Devon Braun looked comfortable standing amid stuffed animals and LED toys, just as he does overseeing 16 full-time employees. The 31-year-old entrepreneur and Agoura High graduate may be a kid at heart, but he knows his insect puzzles from his inventory levels.
As co-owner of the Alexon Group, an Agoura Hills business specializing in corporate and personalized gifts, Braun has a lot on his plate, but has had a lot of practice.
"I was working for a national wireless company in San Diego when my dad asked me to set up this company with him," recalled Braun. The timing was right and the stars just aligned, he said.
Father and son, both longtime Agoura residents, founded the company in 2003. Dad Doug became CEO, in charge of the operations and purchasing side of the business. Devon gravitated toward sales, marketing, product development and information technology.
Plush toys and popular products
"We started with just 200 items initially. Now we carry over 1,800 items," Braun said. Their 84-page catalog offers such diverse items as jewelry, plush toys and sports paraphernalia. Almost everything can be personalized for an additional charge.
The business is cyclical in nature, and movies are one of the reasons. The openings of Toy Story 3 and Alice in Wonderland, for example, could mean a higher demand for toys and novelty items with those themes.
"One thing I'm just discovering though is that boys are no longer scared of wearing jewelry," said Braun. The Alexon Group stocks bracelets and necklaces such as the thin, beaded surf ones that both boys and girls, tweens and teens, might find appealing and suitable to wear to school.
Braun devours financial reports with the appetite of a geek and the foresight of a seasoned businessman. He is quick to spot trends and adjusts inventory levels in his warehouses accordingly. Colors are harder to predict than the actual items, he said. Pastels could be in one season and out the next.
Pillow Pals, Alexon's best-selling item in 2008, continue to reign. The plush animal-pillow combo comes in nine versions. The Flying Monkey, a sound-chip-equipped plush toy, is also popular. "Almost anything that lights up or is part of a combo that lights up, always sell really well," explained Braun.
Keeping it simple
"We try to have uniform price points for almost everything," said Braun, of Alexon's pricing strategy, which he says has proven to be recession-proof so far. It keeps things simple for the company and its customers.
When the recession hit a couple of years ago, business was slower as expected, but revenues were nowhere near dismal. "Instead of a 15 to 20 percent growth that we've been enjoying in the past, it's been about 5 to 8 percent lately," explained Braun.
With other businesses folding or downsizing, including those of some of Alexon's clients, the privately held company used the downturn as an opportunity to do some reassessments and improvements. "Even with zero debt, it forced us to look inside and cut the fat so to speak," said Braun.
The Alexon Group stands behind its products. "We may not be the cheapest products in the market, but they are really good quality," said Braun. It carries U.S.-made products as well as imports from the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Guatemala and Mexico. Braun has personally inspected most of the overseas factories where Alexon's products are made.
His hands-on business approach has earned him the loyalty of his employees, many of who have been with the company for years. The employees' sense of ownership has also translated into the reputation for exceptional customer service that Alexon Group has earned.
A work in progress
In the next few years, Braun said he is focused on increasing distribution channels, acquiring more corporate accounts and offering additional exceptional products. For now, he is satisfied with the company's current marketing strategies: its e-commerce website, its 84-page catalog and inside sales.
Alexon's charity work also keeps it busy around the Christmas holidays, when it donates 100 percent of proceeds from a one-day Susan B. Komen race. An inner-city Los Angeles children's shelter also receives about 500 plush toys from the company in December.
In describing the direction he wants his business to take, Braun said, "It's always going to be a work in progress."