Alumni Break Business Barrier with Young Entrepreneur Award

  • Left, Joe Notaro and right, Travis Smith hold their 2015 Young Entrepreneur Award for their business, Reflex Sales Group. Photo by Luis Garcia.

  • Left to right, CSUN alumni Joe Notaro and Travis Smith hold their award for 2015 Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the U.S. Small Business Association. Photo by Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

California State University, Northridge is known for its great efforts in keeping students on the track to success. For many students, that track continues even after graduation. For alumni Travis Smith ’08 (Graphic Design) and Joe Notaro ’07 (Marketing), they have made great successes, including winning major awards for their new business. They are the co-founders of Reflex Sales Group, which has provided marketing opportunities since 2010 for companies with overstock merchandise.

Their business recently won the 2015 Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, given by the United States Small Business Administration and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. In 2013, they also won the Exporter of the Year award from the small business administration and the chamber.

“Every year, name-brand companies have excess merchandise that they need to clear out, and that’s where we come in,” Smith said. “We provide solutions to those companies, whether it’s corporate givaways, casinos, off-price retail, independent boutiques, or international distribution.”

The Matador duo credit their success to their young age, rapport-building strategies and strong drive to recreate the face of off-price marketing, Smith said.

Off-price marketing is when businesses like Reflex Sales Group buy in brand name merchandise from Fashion to Electronics to Housewares, and strategically redirect as a promotion to the end consumer.

“Most people in the off-price industry are a lot older than us,” he said. “We had to prove ourselves. We went out of our way to be as ethical as possible and develop a good relationship with our clients. People have a negative connotation when it comes to the off-price industry. We try to rebrand the industry to have a more strategic plan so that it won’t interfere with [our clients’] inline products.”

Notaro explained that because he and Smith have a millennial approach to business networking, their model has the advantage of being more innovative.

“No one else in our industry is similar in age,” he said. “It seems like an old field — that’s where we come in and show different experiences. We have companies still faxing us stuff. We bring in flavor. We bring in new technology and perspectives.”

Notaro and Smith met at CSUN through the Sigma Chi fraternity, where they pledged together. They attribute their strength in networking to their fraternity experience and the community atmosphere on campus.

“I have 50 best friends from [the university] that I still see every weekend,” Smith said, laughing. “There’s no truth that [CSUN is only] a commuter school — it’s California’s hidden gem. Getting involved in this campus can really give you a full college experience. Coming from a graphic-design background, I learned the most [about] business by being involved on campus, and through Greek life.”

CSUN helped Notaro grow his business strengths through the classroom atmosphere, he noted, and he and Smith said they believe the campus’ learning environment fosters successful alumni.

“The classes I took were amazing! I learned so much [at CSUN],” Notaro said. “You almost get a minor in every other business field. I learned so many things on the way to my degree. You could branch out and do anything if you went to CSUN.

“I enjoyed the professors — they were always here to help,” he continued. “They want to see you succeed. I think that’s why students like us want to give that back once they move on.”

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