Aaron Sacks

(Photos By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
Monday, March 26, 2007

Sixteen-year-old Aaron Sacks has built a successful business by cutting corners.

Not the kind of cutting that attracts the attention of, say, the feds, but the kind that keeps your customers from getting injured when they handle your product.

This is how it happened:

About the time Aaron, a junior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, was preparing to launch his personalized playing-card sales business, You're On Deck, he discovered a problem with the cards he was selling over the Internet: The corners were too sharp. Aaron worried that sharp corners could mean bloody fingers.

The solution was his first major business investment: a corner-cutting machine, purchased with money from his first major investor: Grandma Barbara.

Aaron had researched many possibilities before he settled on the personalized playing-card business. He'd fantasized about opening an arcade or some kind of sports facility, but franchise fees were far beyond a teenager's reach. So he chose an idea closer to home.

He decided to cash in on the poker craze that's swept across the country. Judging from the reception the family received when it distributed souvenir decks of cards at his brother Jacob's Bar Mitzvah, he had a hunch he could succeed with a business selling personalized decks.

Customers send Aaron the photographs or logos they want printed on their cards. He then prints them out on special paper, using the printing shop his parents run out of their Wheaton home.

Aaron has a shy, low-key manner. But get him talking about You're On Deck ( http://yodcards.com), and he shifts into sales mode.

He says his cards are inexpensive. Most business require a minimum order of maybe 20 decks, but Aaron will sell you as few as five. According to his Web site, the price per deck ranges from $5 for five to $2 for 250.

Although many playing cards come in cardboard boxes, his are in plastic containers, which protect them and make it easier to get to them. They're also classier, he says.

"If you want to convince other people you're the best and to buy from you, you have to believe you're the best," Aaron said.

Aaron suspects his first customer bought cards from him as a favor for his parents.

"They bought 10 decks at first, and I knew they were just being nice," he said. "When they ordered 75 more, I knew they really liked them."

Most people who purchase cards through his Web site don't realize they're dealing with a teenager, at least not until he shows up to personally deliver the decks. His mother or father usually drives him, because he doesn't have a license.

Youth could be a marketing advantage. Judges at a recent business competition were so wowed by his fledgling business that they hooked him up with his biggest job to date: 1,000 decks featuring a drawing of former D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, which were given to those who attended his roast.

"I was surprised it took off the way it did," said Aaron's father, David. "But he can think well on his feet, which is the key for selling."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company