Toad Computers Growing By Leaps And Bounds

Young Entrepreneurs Find Their Niche In Computer Sales Arena

October 18, 1990|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

David Troy, 18, a self-professed free-market idealist who co-owns Toad Computers in Olde Severna Park, quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson to explain the philosophy he followed to get his early start in business.

"Foolish conformity is the hobgoblin of little minds."

In a business dominated by professionals dealing in Apples, IBMs and their clones, Troy and partner Ray Mitchell, 22, of Arnold, have established Maryland's only authorized Atari computer dealership -- at an age when most of their peers are preoccupied with the trappings of adolescence.

Troy -- who is in his sophomore year studying computer engineering at Johns Hopkins University -- says Atari makes an inexpensive, yet more flexible and powerful alternative to IBM and Apple, but just hasn't spent the dollars on marketing to compete.

When Troy and Mitchell founded Toad Computer Systems as a mail-order company four years ago, Troy was a sophomore at the Severn School and Mitchell was just starting college at UMBC. But both had extensive experience as computer hobbyists.

Troy knew if they could transcend Atari's "image problem," they had a sure niche in the hobbyist community.

"Atari is the No. 1 selling computer in Germany and throughout most of Europe," said Troy, who has been programming since he was 8 years old.

"Americans are more concerned with the image of their computers than their performance, and they are willing to pay extra for it."

Their youthful self-assurance turned out to be accurate. By 1988, the business had grown to the extent that they had to take out a $20,000 loan and move into a shop near Severna Park Station in Olde Severna Park.

This month, Toad Computers will make its last payment on the loan. This year's gross receipts are expected to exceed $1 million, mostly from nationwide mail-orders.

The fact that Troy and Mitchell only siphon off $100-per-week from their profits for living expenses has helped Toad grow. The bulk of the profits go back into building Toad's Atari inventory and advertising in national computer magazines. Revenues have doubled during the last year.

"I don't need any more than $100 a week. What am I going to do, invest it in fast horses and fast women?" Troy scoffs. "It's not like I'm spending it on tapioca or anything. I'm spending it on items that will sell."

The pair can afford to draw such a small salary because both still live with their parents and commute to school. Troy lives in Severna Forest, and his grandfather has given him a free ride to finish his degree at JHU.

He and Mitchell select opposite schedules at school so they can mind the store, which is open six days a week. But Troy, who crams his school week between Monday and Wednesday, says living two lives is wearing thin.

"I'm not intending to do this the rest of my life," he said. "I don't really want to divide my time like this, but I think I'd go nuts if I did just one or the other.

"When you're sitting in a class graphing algorithms, school can seem excessively theoretical. It's a little more than your stomach can take.

It's kind of nice to actually get out and program and sell the computers."

As a proprietor of a small business and member of the Greater Severna Park Chamber of Commerce, Troy almost sheepishly admits he has become a Republican -- albeit a liberal one. But he prefers to think of himself as a free-market idealist.

"The best way in business and in life to convince people that you have the best idea is to basically apply the principles of the free market," he said, "and believe in truth, honesty and yourself."

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