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“It was a line-of-duty death that created this business,” says John Tragiai, former owner of Keeprs, a law enforcement supply company based out of St. Cloud, MN. As origins stories go, Keeprs stands as the most heartbreaking ever featured on Distribution Talk. John’s arc within that history - from broadcasting major to police office to successful businessman - is one of the most inspiring. 

“It gives me goosebumps right now when I’m sitting here talking about it,” John says while relaying the events that eventually lead to the creation of Keeprs. “Like a lot of entrepreneurs, planning isn’t always part of the process when you get into a business.” And failure is rarely an option - especially when you’ve set out to serve those who protect and serve. 

If you’re like me, you probably assume that all law enforcement agencies outfit their members with the gear they need to do the job. More often than not, however, officers are given a stipend to purchase their own supplies. Like any gear-heavy industry (think restaurant chefs or construction workers), they’re motivated to supplement the basics with customized items. 

Enter Keeprs, the shop created by law enforcement pros for law enforcement pros. They sold everything from boots to holsters to body armour and they did so with a highly personal customer service ethos. The company expanded beyond individual consumers to become a multi-state business. Eventually, their clients included whole agencies looking for a supplier who could reliably deliver bespoke uniform and patch combinations in bulk.

Although Keeprs operated within an uncommon niche, John faced challenges inherent to most distributorships. At one point, he found himself at the helm of a growing company but with little experience combatting bloated inventory, outdated software, and non-existent cash reserves.

“I was a cop that was supposed to be a broadcaster,” he laughs. John’s solution was to lean into his vulnerability and rely on trade organizations for guidance. “I don’t mind being vulnerable and asking for help. When I came onto Keeprs, I didn’t know the difference between AR and AP!” 

That changed with assistance from the National Association of Police Equipment Distributors and the National Shooting and Sports Foundation. “You know, you have to be vulnerable so you can go out there and just learn. Find the resources and learn. That’s it.”

Two decades later (and wiser), John successfully sold Keeprs to a motivated buyer. Looking back on his wild ride as he puts it, would he do anything differently? You’ll have to listen in to find out.

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Distribution Talk is produced by The Distribution Team, a consulting services firm dedicated to helping wholesale distribution clients remove barriers to profitability, generate wealth and achieve personal goals.  

 

Edited & mixed by The Creative Impostor Studios.

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