Cole Thornton strikes a pose in the workspace at the Fort Smith Gadget Grave, an
electronics repair shop founded with Aaron Price in June.
You might guess that Cole Thornton, cofounder of the successful Gadget Grave chain of electronic repair shops, grew up as the kid who deviled his parents by taking all their devices apart and spent eight days a week with a game controller in his hand.
You’d be wrong.
Although Thornton, a 2006 graduate of the University of Arkansas -- Fort Smith, got his first computer when he was 12, his interest lay less in how devices work than in what he could do with them. One of the things he could do was with them was make money.
“My business partner (Aaron Price) is the guy who knows how everything works,” Thornton said recently. “I’m the guy who had an iPhone 3G that got wet and wouldn’t power on, and I sold it on eBay for 200 bucks and I thought, ‘Wow! There’s money here.’”
Thornton began buying people’s broken electronics on Craig’s List and then reselling them on eBay. “I was buying between five and 10 devices a week and (making) anywhere from $100 to $150 per device.”
The Fort Smith native has a nursing degree from UAFS. Thornton said he needed a degree that would allow him to work while he got started developing his entrepreneurial endeavors.
As the employee “in charge of computers” and digitizing forms at Physicians Day Surgery Center, Thornton said he was able to do the things he needed to do to get Gadget Grave off the ground with his employer’s support.
In the early stages of his company’s creation in 2009, for eight to 12 months, Thornton said, he worked 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the surgery center, then worked 2:30-9 p.m. either online or at Gadget Grave. Price also worked long hours.
“We were both committed,” Thornton said about the work ethic the partners share. “If we weren’t willing to go all in, we wouldn’t be where we are today. It would be a hobby instead of a business.”
Also committed to the enterprise’s success was Thornton’s wife Veronica, also a UAFS nursing graduate. The two married in 2007. Thornton’s stepdaughter is 15 and the couple’s sons are 9 and 3.
Gadget Grave, with shops in Fort Smith, Fayetteville and Bentonville, repairs phones, tablets, computers, and game consoles. Stores also sell both new and refurbished devices and accessories. Since its inception, Gadget Grave has done more than $10 million in business, made more than 100,000 repairs and sold nearly 10,000 devices, Thornton said. The business has 25 employees.
Thornton said the partners have received buy-out offers, but they are not interested. What they are interested in is franchising. They are currently completing paperwork, including detailed training manuals, to begin offering opportunities to people interested in opening their own Gadget Grave shops. Thornton said he’d like to see some of his current employees interested in franchising because he already knows how terrific they are.
Price and Thornton also have an online enterprise, Gizmostock.com, which sells supplies to 100 other repair shops.
Thornton serves on the board of the Peacemaker Music & Arts Festival. Growing up in Fort Smith, Thornton said, he and his friends complained there wasn’t anything to do. “I figured it’s time to change that. This is a way for me to give back to the community and listen to some great musical acts in the process.”
Although he is not working as a nurse, Thornton’s time at UAFS helped him develop the skills that create his business success.
“The nursing degree … showed me the importance of ‘fanatical documentation,’ which we have implemented at Gadget Grave,” he said. “Having to focus on school taught me to enjoy learning, regardless of the subject matter. I still utilize those habits as our business grows. One of our core values at Gadget Grave is ‘always be learning.’”
About the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith
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