WEST NANTICOKE — Many of us would probably love to turn our hobbies into our jobs. Eddy Kondraski actually did.
The Mountain Top native left his job in the construction industry to open Iron Cowboy Gun Shop, which last week celebrated its second anniversary.
As Kondraski told the Times Leader, becoming your own boss is a big leap and takes way more work than people may realize, but it also has been a rewarding experience. He also has enjoyed the help and support of family members, including wife Leigh.
The shop operates in an historic former railroad station along U.S. Route 11, owned by Leigh’s grandmother. Iron Cowboy quickly developed a loyal following thanks to Kondraski’s niche-product business model, as the 35-year-old explained.
Q: What was life like before you opened the shop?
A: I used to travel a lot for work. I was in the building trades. I was a union iron worker for 15 years. I worked a lot in New York City and Philadelphia. When we moved back to the area it just got really rough with travelling and not being home. My wife has a job that she likes, and she said, “Why don’t you do something you love?” Six months later a gun shop was here.
Q: Many people leave the area and eventually come back. Why did you come back?
A: Family. We were out of the area for probably six years. When my wife went to school we were in Philadelphia for probably four years, and then we moved outside of Reading.
Q: How did you launch the shop?
A: I had some help from guys who ran successful businesses, but 99 percent of this was just me and my wife brainstorming. I don’t come from a business background. My mom was in sales and she helped as much as she could, but other than that what you see is me learning things the hard way.
Q: Were you scared at all?
A: I was, because I left a really good job. There’s a lot of what-ifs. To get into this business takes a lot of money, and there’s no shortage of gun shops around here.
Q: As for guns, you have a very specific interest, right?
A: I like all guns, but my true passion is vintage guns.
Q: So how do you translate that into a successful business?
A: I like to dabble in things that a lot of shops don’t handle. I have a lot of contacts with collectors all over the country. I have a lot of vintage stuff. A lot of this stuff is early 1920s, some of it comes from England — true bespoke firearms.
I have a lot of guns that were handmade in Germany. Then there are some high-level competition guns for shooting clays and trap and things like that. I love that stuff. I’m a competitor. I’ve been getting into shooting those target sports with vintage American doubles. And that opens up a whole new network of people to buy guns from and sell to.
But I just like the craftsmanship that went into these old guns.
Q: How much of your business do you do online?
A: Right now it’s a 50/50 split. You might not think there aren’t a lot of people in West Nanticoke who spend $6,000 on a shotgun, but believe it or not there are. Everyone when I first opened up said, “you’re nuts for taking on these expensive lines.”
But believe it or not, my first big sale, when I first opened up, was a guy from Plymouth. When a local guy came down and bought a gun, I said, “I know this is going to work.”
I have an easier time selling some of those guns than I do a Glock pistol. I definitely found my niche market.
Q: How has the location helped?
A: There’s a lot of big hunters in the area, around Hunlock Creek for example, and it’s helped me build a pretty solid customer base. I’ve met a lot of good people. I like when the old-timers come in and they like to talk about the stuff that I like.
Q: Do you hunt?
A: I do. I hunt deer, I like a lot of upland game because I like to shoot shotguns. I’ve been hunting since I was of legal age.
Q: Where do you go from here?
A: Only up. I’m not opposed to another location, but right now I don’t need it. I like just coming to work with me and my dog. There’s enough for me to do now where I could hire an employee, but I just don’t want to. My wife comes here to help one or two days if she’s not working, but she has her own responsibilities.
Q: What is being self-employed like?
A: If I could stay up 24 hours a day, I would. Everybody thinks owning your own business is easy and you just ride around in your boat. That’s far from the case. I work more hours now than I did getting up in the morning and driving to New York City. When stuff has to get done, if I’m not there to do it there’s no elf that’s going to come and do it, you know?
Q: What would you tell people who want to open their own businesses?
A: You can do it, if you want to, but it’s a lot of work. You have to be dedicated and you really have to want it. Since I opened, two other shops have opened and two other shops closed. Running your own business is very hard but it’s probably one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.