Local Business Owners Finds Unique Business Ventures (First Person)

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Robert Ginsburg

Owner, Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters

Fayetteville

I was in the building trades – doing remodeling and residential construction – in the early ’80s when interest rates shot way up. Work was hard to find, so I started selling Army/Navy surplus out of a friend’s clothing store on Dickson Street.

I knew a little about the business because a friend ran a surplus store while we were in college in Missouri. In 1982 I partnered with him and another guy and opened Uncle Sam’s. My intention was to get the store up and running, get a good staff and go back to construction. That was a delusion.

In the mid-80s Army/Navy surplus became harder to obtain, so I started shifting the store’s focus more toward outdoor gear.  It’s now about 70 percent of the business.

I was able to provide products to niche consumers from college students, who liked military fashion, to hunters, who couldn’t find camo anywhere else. A major line now is caving and vertical climbing gear, which I began to sell it as I became more interested in the sport.

I think I was able to succeed because early on I ran a real tight ship – did all my own bookkeeping and payroll – and my instincts on product were good.

Back then, I think I paid myself $18,000 per year. I worked 50-hour weeks, tried to keep my debt down and ultimately bought my two partners out. Too, a lot of it had to do with the market and the way things were growing – you had to be foolish and ill conceived to go out of business around here at that time.

I also do a weekly jazz show for KUAF-FM and started the North Arkansas Jazz Society in 1993, which works with the Walton Arts Center and the University of Arkansas to bring world-class jazz performer to the area.

Right now, I’m also president of the board of Ozark Natural Foods, a cooperative food store that has become a major business back from near-bankruptcy just a few years ago.