Every business in Central, Alaska had some sort of bar attached to it. Of course, we really only had three businesses and consequently had three bars. And by law, kids were not allowed in unless accompanied by a parent.
This also meant that there wasn’t much else to do in a small community like this, especially during the winter, so weekly dart games popped up at the establishments as a means to get people out and of course, to spend money. Twice a year, there would be a tournament in which people from Fairbanks, 125 miles away, would come for the weekend and give our little community an economic boost.
The kids would often hang out and play, and if we were lucky, we could step in to fill an empty spot on a team. Few of the kids liked to play and some of the older kids weren’t allow to play because they weren’t liked very much because of their attitudes.
Fortunately, most of the adults liked me, or at least tolerated me, and as I grew older, I was asked to play more frequently. Also, as I grew older, fewer families brought their kids, so I was often left to read a book in the corner.
One night, while reading, I found a National Geographic on the little round table I was sitting at. Picking it up, I found a darts magazine that had been left behind from the last dart tournament. Looking through it, I found a cool set of flights for my darts and wanted to order them, but the fine print said I had to spend a minimum of $25 to ship to Alaska. The flights I wanted only cost 75¢.
The owner of the bar said that I could take the magazine, so I brought it home and a plan started forming in my head. Now mind you, I was only 12 or 13, but I decided to a little business where I sold dart supplies.
I showed my plan to my dad and he said he would loan me the $5o I planned to use as my start up. I had the money saved in a bank account in Fairbanks and promised to pay him back the next time we went to town.
I stocked up on flights and flexible shafts and flight protectors, most of which no one in our community had ever seen before, or if they had, it was at the big tournaments in Fairbanks or Anchorage. I calculated the price and purchased $43 in supplies as shipping was nearly $7.
In a couple of weeks, my dart supplies had arrived and I created an inventory, placed it all in my school bag and took them to the next dart night. The place was crowded and I was going to play very little this night, but as I went to sell my goods, I realized that I was in a business and didn’t have permission.
Dad tracked down the owner and I went to his office to propose my business venture. After my spiel, he agreed that I could sell my dart supplies. Behind the bar, he too sold some flights for darts, but those sales were rare, so I don’t think he expected me to do that well.
I offered him 10% of my profits for the night or 5 sets of flights. He sold his flight sets for $2 a pieces, so he took flights, not expecting me to make much money.
I’d brought about half of my supplies and sat at my table in the corner and laid some of them out. It was still early, so my dad, mom and I all threw darts while we waited, and many of the players commented on the new flashy flights we were using.
I made a couple of sales and the night proved it was going to be slow. That is, until my dad and another player were in a shoot out for control of a game and my dad’s dart slid right next to the other player who’d blocked the bulls eye with his own dart. My dad was able to do this, partially because of skill, but more importantly, the flexible shaft on his dart.
This was followed up by another throw that would have impaled my dad’s dart, but I’d given him a set of flight protectors that deflected the tip of the dart. People were amazed at the display of accuracy the two men were putting on and in the end, my dad lost, but it took five darts to do it.
His opponent joked that my dad had cheated with his dart upgrades, but he immediately came over and bought some for himself.
And by the end of the night, I had sold all the supplies that I had brought and walked out with a little less than a hundred dollars.
I paid back my dad and brought the rest of my supplies to the dart games the next week and nearly sold all that I had leaving me with nearly $125 and promises of orders.
I sunk all the money back into my business, paying a little extra for expedited shipping so I would receive my supplies before the next tournament.
The day before the tournament, my dad came to my bedroom with a leather briefcase that he kept in his office and told me I needed something better to keep my things in. He helped me set up the things so that they displayed well and I spent all day arranging and rearranging things and making signage and price sheets.
It was very rare for a kid to get to play in the tournament, though sometimes we could fill in for non tournament games, so I made a plan to sell. I checked that my agreement was intact and the owner said it was, but I had a curfew.
Over the weekend, I turned my $125 into nearly $4oo and another $200 in advanced sales for darts and specialized designs. I took $40 and set aside as spending money, gave $40 to the owner of the bar, put $160 into savings and purchased $160 in dart supplies.
There was only a month left in that season’s games, but by the end, I took that $50 dollars and ended with nearly $800. I’d put aside nearly $350 and had the same amount in supplies for the next year.
Not every place let me sell, but when I did, most nights I did well. I became the go to guy for dart supplies in the greater area. The dart supply magazine stopped charging me extra for expedited shipping and I became their top seller in the Pacific Northwest after securing a contract to supply new dartboards and backboards for one of the larger statewide tournaments.
After two and a half years, I had enough in savings to purchase a new snowmachine, remembering at this time a good work sled cost less than $5000.
Life was going well until I qualified for the Youth Dart State Championships and came in second which included an invitation to the Nation Dart Championships being held in Las Vegas that year. One of the rules was that you had to have a national sponsor.
I thought to myself, why wouldn’t the supplier that I have been buying from want to sponsor me?
I sent them off a letter and prepared for the tournament that was occurring at the end of the summer before school started back up. I practiced every day between my chores and work at the mine.
Then the letter came.
“We are sorry to inform you that we are already sponsoring two players in the youth tournament and are not permitted anymore.”
“Furthermore, we have to cancel our partnership with you as you are under the age of 21 which is a requirement per company policy.”
I had a big order in for a tournament in Fairbanks, so I called to make sure that the sale would not be compromised. I had a direct line to the sales office manager for the company and he assured me that they would complete the order, but that it would be the last.
They’d assumed that I was over 21 since “everyone” in the business was. I’d explained my business plan after my first couple of orders and they’d offered me a distribution discount as a representative for them assuming that since I was selling in bars, I was old enough to do so; though they would like to have me back when I turned 21.
Sadly, I never secured a national sponsor, so was not able to go to nationals. The next year I qualified third in state and played enough tournaments to qualify in the men’s category as well, but the youth national tournament was cancelled due to fears that drunk people were getting hurt playing darts and lawsuits.
I didn’t like the new plastic tipped darts and moved to Anchorage where youth couldn’t play, so I walked away from the game and never returned to dart sales. But I will never forget those two fun years of being the top salesmen in the Pacific Northwest; a kid with $5o, a briefcase and a roomful of drunk people.