Interview: X-Treme Geek – Where Being A Geek Is Big Business

Everyone who knows us here at Bit Rebels knows that we love to celebrate geeks, promote geeks and write about everything that has to do with being a geek. We often joke that someday geeks will inherit the earth, and if you’re a geek, you know you are always welcome here. Gone are the days when geeks were looked upon as clueless social outcasts. Modern day geeks are smart, creative, witty and pretty darn cute. Out of all of the geeky websites we’ve written about in the past, there is one that stands out from the rest. They have been big supporters of Bit Rebels, and we are constantly blown away by their subtly savvy way of doing business.

You may have heard of  X-Treme Geek, and you may have even purchased something on their website before. Since we are so inspired by them and the huge progress they’ve made over the past few years, it only made sense that I reach out to them for for an interview. I really wanted to find out what exactly makes them tick, what inspires them to keep pushing forward each day in such a competitive climate, and most of all, what we can all learn from them. I wanted to get some little nuggets of gold that we could all take back to our own websites to help us grow and reach our goals.

I’m happy to say that Tim and Greg at X-Treme Geek were true to their name, and they were x-tremely kind and generous when I approached them. Needless to say, I got exactly what I wanted. There is a lot of insight, a lot of humor, but most importantly, a lot of knowledge for how an online retailer becomes successful in today’s world. Thank you X-Treme Geek! We at Bit Rebels just love you to pieces, and we really appreciate your taking the time to answer these questions.  

Tim Burns X-Treme Geek Director1. I know the goal of X-Treme Geek is to provide hi-tech geeky gadgets and just plain fun geek stuff to people everywhere, but how long has the company been around? Why was it started, and what were the original ideas behind it? After all, it’s only been cool to be a geek for a few years now.

I consider Tim Burns, our current Director of Internet Intrigue, to be the ‘founding father’ of X-Treme Geek, version 2.0. Tim is the brand manager of Edmund Scientifics, a company dedicated to helping people inspire themselves and their children to explore the world of science. It was his dream to reach out beyond the realm of real science, and to take part in the ongoing worldwide geek liberation.

Two years ago, Time seized the opportunity to acquire a new brand that would compliment his existing business. X-Treme Geek was a California based subsidiary of a successful computer component company, and Tim helped to successfully negotiate its purchase. I was brought on shortly after the transition. Although X-Treme Geek was relocated to upstate New York, we retain a congenial business relationship with the former owners, and we still feature a few of their exceptional products in our catalog. Yes, it’s a true ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement. The new X-Treme Geek proudly retains its computer geeky roots while branching out to actively embrace a much wider spectrum of total geekdom.

2. It’s obvious when looking at the site that a lot of time and energy is put into selecting each product. How exactly do you go about choosing what X-Treme Geek will offer? What is the criteria each product must meet?

As the X-Treme Geek category manager, I personally select every new item that hits our website and catalog. My criteria is simple. To compel me to act, a product must immediately produce a visceral reaction within me. Winning products will make me gasp for air, laugh out loud, or involuntarily raise my eyebrow. If they don’t do that, emails get deleted, sales sheets get recycled, and samples get donated. When a co-worker sees me grab a new product, clasp it to my chest, grit my teeth, and grunt forth the word ‘mine!’ they know I’ve discovered a new ‘home run’ gadget for our customers. The element of surprise for me isn’t a mere novelty; it simply the only ticket that will allow a vendor to do new business with us.

3. I know I’ve talked to you all on the phone several times, but since I’ve never actually seen your office, can you give us a little insight into where you work? Where is it located? How many people work there? Does everyone go to lunch together? What are your hours?

X-Treme Geek’s main offices are divided between Buffalo and Rochester, New York. X-Treme Geek and Edmund Scientifics are the consumer branches of VWR Education. Our sister brands include Science Kit and Wards Natural Science which supply science materials and supplies to thousands of schools throughout North America. These offices house ‘state of the art’ distribution units, fully functional lab facilities, and a customer service center. Collectively, these buildings employ hundreds of highly educated specialists, many of them former teachers and professors. In any building one can run into physics experts, paleontologists, lab technicians, chemists and even bone-assemblers (that is NOT a typo).

It is truly a privilege to be a part of such an impressive operation. Now to answer your last question, it would be impossible for all of us to take our lunches together since many of the dollar bill changers in our vending machines require that you insert a dollar bill up to 5 (count ’em) 5 freakin’ times before the machine will actually take it. For that reason and that reason alone, we find it best to simply eat when we are hungry.

4. Some people think it would be easier to maintain an online business than an actual physical retail store. I’ve done both, and I have an opinion about this, but I’m curious to know what you think about it. Which do you think is easier and why?

I, too, have managed in both ‘brick and mortar’ retail operations as well as our current multi-channel X-Treme Geek web and catalog businesses. To me, they are more similar than they are different. Both are customer centric businesses that live or die on your ability to meet and exceed client expectations. Both exist in cut-throat climates where only the innovative and proactive survive and thrive. Online is a true threat to the viability of most store based retailers, and only those who are competing aggressively with their own websites will see business into the next decade.

The big difference, then, in my opinion, is that online retailers have the distinct advantage over ‘brick and mortar’ stores because they do not have to provide any restrooms for the general public. In an office setting, no matter how large, I find people on the whole conduct themselves with a degree of dignity. If you yourself have ever operated a retail store, you know this is definitely not the case when it comes to the unspeakable chaos that occurs in public ‘johns.’

5. The online buzz these days seems to be surrounding social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. How much does social media play a part in your success and what you’ve been able to accomplish at X-Treme Geek?

Social media gives our customers the power to connect directly to X-Treme Geek. If they have a question, problem, concern, idea, you name it, they know they can reach out via Facebook and Twitter to get satisfaction. Being in a niche market requires that we monitor what is raising the pulse of our customer base so we can best respond to their needs, wants and desires. We’re not selling milk and eggs here. We’re about impulse. We’re about delivering instant gratification. Only social media gives us the power to interact one on one with our core customer. We don’t have any ‘brick and mortar’ stores. Social media gives us that valued face time.

We recently launched another email survey to better gauge what our customers want from our social media. One size does not fit all. What works for one company’s customers won’t necessarily connect with another’s. Our customers are demanding. They have changing expectations and demand results. We aim to meet and exceed those ever changing needs. It’s an active, ongoing, organic process.

Plus, social media also gives us an opportunity to connect directly back to the customer through a mind-control device that out legal team and our government deny even exists. Smartphone tracking devices? Give me a break!

6. What other businesses or companies would you consider to be your role models and why? Is there anyone in particular whom you look up to from a business standpoint?

Certainly the list of people and businesses that inspire us is endless, from Steve Jobs to Richard Branson. From a personal standpoint; however, I’ve always regarded Feld Entertainment with the highest regard. Almost everyone I have ever met, whether they are first graders or great grandparents, have had a positive experience with their product. The company lineage impressively stretches back to 1872. Not only are they ever evolving, more importantly perhaps, they have never once strayed their brand away from the core of their ‘DNA,’ which is probably why they have been so successful. They know who they are and why they exist.

This company consistently surrounds itself with the most talented individuals available, creating a collective like no other. Feld reinvents itself year after year, pushing itself to maintain not only market dominance, but customer loyalty. Customers are brand loyal because regardless of the economic climate, Feld never allows their product to suffer. They never dip below their own standard, and in doing so, they in fact set the industry standard. Most folks would know Feld better by their public name Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Long term, I aspire to thrive at that level. Maybe it’s because I myself have always dreamed of running away with the circus.      

7. Where do you see X-Treme Geek in five years from now? What do you hope to accomplish and what are the long-term goals?

When you ask me about the future, you’re really striking a chord. When I was a boy, the future was said to be in the year 2000. As we approached the millennium, Conan O’Brien started doing those hilarious “In the Year 2000′ sketches. When we finally made it past the horror that was Y2K, no new date for the future was designated. We just don’t talk about what life will be like in the year 3000. Why? Because the future is now. This is it. And this is what X-Treme Geek really is all about. We’re about having what you never dreamed possible right here, right now, at a click of a mouse.

Want to live just like Han Solo, Neo or Marty McFly? Just ‘Add to Cart,’ and we’ve got you covered.

Regarding our five year plan and mission statement, although still in our adolescence, we’re pooling all of our collective energy and talent to create a voice that will connect in some way with all the geeks in the universe. We are branching out by experimenting with product offerings never before seen on any other non x-treme geek site. You will see us tackle Halloween with a product selection you won’t find at any local spook shop or national party supply store, all with a geek edge. CES this year in Vegas was incredible, and while our competitors were drooling over the miracle that is 3D TV, I was hammering it out in the bowels of the convention center with inventors and other up-and-coming entrepreneurs in an effort to bring you the newest gadgets that exit only on the fringe. Just wait and see. I promise, you’ll love what you see here!

As far as the five year plan goes, our x-treme plan is to charge ahead at ramming speed right up to 12 noon on 12/12/2012. After that, as all my paranoid Mayan buddies know, all bets are off.

8. Who are your closest competitors and what makes X-Treme Geek better than those companies?

Our competitors are the big machines Think Geek and Hammacher Schlemmer. To give you a sense of scale, these two are like Bumblebee and Optimus Prime while we currently exist as one of Shia LeBeouf’s many uncredited stunt doubles. What makes X-Treme Geek better than them? The element of surprise.

We’re quick and we’ve beaten both to the punch before with new products, and we will do it again and again and again. We’re more diverse in selection, more affordable in overall price, and not so damned mainstream. Plus, we can tap into the incredible resources of Edmond Scientifics and Wards Natural Science to potentially offer products none of these category killing monsters can touch. If you really want to find something unique, check us out first. You’ll be glad you did.

9. What is your favorite product that X-Treme Geek offers and why? What is the most popular product?

My ABSOLUTE favorite product is ‘Become a Scottish Laird.’ For $34.95 you too can be declared an actual Scottish Laird (pronounced ‘Lord’). By virtue of purchasing one square inch of land at Dunas Castle, you legally get to add the title of Laird to your name plus all the privileges bequeathed to a man of your title. Now I personally don’t demand that all who speak to me in the office actually use my new title (that would be obtuse). However, should one get within an arm’s length of me, I actually would be in my rights to demand proper tribute (‘Yes, your Lairdship’ would do nicely) anything less and one risks getting a taste of my Shillelagh…

Our most popular product is The Wizard’s Wand. This is a button-less universal remote that allows you to take command of your electronics by waving The Wand a la Harry Potter. You actually have to train your remote like a true wizard and The Wand will give you feedback when you’ve gotten the motion right. You can program up to 13 different commands on as many different electronic devices. It’s really pretty awesome.

As far as new products go, I am currently searching for a gadget that will permanently erase the words ‘fail,’ ‘epic,’ and ‘amazing’ from the American vocabulary. If you’ve invented such a device, please contact me directly.

10. Last but not least, can you tell us something juicy from behind the scenes at X-Treme Geek? Tell us something that we would never know unless we read this interview. I can’t wait for this answer.

Something juicy from behind the scenes at X-Treme Geek? We have amongst us a group that refers to themselves as ‘Hashers.’ The more I learn about this secretive, Tom Cruise-y in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’-like cult of long distance runners, the more tightly I hold onto my own children… You can check out their freaky show here on Wikipedia.

We’ve put together a special coupon code for the readers at Bit Rebels to use on their orders:

Enter the coupon code “bitrebels” in the checkout and you’ll receive free shipping on all orders over $30.

Geek Credentials Of Our Team Specialists:

1. Mike, the head of our creative department, is said to have brought his own Etherwave-Theramin to his job interview and played an original composition for the human resource team. He was hired on the spot.

2. Katie, known as our Amazon Queen, is not a geek herself, but she openly admits to having dated geeks in the past. She claims all of them turned out to be ‘dorks.’

3. Tim, our current Director of Internet Intrigue, has developed the uncanny mental ability to fluidly transition between our world and the Marvel Comic Universe with disturbing ease.

4. Johnny in customer service believes he is an actual Jedi Master and once spent a month’s rent on an actual lightsaber replica to prove it.

5. Den in wholesale writes ‘historical noir’ fiction featuring Franciscan Friars who pack heat beneath their robes. I believe he is recognized as a master of the genre, since he is the only one who actually writes in this genre.

6. Greg proudly owns his own complete suit of 15th century museum quality replica armor. He likes to wear it on Halloween and while lounging around the house. It weighs 104 lbs.

Edmund Scientifics X-Treme Geek Interview


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