In 1989, I graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in psychology and started working as a residential counselor in a group home for teenage kids. Although I enjoyed the job very much, it did not pay very well. I worked from Sunday until Wednesday and started to think about a business I could start part time to help make a little extra money. I also wanted to start a business that would have the potential for long-term growth and would help other people. To understand why I chose to sell security products, it is helpful to go back a few years to 1986. When after a long period of could searching, I made a decision to follow Jesus Christ. Click Here to Read More on Ray's Spiritual Journey
I began to read the bible regularly, and I noticed a pattern that when things were going well for people in the bible, they became prideful and no longer saw their need for God. This would cause God to remove his hand protection and blessing. I saw this same pattern taking place in modern day America. Although it was founded on Christian principles and has been blessed like no other nation in the world, many people no longer see the need for God in their lives.
When thinking about the type of business to start it seemed logical to me that as people lost their "moral compass" crime would naturally increase and so would the demand for security products. My only problem was what I had no idea how to start and run a business (at times I still feel that way!) but I decided to give it a try. I bought a few pepper spray displays racks, put them in the trunk of my car, and drove around to stores near the university campus. Doing my best impression of a professional salesman I would say something like, "I got these pepper sprays in my car, do you want to buy some"?
To my surprise, many store owners said "yes" and I realized this business might actually work. I expanded my product line to include personal alarms and stun guns. Six months later the group home where I was working closed, so I started to work full time in the business. During the next 5 years I hired a secretary and spent most of my time "on the road" selling directly to stores. I then learned about wholesale trade shows and liked the idea of setting up a booth and letting the store owners come to see me at the shows rather than having to drive around the state to get new customers.
My first show was in New York City. I put on a suit and tie and drove all night to get there in the morning before the show started. Thankfully, the show was a success. I took an order for 5, 200 USD in pepper spray (that was a HUGE order back then). I was so excited I called the company I was buying from to share the good news. I learned a valuable business lesson when they showed up to compete against me at the next show!
As the business grew, I rented a small office building and hired a friend (Mike Carey- who is still with the company and serves as vice president) to help at trade shows and to pack orders that came in over the phone. About once a month we would travel to a major US city and set up for a trade show. Sales grew slowly, but I was not satisfied with the quality of many of our products and packaging so in 1997 we created our own brand (Streetwise Security Products) and sales really took off. For many years our product line consisted of stun guns, pepper sprays, and alarms, but then we diversified into electronic gadgets and changed our name to Cutting Edge Products. That worked well for several years but it was a little awkward at the trade shows selling a stun gun beside electronic toys and video games so the decision was made to focus exclusively on security products.
We knew one of the keys to our success would be offering a complete line of security products at low wholesale prices so in 2000 we began traveling overseas to strengthen relationships with suppliers and look for new products. We have continued regular overseas trips and have built a strong relationship with dozens of manufactures. Through these relationships we were the first to bring many innovative products to the market resulting in consistent growth up to 2008. But our success also caused us to be complacent and our product line soon stagnated and sales began to suffer. This served as a "wake up call" and in 2009 our attention shifted to devising a strategy for aggressive growth. This process included a new mission, vision, values, packaging, logo, slogan, and website. One of my greatest frustrations in the self-defense products industry is the amount of misinformation and exaggeration used in marketing. Our desire to set ourselves apart and reestablish credibility in this industry is reflected in our new mission statement to be "the most trusted provider of products for self-defense, security, and peace of mind." This is our commitment to not only aggressively grow our company but to do it in a manner the honors God, knowing that we are accountable to a higher authority.
When I started this company over 26 years ago, I had no idea that we would grow into one of the leading suppliers of self-defense products. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve our customers and we look forward to the next 25 years!