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A dot com future for Berlin?



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Tom Masiero works in his office fulfilling orders and talking to customers, all from the comfort of his home. (Photo by Erik Eisele) (click for larger version)
September 23, 2009
BERLIN — In a house on Washington Street, business is growing.

The residential area of Berlin near the junior high isn't what most people would think of as an ideal location for an international company, but despite its appearance as only a place to live, Tom Masiero makes it also his place of work.

Mr. Masiero, 33, is the founder of Yoparts.com, a company that sells discounted auto parts online to car enthusiasts. He spends most of his work hours at his home office in front of his computer, answering phone calls and fulfilling orders.

"I would consider myself a broker," Mr. Masiero said.

He started the company three years ago, and in that time they've sold 250,000 items for $2 million. The company is an aggregator, where Mr. Masiero hooks the customer up with the supplier selling the product the cheapest. He almost never actually touches the product; they are shipped directly from the supplier to the customer. Members pay $29.95 for the privilege of becoming a member of Yoparts.com, but the savings can add up to significantly more.

Mr. Masiero runs the entire company out of a closet on the second floor of his house. He does business some days in his pajamas, filling orders and connecting suppliers to customers. He sees his type of business as something that could help revive Berlin's sluggish economy.

"I'm not a computer genius or something like that," he said. "I'm selling car parts. People here have the same skills I have."

But what Mr. Masiero has done is use the Internet to give his business an edge. He sells to customers in Japan, China, Turkey and Canada in addition to those in the U.S. He also contracts with people in Georgia, New York, California, Florida, Minnesota and Canada to keep his business running smoothly. The company's four employees are scattered around the country, and the other people that help keep Yoparts.com running smooth are sometimes even further afield.

"We're literally spread all over the place," he said.

But it work for him and his business. He moved to Berlin less than a year ago for the quality of life, and he's been able to continue running his business from Berlin despite its seeming isolation from major markets.

His high speed wireless is his connection to the rest of the world.

"This is what young people are doing now," he said. "I know the old mentality is you have to have this overseer over you, but if you aren't opening emails and returning calls you won't be working long."

He said he sees Berlin as a perfect place for entrepreneurs like him who want a break from the city life. It has the services people need, and the connectivity required to keep in touch with major centers of commerce, but without the cost of living that usually accompanies those things.

"This is very unique," he said, where it is possible to rent a four bedroom house with this kind of access for less than $1,000 a month. Even down the road in Gorham such an arrangement would be hard to find.

That combination has allowed him to continue to work on growing his business, instead of going to work for someone else.

Instead, other people will soon be working for him. Yoparts.com will soon be hiring customer service representatives, all customers who will work out of their homes.

"All they need is a computer and a headset," Mr. Masiero said.

These are the types of jobs people could do from Berlin, he said, if they are comfortable on the Internet.

"You could almost create an economy based on that up here," he said.

Remote workers looking for the same quality of life he was looking for could do no better than Berlin either, he said. It is the perfect place for people looking for a break from the rat race.

For Mr. Masiero, the ability to walk his kids to school, the view of the mountains and the city's downtown are daily reminders why he moved his business to Berlin from the southern part of the state. The distance means less in the era of the Internet, and Yoparts.com is still growing. He is looking at possibly creating a product line in the future, fabricating specialized parts for cars.

That sort of growth is just the kind the city is looking for. It starts with one guy and his computer.

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