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Small Business Owner Looks Toward Bigger Things : Growth: John Wilson knows success won't come easily but, like those on his favorite team, he'll keep stepping up to the plate.


NORCROSS, Ga. — On the day he opened up shop, John Wilson's frame of mind about his prospects as the owner of a small business could be likened to his experience as a die-hard Atlanta Braves fan--high hopes and depressing reality.

"I had gotten everything all set up--the letterheads, the forms, the business cards. I was ready," he recounts in the office of Wilson & Associates--the office being an upstairs room in his suburban Atlanta townhouse.

Twelve hours and dozens of "no's" later, Wilson's mood had declined.

"You think you've got it all together, then you see it isn't going to come easy. You come from up here," he says, stretching his arms high, "then, right to the bottom."

Wilson & Associates remanufactures worn-out computer laser printer cartridges so they can be used again.

That first evening, Wilson switched on a tiny TV on his work table and followed his baseball team while he worked on cartridges. The Braves lost and were a seemingly insurmountable nine games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants.

"I started just when the Braves were starting their big comeback," says Wilson, grinning below a Braves pennant on his office wall.

The Braves went on to catch the Giants in a dramatic race. Wilson, meanwhile, built up his business.

"We're chugging along. I've learned to ride that emotional roller coaster," he says, six months later. "The economy's getting better. I'm not fearful about the future anymore."

At 27, Wilson is fulfilling one goal by owning his own business. He hasn't given up on another--to be a millionaire by the time he's 30.

"I've made it through some rough times," says Wilson, who moved here from southern New Jersey out of high school. He's "never not been working," but has often used odd jobs to get by, earning as little as $9,000 a year.

He has worked for $5 to $6 an hour off and on for years as a parking lot attendant. He has risen at 3 a.m. each day to load United Parcel Service delivery trucks, has been in the vending machine business, has been a photocopier repairman and a copier salesman.

Wilson learned a couple of years ago about remanufacturing the cartridges that enable computer users to print out files. He compares it to rebuilding an auto engine.

New cartridges can run in the hundreds of dollars. He overhauls them and sells them back to their owners for half the cost of a new one.

Although he has larger competitors, Wilson sees the field, less than a decade old, as one suited to a small operation.

"They can't serve a client the way I can," he says. "I pick up and deliver myself, and I have a quick turnaround time."

The garrulous Wilson spent half a year preparing to open, investing $10,000 from his savings and friends' loans. He also began lining up customers, some at the parking lot where he worked.

His clients include advertising agencies, law firms, accountants, brokerage firms and government agencies.

Despite the name of his business, Wilson's only associate so far is his wife, Felicia, who keeps the books.

He rises at about 7 a.m. each weekday, showers and dresses, then walks upstairs and shuts the door to his office, in which a packed shelf contains such books as "Getting Business to Come to You" and "The Small Business Survival Guide."

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