Joe Barbat

Joe Barbat

Joe Barbat owes much of his success to Blockbuster’s national expansion. Barbat was working at one of his father’s seven video stores when the big chain rolled into his small Michigan town.

“Within 30 days, we felt the pain that comes when a national retailer comes into town,” said Barbat, 31, said. “It really impacted us. I had to quickly figure out a way that we could differentiate ourselves in the market.”

The year was 1995 and pagers and beepers were becoming a hot commodity.

“I had just bought a paging device and found it really fascinating,” Barbat said. “So I decided to buy some and put them up for sale in the store. A week later, we ran out of inventory.”

Under his direction, the video store where Barbat worked evolved into a mobile-communications destination under the new banner of Wireless Toyz. More stores followed. As cellular services expanded, Barbat helped pioneer the concept of offering wireless communications from multiple carriers, both national and regional providers, under one roof. Today, it offers one-stop shopping not only for cellular-phone service, equipment and accessories, but also for satellite TV and radio offerings.

“We are committed to connecting customers through any and every wireless device,” Barbat said. “If they can hold it in their hand, clip it on their ear or watch it on screen, Wireless Toyz is the place to purchase it.”

More than just selling high-tech devices, Wireless Toyz goes the extra mile in making sure customers understand how to use them.

“Customer service is our specialty,” Barbat said. “We teach shoppers how to use the products and check in with them on a monthly basis.”

Founder and CEO Wireless Toyz Farmington Hills, Mich.Annual sales: $69.7 million (est.)Type of business: Wireless-communications services and equipmentNumber of stores: 200 (includes franchised locations and 22 corporate owned)Areas of operation: 24 states

Wireless Toyz began franchising in 2001, and in 2002, started expanding outside its Michigan home base. It’s been growing at a steady clip ever since. With approximately 200 stores nationwide, Wireless Toyz still has plenty of expansion potential. Barbat hopes to take the company to 1,000 locations within the next five years.

“We want to be a strong brand in the consumer’s mind,” he added, “so that when they think of cell phones, they think Wireless Toyz instead of, for example, Sprint or Verizon. Because Wireless Toyz is where they can get those carriers.”

So what type of phone fits his lifestyle?

“A BlackBerry Pearl,” Barbat said. “It’s one of the best and most sleek tools out there. It has all I need.”

Although his BlackBerry makes work that much more accessible, Barbat said he’s learning how to shut it off.

“My wife is helping me with that,” he said, adding that he has two young daughters at home. “If you don’t have balance in your life, you won’t be as productive.”