If it's weird that Barry Rabkin runs an Internet clearinghouse for street-dance apparel and accessories from his Swissvale home, it's even weirder where the 27-year-old Pittsburgh native got deep into breakdancing: Wisconsin.
"I was into street dance, but I only got into breakdancing when I was at Beloit [College]," Rabkin explains. It was also while he was there -- south of Madison, northwest of Chicago -- that he began CypherStyles (www.cypherstyles.com). That venture started as an online retailer of street-dance DVDs, and has since expanded to sell apparel and safety equipment.
"Street dance is an umbrella term for non-traditional competitive dance forms," Rabkin explains. "It's breakdancing, but it's also house, krumping, hip-hop dance, C-walking -- it can be anything."
Rabkin noted that when he was in college at Beloit, where he was part of a breakdance club, there was not a centralized Web location where one could purchase various instructional DVDs. "You could find two or three DVDs on one site, two or three on another, but there was no one site you could shop for more," he explains. "I figured, 'I'm good with computers, I'm interested in business -- I can do better than this.'"
For a time, CypherStyles was based in the Strip District; when Rabkin and his wife, Sarah Paret, bought a house in Swissvale, they rehabbed it to hold the business as well. In addition to Rabkin (who is also attending classes part time at CMU's Tepper School of Business), CypherStyles currently has one full-time and one part-time employee. Rabkin says the site gets about half of its orders from the United States and half from other countries -- mostly Canada, the U.K. and Australia, but sometimes from places as unexpected as Afghanistan.
While CypherStyles began with instructional DVDs, the site now does about half its sales in apparel and equipment: sweatbands, elbow pads, extra-padded hats for doing headspins.
Rabkin, who says he dropped 100 pounds when he got into breakdancing in earnest, looks at his business as one with a purpose. "I'm not just manufacturing widgets," he says. "Wellness is a focus for me. We have these kids who are hungry for this -- kids who might not be getting the physical activity they need."