By Karen Brune Mathis, Managing Editor
You rush to the airport, only to discover you left your smartphone charger on the nightstand.
Panic sets in about the battery drain. How will you catch up on those emails? Write that report? Check that research? Heck, play those games?
A Jacksonville-based company recognizes your frustration — and is ready on the passenger concourse to sell you what you need.
InMotion Entertainment Group LLC sells chargers as well as headphones, speakers, tablets, portable power and, as it advertises, “everything you need for your flight, or just for fun.”
It has 93 locations in 39 airports, with plans to acquire 29 more sites in 15 airports across the country.
It plans more growth nationally — through additional locations and the acquisition of competitors — and its owners see international expansion down the road.
Translated into sales, InMotion expects to reach more than $135 million in revenue in 2015 and more than $200 million within a few years.
Yet it’s not a high-profile corporate citizen.
“We’ve been very quietly going about doing business,” said President and CEO Jeremy Smith.
Rising on the horizon
InMotion Entertainment leases corporate space at 4801 Executive Park Court in Southside’s Center Point Business Park, off Philips Highway north of Butler Boulevard.
There’s no marquee building, no portico to announce its presence. Just a name on a door.
InMotion is in a single-story building that’s one of many similar and functional structures in one of the city’s many suburban business parks. And there it grows.
It’s almost doubling to 30,000 square feet of space, comprising 8,000 square feet of offices and 22,000 square feet of distribution space.
It employs more than 40 people in Jacksonville but a total of more than 650 systemwide.
InMotion doesn’t broadcast a large physical presence in Jacksonville, but that’s not the case in the nation’s airports.
The company operates kiosks, wall units and inline stores, and sometimes a combination, in airport terminals. Wherever one fits, InMotion can install a retail presence, Smith said.
For example, it has 11 units at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and soon will add six more.
InMotion Entertainment began in Jacksonville 18 years ago by brothers Mike and Barney Freedman and relative David Kight. It opened its first store in 1999, renting DVD players and movies to airline travelers as InMotion Pictures.
Gate Petroleum Co. invested in the company in 2000, which brought Smith, a senior Gate executive, onto the board of directors. The company gradually morphed into an airport electronics retailer during the 2000s, Smith said.
Gate became majority owner in 2006 and Smith became president. “By 2005-2006, we were pretty well entrenched,” he said.
At that time, it had 52 locations in 26 airports operating as InMotion Entertainment.
On Sept. 30, 2013, two major private-equity investment firms bought into the company and incorporated InMotion Entertainment Group LLC.
Palladin Consumer Retail Partners LLC of Boston and Bruckmann, Rosser, Sherrill & Co. of New York bought substantially all of the InMotion Entertainment, Soundbalance and Headphone Hub branded entertainment and electronics airport retail businesses that formerly were operated by the company.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
At the time, BRS and Palladin said the InMotion senior management team, including Smith, would continue to lead the company. Smith left Gate to join InMotion full time.
InMotion operated 74 locations in 35 U.S. airports. Smith said sales were less than $100 million.
The investors heralded the company’s business management and strategy.
Upon the investment, BRS Managing Director Tom Baldwin said the firm was impressed by Smith and his team for increasing market share and providing travelers with a broad selection of products and “a great shopping experience.”
Palladin CEO Mark Schwartz said InMotion had “a tremendous opportunity to grow both domestically and abroad,” setting the stage for international expansion.
‘Cool’ corporate ‘treasures’
InMotion may be quiet, but its story rings loud and clear to the chair of the JAXUSA Partnership, which is the economic development division of the JAX Chamber.
Mark Frisch, executive vice president of Beaver Street Fisheries, said his family’s business also operated somewhat under the radar until it decided to market its brands, including Sea Best and Grillman’s.
“When you read about expansion of local companies, it’s a positive indicator of the economy here and it’s a testament to a company’s desire to continue to want to be and grow in Jacksonville, Florida,” said Frisch, a fourth-generation family member in the business.
Frisch also founded the Jacksonville Armada FC, a new franchise of the North American Soccer League.
Frisch said an expansion by InMotion “speaks to the quality that this region can provide to a business,” keeping it in town rather than losing it to a relocation.
InMotion also represents what Frisch considers another element in the market –– the many other companies doing business nationally go about their business outside of the local spotlight.
“It’s cool when you find you have those hidden treasures here,” he said.
Keeping it fresh and focused
Smith said the equity investors brought a “singular focus” to growing the business.
Within less than two years, sales rose to more than $100 million.
On its InMotionStores.com site, the company calls itself “the largest U.S. airport retailer of entertainment and electronics.”
Brands include Bose, Beats by Dr. Dre, Braven, GoPro, Nikon, Panasonic, Samsung, Logitech, Monster and many others.
A key is keeping popular and new products on the shelves, Smith said.
“When you think about how fast technology changes, that’s what’s nice about it. Your products are always fresh,” he said.
Executive Vice President Tom Hurd said the company replenishes as quickly as possible, shipping replacement and new cutting-edge goods at least once a week, sometimes more often, from the Jacksonville distribution center.
The size of the stores also forces InMotion to curate the inventory to carry what the customers need, as well as what they might discover.
“Airports don’t have an abundance of space,” Smith said.
Travelers are a “captured” market because if they need to add or replace a gadget, they can turn to InMotion. Obviously airline delays are beneficial to InMotion, too, giving passengers a place to browse while they wait.
Smith said business travelers hold a slight edge in the number of customers.
They have less time to shop elsewhere and have the money to spend. “That’s probably where he does his buying — the airport,” Smith said.
Summer and spring-break passengers also create the “social traffic.”
InMotion typically sells at manufacturers’ suggested retail prices or lower. While the company isn’t always the only electronics retailer in an airport, it remains a leader in the industry.
InMotion continues to be recognized by consumer electronics trade journals as a top retailer. Both Twice Magazine, the official magazine of the Consumer Electronics Association, and Dealerscope Magazine, of the Consumer Technology Publishing Group, ranked the company among the top 100 U.S. consumer electronics retailers.
Smith and Hurd said the company invests in training its sales force and managers in product knowledge, sales and customer service. The staff will demonstrate products, realizing that customers may be in a hurry and need to touch, feel and understand what they’re buying.
“This is a fun business,” Hurd said.
“People like it. It’s a product they use.”