Keith Winter's business was born online and grew online, but with his latest expansion he's going old school — and old warehouse.
He's setting up an expanded bricks-and-mortar storage-distribution center for his growing e-commerce retail business at 425 E Hill St., in an old-timey 31,000-square-foot warehouse built in 1952 — after it's spiffed up quite a bit and some 5,000 square feet of offices are built in.
College try works
Winter, 32, started his first business, HomeWetBar.com, in 2004 based on a bar he designed while a student at Oklahoma State University — just the design.
“It was kind of a unique bar. It had a see-through bottle cap top, a fish tank in the front, a refrigerator — all the good stuff a college kid needs,” he said, laughing.
“People started asking me about the plans, and I started selling the plans online.”
He graduated with a degree in marketing and management information systems in 2003 and, the 1999-2000 dot-com bust having erased the job opportunities he'd hoped for, he went to work for Enterprise Rent-A-Car as a management trainee — and kept selling the bar plans.
“I thought, ‘Hey, people are buying these bar plans. They probably need other accessories, too.' So I started selling little cocktail shakers and bottle openers out of my one-bedroom (apartment) closet. I quickly outgrew that,” Winter said. “I moved into a two-bedroom and made my second bedroom my office, warehouse, photography room, the works.
“And it got very quickly to where I was going to work at 6 in the morning. I'd get off at 7 (at night), work all night long, get up at 4 or 5 in the morning, ship my packages — and repeat, every single day. So I was working all the time. At that point, I decided, ‘I've got to make a choice.' So I quit my job and started doing the HomeWetBar full time.”
His first actual warehouse was a small place, 1,800 square feet at 8001 N Wilshire Court. In just a few years, he moved to a 7,500-square-foot place at 4132 Will Rogers Parkway.
Now, he's about to move and expand again, this time on Hill Street, just west of Lincoln Boulevard north of the Capitol.
HomeWetBar.com and a new venture he started last year, GreatGiftsForMen.com, employ nine people now.
After the move, Winter, president and CEO, plans about 30 workers for the company, which recently earned the “Customer Certified” designation from Bizrate.com by getting better-than-satisfactory ratings on the consumer monitoring Bizrate's “dimensions of service.”
HomeWetBar still specializes in bar accessories. Cast-iron speedboat nutcracker paper weight? Gas pump retro liquor dispenser? Stainless-steel wall-mounted bottle opener and cap catcher set? Contour warming cognac and brandy glass? “Simple Class Whiskey Glass set”? Got 'em.
But it also offers items for pools and patios, kitchen and dining and theater and game rooms.
GreatGiftsForMen has a wider selection of gift items and offers shopping “by personality” (“corporate maverick,” “funny guy,” “geek,” “grill master,” “hipster,” “manly man,” “the intellectual,” and others) and “by manspace” (home, man cave, office, outdoors).
‘New life' for old site
Winter paid $608,000 for the old warehouse, which is in a neighborhood of old warehouses in the Santa Fe industrial area north of the Capitol, in a deal handled by brokers Randy Lacey and Caitlin Dempsey of Grubb & Ellis-Levy Beffort. He's spending at least another $150,000 to renovate the 60-year-old building.
Why not go new? His new old place has 14-foot ceilings, not the 22-foot clear height he's used to; it has a loading platform, not the docks and grade-level door he used to, or the dock-high loading bays of newer places; and it has other features that make it almost functionally obsolete for most users of industrial space.
Further, most of the renovation cost is for adding the office space the old warehouse lacks — and that required a zoning variance because that usually requires more parking — in addition to upgraded electrical wiring and new lighting.
“We looked at a lot of buildings with him,” Lacey said. “He was open to a lot of buildings that made sense. He saw this as a blank canvas: ‘I can make this into what I want it to be.' What he's doing is just breathing new life into that building.”
Winter said he deliberately chose the old warehouse bones, and a more difficult route, for the good of the inner city.
“I think the easy thing would be to build on the outskirts of the city where the land is cheap, or get a warehouse out there with some of the real modern conveniences, with the real high ceilings or a million dock doors,” he said.
“But I thought this would be a really neat building to renovate and kind of bring back to its former glory, improving the area and also improving kind of the community around it in Oklahoma City.”