,” he admits. “I still get frustrated with my limitations.”

But while his pain and limitations are ever present, his will to succeed is in overdrive.

Neither Warpinski nor Mittelstaedt are college graduates. Neither is a computer geek. About two years after Warpinski was injured, the old friends reconnected and tossed around business ideas. With great sales skills between them, they decided to open a shop selling accessories for Apple devices.

“Four months after launch,” Warpinski recalls, “we were looking at a failed business plan.” Other larger stores were selling the same products. “We couldn’t compete,” Mittelstaedt says.

Warpinski wondered how the business could be saved, when – serendipitously – several customers approached them about repairing iPods and iPhones.

“Why aren’t we doing this?” Warpinski wondered.

“There was no one else doing it,” recalls Mittelstaedt, who notes the duo had no knowledge, skills or experience in repairing Apple devices. They figured, why not?

“It was trial and error,” Mittelstaedt says. “We had to develop this from scratch.”

Re-establishing their business plan, the two relaunched iSupply as a repair center for iPods, iPhones and iPads. They bought new devices, took them apart and worked to “reverse engineer” them and put them back together. They researched online, found original parts, examined device blueprints and established an intensive training and certification course for employees (which now number 40 at their four locations).

One service appealing especially to businesspeople is smartphone repair. For example, the company charges about $200 to repair a cracked smartphone screen, and if parts are in, the job takes an hour or two.

Hitching their business to the soaring popularity of Apple products seemed like a no-brainer, says Mittelstaedt. “So long as Apple stays in business, we’re going to stay in business.”

In addition to Apple, the company now also services some Samsung products – recognizing, Mittelstaedt says, that 50 percent of the market share for smartphones is held by Apple and Samsung combined.

iSupply now has partnerships with other local firms that repair some laptops and gaming consoles. Mittelstaedt says expanding those partnerships is part of its long-range plan, in addition to growing its business division, which includes offering discounts to many local school districts to service their growing inventory of iPads.

“This is actually going to be key to our business,” Mittelstaedt says.

They have also expanded their reach, working with some customers in other states. When Tina Meier, owner of Cellular Repair Etc. in Watertown, S.D., needed something repaired that she couldn’t tackle (she runs a similar business), she found iSupply on eBay.

They help her troubleshoot and conduct repairs on things she’s not trained on, especially since she lost one of her techs.

“They’re like my tech away from home,” she says. “I can do most of the repairs, but in the meantime, they are my knights in shining armor. I can trust them and I know that it’s done right.”

After four years in business, Warpinski is finally taking home a paycheck, with his company approaching the “break-even” point. And he hopes to be able to offer his employees insurance and benefits down the road.

Warpinski admits he has no idea where he might be in five years. “But we have a lot of ambition. In my life, there’s always more (places) to go.”




» Bay Park Square Mall, Green Bay

» 425 S. Military Ave., Green Bay

» 2245 Main St., Green Bay

» Fox River Mall, Appleton