January 19, 2018 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Omaha World-Herald cartoonist Jeff Koterba is the guitarist, principal songwriter, and lead vocalist—in other words, the catalyst—behind the popular local band the Prairie Cats.

He also isn’t the only musician in the family. Son Joshua Koterba started playing guitar as soon as he could pick one up, and he began playing the trumpet in third grade. He kept playing until he became a teenager.

“Son, you can’t write a love song on a trumpet,” Jeff told him.

So Joshua hung up his trumpet, picked up the guitar again, and wrote love songs. The guitar became a spiritual connection for him, a deep draw to a place of elation and completion.

“It’s magic, you know,” Koterba, now 31, explains.

Koterba took the plunge into the music retail business two years ago with his start-up, Gear Supply Co. As a musician and a freelance audio engineer, Koterba developed a set of unique skills. He knew how to make his low wages work in creative ways. He has a scrappy, lean mentality that translates perfectly into the world of entrepreneurship. It takes blood, sweat, tears, and soul.

Koterba, though, did not run full tilt into the fire. It started with Koterba’s own adventure seeking strings for his 15-year-old Fender guitar. The stores he visited didn’t have what he needed, so he bought it all online.

The purchase left him feeling disconnected. A musician’s guitar is like an artist’s brush. The tools matter and artists have emotional attachments to their instruments.

Not having customized supplies turned into a problem Koterba itched to solve. He spent months researching his client base. He knew other artists in the industry felt the same way and needed a buyer bond. Could he start a business from his garage in Florida with little income? The risk, in his eyes, seemed worth it. Koterba didn’t have a business degree, just a dream.

“It doesn’t matter how hard it gets if you know you are helping people,” Koterba says.

He used a couple thousand dollars from his tax return to buy products. Specifically, three different types of guitar strings. He knocked over the dominoes on his marketing plan: an e-mail with an opportunity to win free items if someone brought in more sign-ups. Koterba’s gamble paid off and he collected 5,000 e-mail addresses, along with 100 paying customers.

Eight months or so later, his company drew interest from an angel investor from Nebraska. The hard- working mentality of Midwesterners and the central location seemed ideal for his idea. He moved back to Omaha and was accepted to NMotion, a 90-day accelerator in Lincoln. The final project was to pitch his ideas in front of thousands of people to draw in capital investors. Eight more came on board. The money gained from the investors went towards testing and determining growth strategies, investing in customer acquisition, and employee wages.

Koterba retains more than 51 percent of the company, and Gear Supply Co. is breaking even after two years. Entrepreneurship takes a remarkable amount of hard work. Koterba clears his mind with decompressing silence on his trips to Florida to see his two children. It helps him brainstorm innovative ideas or think about new supplies.

Customer demand means Koterba has added gauges and straps to his inventory. He added guitar pedals using crowdsourcing as an additional method of gaining capital. Koterba has a hand in designing products and it allows him to make connections with like-minded artists.

Blues player and shredder Sebastian Lane buys many of these products on Gear Supply Co.’s list, including custom picks.

“They are the leading forefront when it comes to quality guitar goods,” Lane says.

Koterba still plays his instrument daily, strumming in his chair and trying out product lines while responding to e-mails. At the end of the day (even if that means 1 a.m.), nothing replaces diligence because, “no one is going to work as hard as you.”

Visit gearsupply.co for more information.

This article was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.