Lakewood Ranch teenager turns Xbox fun into small fortune

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Sam Vrinios is your average 15-year-old freshman in most respects.

He plays guitar, digs the beach, runs track and plays football for Lakewood Ranch High School.

Sam also loves video games.

Loves them so much the savvy teenager started a website-based, mail-order business customizing stock Xbox 360 controllers in his family's garage that has flourished since it began 18 months ago.

How does $260,000 in sales grab you?

"I thought I'd do well, but not this well," Sam said Wednesday.

Yes, indeed.

At Imagine Customs, the storefront shop they opened a year ago, his dad, Pete, held up a folder with 400 invoices from last December.

On one table were packages to be mailed to Buffalo, N.Y., Columbia, S.C., Deerfield, Ill., Las Vegas and Carlsbad, Calif.

On another, Xbox 360 controllers in various wild hues awaited shipment to Australia, Britain, Germany and Switzerland.

They range in price from $90 to $320.

How did Sam get the idea?

"When I was a kid I was trying to sell stuff all the time -- shell frames, little paintings... " he said. "Then when I was an eighth-grader I saw a YouTube video of a kid who made this Xbox controller. I said I can do this. As a businessman, I saw an opportunity to go big."

After a period of trial-and-error, Sam accessorized and sold Xbox 360 controllers individually to friends and Mustang teammates.

"He sold one to a buddy on the football team and then they all wanted them," Sam's dad said. "He hired buddies to make then in our garage, making 20 a week. It got wild. Then my wife said no more. The house was a mess. So we moved it here."

Bought in bulk, each Xbox 360 controller is accessorized according to buyer's specifications by a staff of four using software Sam purchased with his profits.

"We can customize it to your favorite logo, team, company logo, gamer tag from Xbox, ps3-tag, change the lighting inside to make them look nice, anything you want -- colors, splatters, anything," Sam said. "No two controllers are alike."

The company, whose website is, has sold and shipped almost 3,000 so far.

There's more where that came from, too.

Sam's Imagine Customs channel on YouTube alone has 75,000 followers.

Yet his total network of subscribers -- augmented by four sponsors, OpTicNation being the biggest -- is 2.5 million.

"So many people play Xbox I thought Sam's idea was perfect," said pal Ben Kinney, now attending Gainesville Bucholz High School. "For a 14-, 15-year-old to do this is amazing. I'm proud of him."

Sam isn't flaunting his fortune, either.

He'd like to buy a car, but he's not old enough to drive.

So he takes the money and reinvests in the company.

"I want to keep expanding the business and see what happens," Sam said. "Maybe I'll be a millionaire by the time I'm 16."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix