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PriveCo’s Tom Nardone: From Bullet Vibes to Bulletproof Vests

ShopInPrivate.com founder’s entrepreneurial past an interesting one

PriveCo’s Tom Nardone: From Bullet Vibes to Bulletproof Vests

DETROIT—Tom Nardone has sold some interesting things via the internet in the past 15 years. After starting out with a site that carried some of the more embarrassing items to purchase in a drugstore (think hemorrhoids and yeast infections), he moved on to selling vibrators, and then he eventually added bachelorette items. But now he has returned to his roots, in a sense, with his newest venture: selling bulletproof vests online.

“These things just sort of come my way, and it makes me very happy,” said the founder of PriveCo, ShopInPrivate.com, Vibrators.com and now BulletSafe.com.

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There is some logic to the interesting—if somewhat twisty and curvy—path that led Nardone to selling the specialty vests.

A former ballistics tester for hydraulic tanks on helicopters (a job he noted is “considerable less exciting than it sounds”), Nardone took a different career path in 1998 when he started selling products on the internet.

“I sort of backed into the adult industry by selling things like hemorrhoid creams on the internet,” Nardone told AVN. “Wow, that was a bad pun!”

In 1998, Nardone and his partners walked the aisles of local Detroit pharmacies—including Target, Walmart, Rite-Aid and CVS—looking for the items they felt people would be too embarrassed to purchase in person.

“We had a retail website that allowed us to showcase 50 items, so we made a list of the 49 most embarrassing products and put those up for sale,” he said. “We had them up on ShopInPrivate.com, which is still online today. In fact, I think the only person who has been doing this longer than me is Dave Levine [of SexToy.com fame].”

Nardone said the idea for ShopInPrivate.com was to give customers complete privacy when making their purchases, so the site never asked for contact information; nor did it ask customers to sign up for newsletters and the like.

“We let people know that if they were buying from us, we would never contact them again,” he said. “It was because of that policy that Money Magazine called us ‘e-losers’ in a 1999 article. They said we were doing the internet retail thing all wrong. But all the sites they mentioned as winners are no longer around, and here we are, still going strong, 14 years later.”

While ShopInPrivate.com didn’t have access to customer’s personal information, it did have access to what they were looking for.

“We had a search bar, and we used it to see what people were looking to buy on the site; we still use it today,” Nardone said. “And not long after we opened the online store, we saw people were searching for vibrators. We could add one more product to the site without being charged, so we decided to add a basic, simple vibrator.”

Not knowing where to start, Nardone did some research on the adult industry and found that adult novelty distributor Nalpac operated in the same town.

“We couldn’t believe it,” he said. “To this day, we use Nalpac as one of our distributors for many of our sites.”

And while selling pharmacy items and vibrators were fun and kept Nardone and his partners and staff busy for a few months, there was definitely a lull after Valentine’s Day.

“We started wondering what else we could sell, partly because we were bored,” he said with a laugh. “We had spent all these weeks and months filling orders, and now we had nothing to do. We needed something to fill our time.”

That’s when Bachelorette.com was born.

“We had been doing well enough to hire people, and one of them was someone who had worked at Nalpac,” Nardone said. “We asked him what they did after Valentine’s Day, and he said bachelorette items were pretty good to sell in the spring months.”

But for all his success, Nardone admitted, he was simply selling other people's products. Recently, he said PriveCo decided to start looking for a product and brand they could control.

Nardone does quite a bit of volunteer work in Detroit: In 2010 he spearheaded the Detroit Mower Gang, a volunteer group that uses their personal lawn mowing equipment to tend the grounds at abandoned parks and playgrounds throughout the city. The mowing—which sometimes takes place in later hours in sketchy neighborhoods—prompted him to get his pistol permit. In addition to being a gun owner, he’s also an avid target shooter. His interest in guns helped him notice a unique shop while on a business trip to Las Vegas recently.

“I was in the Chinatown section and noticed in the strip mall there a store that was selling bulletproof vests,” he said. “I thought that was an odd product and an odd place to be selling it.”

Nardone said he’s been hunting (no pun intended) for a new product, and had a list of seven criteria he wanted any potential items to meet before he started selling them.

“These vests meet all of my criteria,” he said.

So for the first time in 14 years, Nardone is selling directly from a manufacturer to retailers, making the move from B2C to B2B.

“It’s a big change,” he admitted. “But I think we have a plan that will work.”

From testing bullets on helicopter tanks to testing bullets on bulletproof vests, Nardone really brought things full circle.






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Comments

Posted 07/08/2013 by priveco
He sure is handsome.
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