Friday, April 28, 2006

You'll Be Shocked To Find Out How Much Eyeglasses Really Cost

Murray Wells Story

Murray Wells was studying at the West of England University in Bristol when he discovered he needed reading glasses.

So he visited his nearest high street optician but was appalled when he found that his new metal frames, ‘essentially some wire and two pieces of glass’ cost £150.

"I was managing on a student loan and £150 was a fortune – half a month's rent. I just couldn't understand why my glasses were so expensive, and my curiosity led me to investigate further."

He began to call manufacturers, opticians and industry insiders but he was met with a ‘wall of silence’.

But then a disgruntled employee at a laboratory in the north of England gave him the lowdown.

“He talked me through the industry,” says Murray Wells. “And it turned out that my £150 pair of glasses probably only cost about seven pounds to make.”

Murray Wells was supposed to be hammering the books in preparation for his finals but instead found himself immersed in the glasses industry.

He learnt about optometrical testing, how the frames are made and the lenses are cut.

He discovered that the market is around 70 per cent controlled by just four high street retailers: Vision Express, Boots, Dolland & Aitchison and Specsavers.

But, most significantly, he leant that he could make glasses for a fraction of the price that they were being sold on the high street.

Murray Wells enlisted the help of some students at his university who helped him build the website and design the logo.

He then used the final instalment of his student loan and some money from his father to establish, they began trading in September 2004.

Manufacturers were initially reluctant to endanger their relationships with high street opticians but eventually they relented.

In a year Glasses Direct had sold 22,000 pairs of spectacles and Murray Wells believes that this has saved UK consumers an estimated £2m.

“People generally can't believe our Glasses Direct prices,” he says. “As the high street shops are maintaining retail prices at 10 to 20 times the cost price.

“What I'm giving people is choice, and they are delighted,” he says. “An average pair of glasses is manufactured for less than £7, so I charge just over double. Even with advertising and overheads, I still make a profit.”

His business has gone from strength to strength and he now employs 17 staff and turnover is around the £1m mark.

“It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind,” he admits. “But I have always been determined to get very big, very fast”.

To aid this expansion Glasses Direct are now seeking investment from Venture Capitalists, however he says that they are also seeking him.

“It’s been a lot easier than I ever thought it would be,” he says. “We’ve literally been getting new calls from potential investors every day. It’s wonderful and we’re in a very enviable position to choose who we want to work with.”

It’s not just a decision who to take money from. Murray Wells knows the next move is crucial.

“It’s not only about the investment, we need someone who will be helpful at board level and is experienced in dealing with big organisations, large marketing campaigns and has e-commerce expertise.”

Talks are ongoing, but Murray Wells expects a deal to be struck soon and says press reports of raising £5m “aren’t far off”.

A large bulk of the money will be spent on marketing.

“We’ve made massive strides but still only occupy 1% of a £1.7bn industry so we’re really still just a drop in the ocean. I want to move as quickly as possible as we know it’s only a matter of time before competitive entry occurs.”

The big players in the optical industry appear to have accepted is here to stay too – even if they’re not happy about it.

“They’ve changed tack a little and aren’t rubbishing us in the press as much as they were,” says Murray Wells.

Murray Wells remains undeterred by the high street’s desire to stamp him out, but is looking to shake off the David vs. Goliath tag.

“As well as marketing ourselves to the mass market we’re in talks with several major retail organisations and expect to announce a number of partnerships by the start of 2006.”

Subsequently, Murray Wells is strapping himself in for another 100mph 12 months and expects turnover to triple to £3m, and reach £10m by 2008.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Test-Driving Your Dream Job

Brian Kruth Story

Just one year ago, David Ryan was an international banker with HSBC. He had done stints in Bahrain, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Turkey, and London over the course of 17 years. However, by the time Ryan had landed in New York City two and a half years ago, he says, "the buzz for me was gone." Exciting as a two-decade spin around the globe once was, Ryan says, his chosen profession was simply, "not as exciting as it had been."

Ryan entered into what he calls, "a pretty long period of reflection" regarding his career path and future. Like many suffering from job ennui, Ryan was ready to do something new, the question was how to do it. Having nursed a lifelong love of dogs, Ryan realized that he was interested in potentially moving in that direction but was unsure of how exactly he could turn his passion into a sustainable career.
Enter a two-year-old Portland (Ore.)-based company called Vocation Vacations, a business that gives people the opportunity to "test drive" their dream jobs. Creating temporary but intense mentor/apprenticeship experiences, Vocation Vacations enlists professionals from a variety of fields -- everything from winemakers and makeup artists to architects and sword makers -- and pairs them with people who fantasize about leaving their day jobs and want spend a few days in a profession that they had previously thought beyond their reach.

Last April, Ryan signed up to do a two-and-a-half-day vocation working with a doggie day-care provider in Massachusetts. The following month, he spent three days working with a dog trainer in Oregon. Fairly quickly, Ryan figured out that he preferred training to day care and was confident that he could start his own business in the field.

Moreover, Ryan says the experience helped him to realize that he didn't have to abandon the skills he developed as a banker. Rather, he says: "It became obvious to me that there were a lot of kennels and trainers that were very good with animals, but business was not their specialty."

In June, Ryan resigned from HSBC and enrolled in a dog-training school in Missouri for five months to get certified. In January, he launched Beyond Dog Training in Rye, N. H. "It really sounds weird," he says. "But that two- to three-day experience has really been a lynchpin."

Vocation Vacations was started by Brian Kurth in 2004 after he made the leap from unhappy employee to dream-job entrepreneur. At the time, Kurth says he was burnt out working for Ameritech in Chicago and logging in three hour commutes.

"I didn't hate corporate life, or my job or my boss," he says. "But I hated the lifestyle. I wanted to do something more fulfilling. I was tired of going to dinner parties [where] people would talk about their exciting lives as architects or photographers and I worked at the phone company. People's heads hit their spaghetti plates when I told them. Nobody cared, and neither did I."

So in 2000, Kurth quit his job. In quick succession, he worked for a dot-com, got laid off when the economy imploded, and then sold his house and spent six months driving across the country, eventually settling in Portland. That city didn't have much in the way of industry and was in the midst of a recession, so he ended up working on a vineyard doing product marketing and sales for a family winery. Kurth found that there was something immeasurably rewarding about stepping outside of his routine and trying something new. Inspired, he came up with the concept and business plan for Vocation Vacations.

The idea is relatively simple. Participants pay anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand (transportation, lodging, etc., aren't included) to experience life as, say, a chocolatier, a fashion designer, or a race-car driver. The time spent immersed in their fantasy job allows them to get a 360-degree perspective without the risk of quitting their own jobs or investing heavily in a new career.

Laura Thomas says she's "miserable" in her job as a business-operations developer for a government contractor in Alexandria, Va. "My boss knows I'm not happy, and he's looking for something else [for me at the company], but there isn't a lot of opportunity for growth."

Not quite ready to quit altogether, Thomas recently took a turn through Vocation Vacations, shadowing a hotel concierge and a hotel general manager for two days. "It was really great. I got to be completely immersed in the environment. I got to see the good, the bad, and the ugly." And best of all, she says: "I really got to see it firsthand before taking the plunge and quitting my job."

Kurth, something of a dream-job rainmaker, has created a niche industry built on the hopes and aspirations of people like Thomas. Catering to the unhappily employed, Kurth has discovered an untapped market. Indeed, according to a survey by the Conference Board, a management and marketplace information nonprofit agency based in New York, less than half of all Americans say they're satisfied with their jobs. Taken in 2002, the survey reveals the highest level of discontent since they first conducted the study in 1995 -- with job satisfaction dropping from 60.9% then to 47.2% presently.

To date, Vocations Vacations has placed hundreds of people in the U.S. and Britain in occupations ranging from brewmaster and art-gallery director to music producer and cattle rancher. "We're on our way to thousands," says Kurth. The company has doubled the number of its available mentors to 500, with another 40 to 50 new possibilities in the works in such fields as Broadway producer, meteorologist, and zookeeper.

Kurth attributes much of his success to listening to prospective clients and addressing their areas of interest with relevant mentors and programs. Recently, there has been a growing demand and interest in marine biology, aquarium managers, and voiceovers. However, Kurth says there's a limit to the types of career vocations he will pursue. For instance, he says he recently turned down an offer from a pornography producer who wanted to become a mentor.

Kurth himself is expanding his own dream. He just signed a deal with Warner Books for a how-to vocational lifestyle book. On April 27, the Travel Channel is debuting a new series based on his "vocationers" called This Job's a Trip, chronicling the vacationing adventures of his clients. Kurth is also working on what he calls "ancillary products," such as DVDs, T-shirts, and a possible magazine. He says his expansion is all based on the "vacationing" lifestyle -- no longer daydreaming but living the dream.

Just ask David Ryan, who has had to hire additional trainers for his fast-growing business. "I get a lot of broad smiles when I tell people that I went from a million-a-year banker to a dog guy," he says. No doubt he's smiling back, all the way to the bank.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Online Logo Creating Business Is Booming

Morgan Lynch Story

Sarah Hawley, a 10-year public-relations veteran, was moving from a job at a large agency to launch her own business, Mockingbird PR, out of her home in Gilbert, Ariz. She soon discovered that her experience bringing in clients wasn't enough. Appearances mattered too.

"Freelancing without a logo or Web site or identity really hurt me going up against agencies or even small boutique firms," she says. "If I went to pitch business to someone, I would give them my proposal. But if they wanted to check me out, there was no image to put in front of them. I had to do something to be more professional. I was committed, but I looked like someone just doing it on the side."

It was time to get a logo. More than just printing up business cards, a logo can create the kind of brand identity that becomes instantly recognizable to customers and also communicates that this is a serious business. Hawley analyzed a few different logo vendors and decided upon, a five-year-old online provider of logo services for small businesses based in Lindon, Utah.

"I liked that their designers were spread out [across the country]," she says. "So none of the designs looked the same, and they weren't influencing each other." She also liked the ease of the process and the turnaround time. But most importantly, she really liked the cost. Hawley chose the firm's Platinum Package, which gave her 10 designs to choose from and unlimited revisions for $600 -- a fraction of the cost of getting a logo from an agency, which can start at $5,000.

But until recently, distinctive, well-designed logos were the province of large companies. Extremely costly and time-consuming to produce, they were for the most part out of reach of small businesses. Logoworks was launched specifically to address the needs of small businesses and offer them high-quality logo design solutions at an affordable price.

The company got its start when Morgan Lynch, Logoworks' CEO, was working in software development for an insurance company. He was in charge of rebranding the company, and found the experience frustrating and expensive. "We ended up spending a lot of money on agencies, designers, etc.," he says. "Hundreds of thousands of dollars and a few years later…they came up with [something] I thought was O.K., [but] I wasn't really excited about it."

In 2001, after investing millions in building software and a design platform to do what he calls the heavy lifting, Lynch launched "We took a lot of the processes -- the meetings, the relaying of information between what businesses were looking for and graphic designers, what images they wanted, what colors -- and put it all online," says Lynch. "It's very efficient and eliminates the inefficiencies in the real world -- and we can do it at a fraction of the cost."

It works like this: Customers fill out an online form providing information that will be incorporated into the designs, such as color and style preferences, type of business or product, and how the logo will be used. Next, they choose from among package options, with prices ranging from $299 to $1,499. The packages are based on number of designs, as well as the option to create stationery and Web sites.

Based on these selections, initial design concepts are made and returned within three days. Next comes the revision process, and then the design is finalized. Although the process is Web-based, at every step along the way a customer can consult with his or her personal-account manager. is another example of how the Internet is dramatically changing the landscape for small businesses. In this case, it allows them to have a logo worthy of a multinational corporation at a reasonable cost. "Small businesses are waking up and saying they too can have a great brand," says Lynch. "Ten to 15 years ago, it would have been cost prohibitive and unattainable for [them]. They can look like a national chain even if the business is only two people working out of their home."

To date, Lynch says the company has come up with 45,000 logos. While the company doesn't disclose sales figures, Lynch says the firm's sales have increased 100% each year since its launch five years ago. While the majority of the company's clients are based in the U.S., Lynch says that about 10% to 20% of their business comes from overseas businesses that want a Western marketing look. Currently the company is plowing profits back into more R&D and software development to expand their capabilities and offerings.

Last year, the company got some bad publicity when a couple of its designers were accused of stealing others' logos. Following the accusation, issued a statement saying it has fired the designers and taken steps to ensure such a situation wouldn't be repeated in the future.

Still, the company says 98% of their customers are satisfied with their experience. In her case, Sarah Hawley says the decision to get a logo really kicked her business up a notch. "I had a client in Atlanta, and they were skeptical about how committed I was," she says. "Once I put a logo in front of them, it registered with them that this was not some fly-by-night thing -- it was a full-time job. I was able to show them a professional image, and they're now a full-time client.

Moreover, Hawley recently returned to Logoworks to have them design her stationery letterhead. Clearly, first impressions for a small business can make a big impact on the bottom line.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Making Millions Selling Diamonds For 99 Cents

David Wirtenberg Story

David Wirtenberg, 28
Outrageous Auctions (eBay User ID: outrageousauctions)
New York City
Projected 2006 Sales: $8 million to $10 million
Description: Engagement rings, wedding bands and other jewelry

Turning Talk Into Sales: David Wirtenberg loves to talk. "I could talk your ear off," he says. "I love what I do. I'm a very passionate person." His ability to make sales, and his prior experience in sales for Bear Stearns and Auto Data Processing, helped him build his business from scratch in 2003. His father-in-law became his inspiration and behind-the-scenes mentor. "He said, 'Let's see if we can sell jewelry on the internet,'" Wirtenberg recalls. "I went to 47th Street in Manhattan. I knocked on every door. I didn't know anything about diamonds at the time. I was looking for suppliers, for an education, anything." He ended up buying a couple of diamond rings, and he immediately sold them for a profit on eBay. "I thought, 'This could be something.'"

Many Facets to His Business: Today, Wirtenberg sells through his websites ( and and through eBay. "I use eBay to get new customers and new traffic," he says. "Most of my diamond auctions start at 99 cents. Sometimes I lose money; sometimes I make money. Whatever makes the customer happy, I do. Our packaging is second to none. Sometimes we pack our diamonds in Faberge eggs [for free]. Once you have customers, you have those customers for good."

Personal Touch: Wirtenberg speaks fondly of the personal connections he has made and recalls the time he and his wife, Danielle, personally delivered a $14,000 ring to a customer in California. "The fringe benefits touch you deep inside," he says. "You play a huge role in people's lives. I have provided advice on people's engagements. I feel I am blessed every single day with the direction this business has taken."

Business Blog Of The Day -

Friday, April 21, 2006

How To Start Successful Online Translation Business

Jurga Zilinskiene Story

Jurga Zilinskiene can genuinely claim to being nothing else but an entrepreneur. Jurga has her first business brainwave at the age of six, after finding some old packets of seeds in the loft of the family house.

The fact that she went from living in a Lithuanian town to own Today Translations, managing over 1,500 linguists across the globe, in just five years, makes her story even more remarkable.

“There were beetroot seeds, onion seeds and 10 or 15 other types,” she explains. “They were very old. I took them down to the market and sold them. I had quite a queue. I think that I was selling them very cheaply.”

The young Jurga wasn’t happy building up a seed-based empire, however, and at the ripe old age of 10 went into the pet breeding business with a little help from the family pets. She would also buy sweets and sell them onto her schoolmates.

By the age of 16, she started making serious money by importing cloth from the United Arab Emirates and selling it on. A year later, she was running her own small supermarket. She somehow found time to get married, but the relationship turned sour and she moved to the UK aged 19 to study law.

“I eventually completed part two of the law degree, before I decided that I didn’t want to become a lawyer, but I liked the idea of understanding the law,” she says. “My legal knowledge has come in very useful in my current business, since about 80 per cent of our business currently comes from law firms.”

The current business in question is Today Translations, which Jurga set up in August 2001. In a short period of time, Today has gained a portfolio of over 200 clients, with Jurga in charge of a huge team of linguists who translate, interpret and proof-read documents in over 160 languages, from Arabic to Yoruba.

Jurga is setting her sights high for Today – she plans to double the company’s turnover every year, not a mean achievement when the business is set to make $900,000 this year.

The twists don’t end there though – Jurga has managed this success despite the fact she has not borrowed a penny in startup funding.

“The investment I made in the business was gradual,” she explains. “The final figure was about $20,000. It was my own money – money I had made and saved from previous ventures.

“I never borrowed from the bank. I don’t like borrowing from the bank, some people might say that I am old-fashioned in that way, or maybe un-British, but I believe in natural business growth.”

Using a business sense honed since her seed-selling days back in Lithuania, Jurga realised that there was an opportunity to set up a translation business in the UK that offered a truly personal service to clients.

Jurga, seemingly in a bid to work in every profession that exists, was working as an interpreter at the time.

“I had been working as an interpreter myself, mainly interpreting in Russian, but when I was working as an interpreter, I found it hard to plan my time.

“I also saw that there was a real opportunity to start a business that would offer a better, more personal service than other agencies seemed to be providing.

“There has never been a better time to consider a career as a professional linguist, whether as a translator or interpreter. The British armed forces in Iraq and elsewhere are also crying out for more Brits able to speak Arabic. There is such a shortage that they are turning to students taking Arabic degrees,” she says.

In another example of her determination to succeed, Jurga learnt how to design her own software, after not finding a developer who could meet her needs.

“I initially wanted to buy or commission a database,” she explains. “I consulted about 10 companies and individuals, but after failing to find a programmer to meet my needs, I decided to do it myself.

“So, I hired a tutor and had training in visual basic. But when my tutor told me that particular type of programme could not be designed, I bought a book and found a way to design it, until I ended up with precisely the database I wanted.”

Having shown such dedication and versatility in her entrepreneurial career, it’s not surprising that Jurga is slightly disappointed by some of the British press coverage of Eastern European migrants.

As she points out, not only do new arrivals start up new companies, they also provide much-needed labour which would push up prices and staff costs if removed from the UK workforce. However, Jurga hasn’t encountered any prejudice herself.

“I have not found it a problem being an outsider or an immigrant. In fact, it has sometimes seemed almost an advantage. People – both individuals and organisations – have been extremely welcoming and helpful.

“Also, being a foreigner has certain advantages in my line of work,” she says.

Cool Blog Of The Day -

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Broken Teeth Lead To An Unusual Business

Simon Purchall Story

For most people, a trip to the dentists is a potentially painful experience to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Simon Purchall’s trip to face the whirring drills and mouthwash was much like any other, except that it gave him the inspiration to set up a groundbreaking business.

Purchall cracked his teeth in a biking accident and was horrified when his dentist told him over £20,000 was required to repair the damage. There seemed little option other than to pay the hefty dental bill until his Hungarian wife, Veronika, suggested that he get the work done in her native Budapest.

“Like most people, I had a few reservations about going to an ex-Communist country for dental work, but it was amazing,” Purchall recalls. “The level of service and expertise was fantastic. I decided to have all the treatment done there and saved about £16,000.”

Back in the UK, Purchall realised that such trips could form the basis of a potentially viable business. An IT freelancer for the previous decade, he admits that becoming an entrepreneur was a long-held ambition.

With Veronika being a qualified dental nurse, and the obvious candidate to provide translation in negotiations with Hungarian dentists, the couple decided that the opportunity should be exploited.

After plumping for a suitable name, SmileSavers, Purchall was confronted with an array of tasks to get the business off the ground. Starting up a UK-focused company presents entrepreneurs plenty to chew over – adding the Hungarian element left the duo with a tangle of extra concerns that needed to be thoroughly ironed out.

Purchall had to undertake research into the legal and insurance ramifications of recommending dentists to UK patients, as well as working out what qualifications the Hungarian dentists had, and what they meant.

Luckily for Purchall, when Hungary joined the European Union in the formative days of SmileSavers, Brussels decided to accept all of the country’s qualifications without demanding further training.

“We looked at prices and what was available on the NHS compared to Hungary,” Purchall explains. “Fortunately, the dental systems in the UK and Hungary and very similar.

“We got legal advice and contracts drawn up with dentists so that we were covered and patients got a decent level of service.”

Several trips to Hungary followed, with Purchall running the rule over various clinics he’d found via the internet.

“We networked with Hungarian dentists and took plenty of expert advice, but we also considered our own experiences as to what a good dentist should be,” he says. “We wanted people whop could fully communicate with clients. The moment we had a hint that someone wasn’t right, we didn’t use them.”

Purchall funded the set-up costs of the business with his own savings and continued working while Veronika dedicated herself full-time to the venture – a move he admits was a mistake: “I probably should’ve stopped working much earlier, but it was a big leap I was taking.”

The couple approached their bank for advice, but were told that would be little financial assistance required as their outlay was comparatively small. The website development costs, potentially the greatest burden, were negated by Purchall’s IT expertise, allowing the job to be done in-house.

SmileSavers was initially publicised by Google ad words, despite the expense of the search terms Purchall needed. However, the website now has a good page ranking and is positioned properly, allowing the business to cut costs on ad words.

Purchall also invested in magazine advertising after the business’ launch in 2003, opting for publications such as Saga in the belief SmileSavers had a greying target market. However, it was only after the hiring of a PR company did he see results – eventually. SmileSavers has recently been covered in several national newspapers.

“We were naïve, because our target market is broad, it isn’t just older people,” Purchall explains. “A friend of ours worked at Westbury Communications – we hired them for six months and we got virtually no coverage out of it. They were tearing their hair out because people weren’t biting.

“It’s only now that contacts they made are coming off, so it was certainly worthwhile.”

Purchall has struck deals with several Budapest hotels and apartments, further cutting down the cost of the trips. Despite originally planning to refer patients to large numbers of practices across Hungary, Purchall now works with just two large Budapest clinics that are able to cope with demand.

Although contractually prevented from talking about how much commission SmileSavers has made from referring clients to Hungarian dentists, overall sales were over £600,000 last year, with expectations of a £1 million turnover in the next 12 months.

Customer numbers have rocketed, prompting plans to expand the business significantly in the forthcoming year.

“We need to get the message across that Hungary is the centre of excellence for dentistry,” Purchall says. “Saying that, we don’t want to alienate ourselves from British dentists.

“We’d like to forge better links with dentists here so that they feel completely comfortable referring patients to us.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

How Any 13 Year Old Kid Can Become A Millionaire

Dominic McVey Story

At the age of just 13, Dominic McVey exploded into the public’s consciousness when he started importing collapsible scooters from the USA, making him a reported £5 million. Now 19, McVey has sought to find other lucrative niches in the market, with varying success. Here the outspoken entrepreneur talks about his astonishing rise, his views on UK business and his plans for the future.

How did you first come up with the idea for importing the scooters?

I had been looking round the internet and was looking for the credit card website Visa, but I spelt it wrong – Viza, and I came across this website which was manufacturing scooters and I really wanted one. But I couldn’t afford one, and neither could my parents, so I emailed them and said “I think you should send me a scooter, I would sell loads over here.”

They said no, but if you buy five, we’ll give you one free. So as I really wanted one for free, I saved up to buy five, which I did by organising under-18s discos, buying stocks and shares and selling mini disc players in Japan.

So I got five over, and got one for free, which I was really happy with, but then I thought I should sell the other five, which I did within a week, to family and friends. The next week I sold 10, and it just went on from there.

I never really saw the potential until the product landed on my doorstep, and I guess I had to move on it. A lot of people say it was luck, but if you look at football teams they can score a goal one week, but they are not going to score goals every week if they’re bottom of the Premier League.

I looked at in a very childish and naïve way, which is probably the best way to do so at the time because you weren’t bombarded with stress and issues and problems.

I was very, very competitive. I guess I was very mouthy about other products out there, but all the others out there were crap and expensive. The press really liked me and everyone liked the product, so that really helped.

You’re quoted as saying you weren’t very keen on the scooters, but you saw the business potential in selling them, which must be quite unusual for someone quite young?

After a week, I guess I was bored of the product. What really shone to me was that I could see everyone in London going to work on one, everyone needs one in the boot of the car if they got stuck in traffic, I really drove that message home.

I used to go up to Liverpool Street station and get chased around by the security for handing out flyers, I’d shoot of on my scooter in my lunch break from school. I sold to a lot of city executives as toys, but people began to commute on them, which caused a bit of a fuss with road safety people.

Did you find your age was a problem in terms of being taken seriously?

I blagged it a lot – a lot of the business I did was over the phone or on the internet. I was very good with computers at the time and had friends who were great with IT, so I had great presentations.

Whenever I did meet companies, even if I thought I couldn’t get any business out of them, I asked them a million and one questions about how they did business. They loved telling me because they felt like the other brother telling the kid what to do.
The added advantage is that the money you make is in a sense all yours, because you don’t have a mortgage or bills, all I was paying for was the internet and my mobile phone.

So you overcome the age gap with technology?

Yes, everything was done from my bed!

You didn’t go on to university – do you feel there is too much to pressure for young people to do that rather than start up a business?

It’s all wrong. The only reason that the government are pressuring people to go to university is because of the banks. Banks make more money from student loans and overdraft than anything else.

The banks tell the government they will not employ anyone without a degree, the banks being the biggest employers in the UK, the government reacts to this.
A lot more people should be encouraged to take their own steps in life and encouraged to go into apprenticeships and traded skills. There is a huge skills shortage, especially women.

Do you think there’s enough support for young people who want to start up their own business?

I think there’s a huge lack of support. What I’ve noticed about young people trying to get into business is that they aren’t really my cup of tea.
There are very few young people who are trying to start up a business and there doesn’t seem to be enough of the right sort of people. Back in the 40s, 50s, 60s, they would’ve been working on market stalls, that to me is the tight kind of entrepreneur, ducking and diving, trying to make his money to get into the bigger picture.

But a lot of the new breed of young entrepreneurs they don’t have to seem to have this streak in them, they seem very middle to upper class, parent may have a lot of money and not much to do with it.

What more could the government do to help young entrepreneurs?

There’s far too much red tape, there’s nowhere for people to go. I went down Walthamstow High Road the other day and I went into a local frame store, which is opposite Waltham Forest Town Hall.

I said to him, “you’ve only been here six months, how’s it going? Are the council helping a lot?” He said, “What? I only hear from the council when they want their fees paid.”

I said, “is there no forums, no networking groups, no grants, helping you out?” He said he wouldn’t even know where to call and they probably don’t know he exists. It’s the same for everything in this whole street, which is a nice street and is beginning to buzz a bit.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Profiting From The Disabled

Stacey Strother Story

Nobody wants to hire a guy who has to go to the doctor all the time--or so W. Devin Sartin thought. Honorably discharged from the Army because of his asthma, debilitating migraines, and inflammation of his chest, Sartin, a veteran of the last Gulf war and the Panama conflict, managed to land an accounting job with a firm that graciously accommodated his many medical appointments. But when he was laid off for economic reasons, Sartin worried that his next employer might not be so generous. His expectations were low when he walked into Diversity Services, an employment agency based in New York City.

As it turned out, the agency specialized in providing work for those marginalized by the labor market because of disabilities, age, or sexual preference. Only about 30 for-profit agencies in the U.S. focus on placing workers with disabilities. And Diversity Services practiced what it preached. Sartin, 38, was pleasantly surprised to walk out with a temporary position as a payroll assistant at the agency, rather than at one of the client firms for which it finds employees. He has earned two pay raises in less than a year. "There is no issue with Diversity about my disability," he says.

Sartin is among more than 2,000 workers who have found temporary or permanent jobs in the past year through Diversity Services. Some 40% of those workers had disclosed a disability, ranging from schizophrenia to blindness. Founded in 1996 as part of a small company called Rainbow Staffing, the agency was inspired by the death of the sister of co-founder Jeff Klare. She died earlier than he expected from a serious illness after an employer forced her onto disability and cut her off from the work she loved. Stacey Strother, a former policy analyst for the city government, bought a 51% stake in Diversity Services in 2000 and brought the company under one name.

By expanding from helping client firms fill office support and graphics jobs to making placements in other fields, Strother boosted the agency's annual sales from $2.6 million to $7.8 million by 2004. Like other employment agencies, the company receives a percentage of the salaries of the workers it places in jobs from client firms.

To make sure that her employees' medical issues don't disrupt the work of clients who hire them, Strother quickly provides substitutes for any workers who become sick and have to take time off, giving clients a number where they can reach her around the clock. She pays the workers their full salaries on the days that they must be out, allowing them to use vacation days they have accrued. She understands their situation firsthand. "Because I live with depression, I empathize with candidates with disabilities," she says. "My job is to find the balance between the candidates' being able to demonstrate their professional abilities while giving the clients exactly what they need."

Kelly Thurston, a contracting officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, regularly hires temporary office workers from Diversity Services. "If one temp doesn't work out," she says, "we tell Stacey, and she sends a new one."

Relieved of the stress of hiding their disabilities, workers such as Sartin express strong loyalty to Diversity Services and its clients. When he took a few days off recently because of a migraine, he says, he was paid and didn't worry that he would lose the job to another temp. "I didn't feel any stress at all about it," he says.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Making Great Money Reselling Old Mannequins

Judi Henderson-Townsend Story

Inside a dreary warehouse in an industrial section of San Francisco, the floor was littered with bodies. Some lay in piles while others had been dismembered, their legs, heads, and arms carelessly strewn about. Judi Henderson-Townsend had come to buy a mannequin to use as a backyard sculpture after seeing one advertised online. The seller, it turned out, was a former window designer who collected and rented old mannequins. He was moving East and closing up shop, so Henderson-Townsend impulsively bought all 50 mannequins for $2,500. She stood them in her basement, then named her new business Mannequin Madness. That was four years ago. Today her mannequin inventory fills a basement, a two-car garage, and a separate storage facility.

Henderson-Townsend, 47, builds her stock—generally department store mannequins made of fiberglass—by helping stores dispose of their unwanted models, which go in and out of fashion much like the clothes they showcase. (In the past year, for example, headless has been the rage.) She rents and sells them to a customer base that includes clothing stores, brides, eBay vendors, photographers, and theater groups. Men often want a female torso to pose on a bar or at a fraternity house (the Asian ones sell out first). Lawyers sometimes use mannequins in court in order to demonstrate gun or knife wounds. Artists use them for projects or for sketching. And once a warehouse owner who couldn't afford a breathing overnight security guard bought a mannequin, dressed it in a uniform, and posed it at a desk near a window.

In the past year Henderson-Townsend grossed $150,000, an increase from nearly $100,000 in 2003. At least 70% of her business derives from sales, and the rest from rentals. One-third of customers come via her website ( and another third from eBay, and the rest consist of those who shop by appointment at Henderson-Townsend's home, which is located in an upscale Oakland neighborhood. That is where Swati Kapoor, a clothing designer in Milpitas, Calif., bought her first mannequin. "Judi gave me a lot of information about how mannequins could help my business," says Kapoor, who owns nine.

What surprises Henderson-Townsend most is the high demand for body parts. Jewelry designers often want hands, and leg lamps are strangely popular. "I get an awful lot of people asking about them," says Henderson-Townsend. So many, in fact, that she offers assembly instructions on her website.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Lawyer Declares War On Termites

Pete Cardillo Story

Lawyer Pete Cardillo can still remember the horror of lying in bed one night while termites gnawed his house out from under him. "They were eating into the floorboards and eating toward me," he says. Thankfully, that was just a nightmare. But such scenarios have now entered Cardillo's daily life.

Sixteen months ago Cardillo, 48, left his post as a managing partner in the Tampa office of Pittsburgh-based Buchanan Ingersoll, one of the country's largest law firms, and opened his own practice exclusively dedicated to termite litigation. In 2005, Tampa-based Cardillo Law brought in revenues of about $550,000, with profits of an estimated $400,000. Cardillo goes after large extermination companies that he believes fail to detect or remove termites, and insurers that refuse to pay for damage.

He is busy; subterranean termites cause more than $2 billion in property damage each year in the U.S., and that number is expected to rise, in part because of the growth of an especially aggressive termite species.

A lawyer for 22 years, Cardillo began his "termite odyssey" in 1996 when, on behalf of a real estate developer, he brought a claim against extermination giant Orkin, charging that the company did not deliver on its promises and was unresponsive to his client. Orkin settled. Cardillo currently has 25 active cases--most are multimillion-dollar suits on behalf of developers and condominium associations.

One lawsuit, expected to go to jury trial in July, charges that Orkin falsely advertised a guarantee to prevent and stop termites. (In fact, the bugs in question ate through the outer walls of a condo complex until the stucco fell off in chunks, according to Cardillo.)

Another action accuses Orkin of forgery and racketeering and seeks $60 million in damages. (The balconies were so eaten away that residents had to vacate for emergency repair work--and, evoking images from Cardillo's nightmare, the bugs also built a mound under one apartment dweller's bed.) Orkin spokesperson Martha Craft declined to comment on any of the specific cases.

But she emphasized that "less than 1% of Orkin's termite customers file claims. Of those claims, well over 98% are resolved to the customer's satisfaction without setting foot in a courtroom." Cardillo is also taking on insurance companies for not giving their customers the right coverage on properties that have been ravaged by wood-eating insects.

Cardillo charges $400 an hour, but most often he works on contingency, earning 50% of the final settlement. His niche demands some pricey--and unusual--expenses. An entomologist (who provides expert advice and testimony on insects) costs him $13,000 a year. He pays $35,000 to a structural engineer, who helps "prove the state of collapse" and offers repair estimates. Then there is the $36,000 bill from a contractor who cuts holes in termite-infested buildings to expose the damage. Such expenses will probably be reimbursed by his client.

While most of Cardillo's cases are in Florida--where extermination ranks among the largest industries--he plans to expand farther into the "termite belt," which snakes south from Virginia to Texas. Cardillo pledges to fight the steely-jawed pests--and those who falsely vow to eliminate them--wherever they are. "When you find out how evil and powerful termites are," he says, "they creep into your subconscious."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Helping Yourself By Helping Others Get $750 Million Worth Of New Contracts

Laura Ricci Story

At a time when few consultants used the Web, Laura Ricci dared to start a company that required customers to work with her virtually.

After 20 years helping engineers and scientists win government grants, Laura Ricci knew two things. She knew she hated flying all over the country to client sites, where she would spend days or weeks advising technical teams about how to write their funding proposals. And she knew that her customers used the Internet -- and had, in fact, been using it long before the World Wide Web bounded onto center stage.

So in 1996, Ricci decided to launch a grant-writing consulting company from a spare room in her home. She would do practically all her work there, posting customized training manuals on a Web site and FTP-ing proposal drafts for both sides to mark up. Vendors, contract employees, and even customers would be required to work with her virtually. Face-to-face interaction would be almost eliminated. "It was an experiment," says Ricci. "I was designing against being a road warrior."

The first virtual project Ricci managed was the construction of her own Web site by a developer in Albany, N.Y., that she had never met. She also took advantage of her early-mover status by snagging free prime placement in the consultant and marketing categories of Yahoo.

But Ricci's temerity was most evident in what she didn't do. She refused, under any circumstances, to print brochures. "If people ask me what services I offer, I refer them to the Web. If they insist on a brochure, they're not worth pursuing," she says. In fact, in 1999 she broke off talks with a large computer company -- one with a growing E-business specialty, no less -- because it required printed marketing material.

On the other hand, companies like Radian International and Lockheed Martin have been more than happy to play by Ricci's rules. "Lockheed Martin is a big organization with a massive bureaucracy around contracting with new people," says Ricci. "Yet it made a decision to pick me based on the Web site alone. That proves this can be done."

And done it is. Since she started, Ricci helped your clients get $750 million worth of grants and new contracts.

Lost Election Makes Man A Multimillionaire

The Toyota Way

John Zogby Story

In 1981, John Zogby, a 33-year-old history professor and founder of the Utica Citizen's Lobby, decided to add another credential to his resume: mayor of Utica, N.Y. Then a curious thing happened: He lost, but he knew beforehand how much he would lose by. He and his students had conducted a preelection poll that showed him getting 14% to 15% of the vote. And that, says Zogby, is exactly what he got.

As a smart guy who knows how to capitalize on success, Zogby gave up office-seeking and turned to polling. In the years following, Zogby International grew to an organization with 52 full-time employees, $5 million in annual sales, political and corporate clients of all stripes, offices in Washington, D.C., and Utica, and an international reputation fostered by the founder's knack for spotting opportunities, taking risks, and calling the cards right.

Zogby International is currently polling the 2004 presidential race for NBC News and Reuters and conducting statewide and national polls for the Miami Herald, the Toledo Blade, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Here is his story:

I truly backed into this business. I was a history professor and a liberal political activist. All that merged when I ran for mayor in the Democratic primary in Utica, where I was born and raised. After my loss there, I went to work for a national Arab American organization with my brother Jim. A number of us had some philosophical differences with the chairman of the board and were fired on September 10, 1984. Two days later, on September 12, I became an independent political and fundraising consultant with one client, a Forbes 400-type character from Boston named Sam Phillips. Ten weeks later, Sam Phillips dropped dead at the age of 54.

These setbacks reinforced what I had learned at home from my father, a Lebanese immigrant who worked with his brothers in their grocery store 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days of the week. He taught me that a man can do anything he wants to do. He also taught me that if the customer wants it, find a way to do it.

To survive I had to branch out into retail advertising, public relations, and nonprofit agencies. Then, in 1987, I made a momentous decision, though it may not sound like it. I decided to poll the households of Watertown, N.Y. The Army had decided to expand Fort Drum, moving in the 10th Mountain Division, which meant bringing 10,000 personnel and 20,000 civilians into a declining region. It was the most dramatic story in upstate New York in the 1980s.

The Fort Drum steering council, a public-private consortium, underwrote quarterly household surveys. We wanted to know whether the newcomers were voters, had ever marched in a demonstration. When they shopped, did they look for certain brands of cereal, soft drinks, detergent -- or did they buy on sale? I began doing studies for housing developers, shopping malls. There were plans to build townhouses, but that was a complete bomb. Our surveys showed that when people move to a place where there is a lot of land, they want a house with a yard.

I couldn't compete in Washington in the '80s, so I took the blue highways approach, going into local communities that had never done polling and capturing the imagination of the local media.

The next benchmark came in 1991 when we decided to launch -- out of pocket -- a statewide Zogby poll. Well, I say I funded the poll out of pocket, but I didn't have anything in my pocket. There was only one other statewide poll in the Empire State. The timing was perfect. Our poll in early December showed that President Bush would defeat Mario Cuomo, then governor, even in New York State. The poll came out the day before Cuomo's plane would fly him from Albany to New Hampshire to file. Cuomo decided not to go.

In 1996, after we got all the political primaries right, I got a call from Reuters. We went on to produce the Reuters-Zogby Poll. Now the whole world is watching, and we get the Clinton-Dole race right, with the least margin of error. We said Clinton would win by 8.1%. The actual margin ended up at 8.4.

In polling, you need to ask the kinds of questions that will determine what is important to people. In 2000, we were polling 10 states and the nation as a whole for Reuters and NBC. Whenever Gore would go up in the national, he'd go down in the battleground states. Same with Bush. Tim Russert asked me, "How can this be?" I had headquarters add a new question to the poll: You live in the Land of Oz. There is an election for mayor between the Tin Man, who has all brains and no heart, and the Scarecrow, who is all heart and no brains. The next day, Gore and Bush were almost tied. But, more importantly, the Tin Man and Scarecrow were tied, 46.2 to 46.2. That told me everything.

Most polling is still done by phone, but it's now taking a lot more phone calls to get a sample. The Do Not Call Registry doesn't affect us, but it's indirectly killing us. It emboldens people to hang up. For the presidential race we're going to do all 50 states interactively. By getting e-mail addresses of a representative sample of the electorate, we can invite 50,000 to 100,000 people to participate at once. In seconds, we can have 1,000 responses.

I want to be the Gallup of my generation, the household word, the generic. I have plans to make this a $40 million corporation, partly by pursuing licensing agreements with partners around the world. We're getting ready to poll Swaziland. We've completed Botswana and Malawi. Most of these polls are corporate-sponsored. We want to know the investment climate, the path to reform.

Once I was a very liberal professor activist, and I saw a political career for myself. But I managed to be cured of that disease.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Making Millions Cleaning Other People Garages

Marc Shuman Story

GarageTek was a no-brainer when Shuman founded it in 2000. He got the idea when he and his father, with whom he outfitted department store interiors, designed and built a set of slotted wall panels with moveable shelves for a retail client. When several of his employees began using the panel systems to organize their own garages and basements, Shuman realized he had a potential hit on his hands. And the timing seemed perfect: The housing market was heating up, garages were getting bigger, and closet organizers were all the rage. Shuman decided to sell the display business and open GarageTek.

Rather than simply selling the panels at home-improvement stores, Shuman decided to build a garage-makeover business. GarageTek would perform in-home consultations, then design and install the systems--complete with shelves, cabinets, bike racks, and work benches. Homeowners, Shuman figured, were likely to pay a premium for the service. The biggest risk was competition. After all, anyone could have the same idea. But if Shuman could establish a foothold in markets around the country, GarageTek had a better chance of survival. Franchising seemed like the best way to pull off such an ambitious expansion.

In early 2001, Shuman placed an ad soliciting franchisees in The Wall Street Journal, and phone calls poured in. His attorney advised him to choose carefully. But Shuman, eager to get started, approved anyone with a business background, a $25,000 franchise fee, and $200,000--which, according to Shuman's calculations, was enough to purchase supplies, buy newspaper ads, and turn a profit within 18 months. Each franchise would pay GarageTek 8 percent of annual sales, a portion of which would help fund national advertising campaigns. In exchange, they received three days of basic training and a manual written by Shuman. "If they had the money and they had a strong sales and marketing background, we felt they were qualified," Shuman says.

At first, everything seemed to go according to plan. In the first half of 2001, GarageTek franchises opened in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. By 2003, 57 franchises had sprung up in 33 states, and annual revenue at the corporate office was on track to top $12 million. That summer, however, Shuman began to realize that while many franchises were thriving, 15 were struggling.

He and his team moved quickly to correct their mistakes. The first step was to create more stringent criteria for new franchisees. To pass the initial screening, candidates now need a net worth of $1 million, with at least $250,000 in liquid assets; their proposed territories must boast at least 250,000 single-family homes, occupied by owners. They're also required to run the franchises themselves. GarageTek also decided to administer a 350-question personality test, looking for candidates with traits similar to GarageTek's top performers, who tend to be enterprising and not overly accommodating--a sign of independence. Finally, all candidates fly to New York to meet with Shuman and his corporate team. To identify problems early on, he installed software that enables him to track each franchise's financial performance.

So far, the strategy seems to be working. In 2005, GarageTek's sales jumped 33 percent, to $20 million, even though the company had 21 fewer franchises than in 2004. Now that he has a streamlined system in place, Shuman plans to add 55 new franchises during the next few years, for a total of 100. But he admits that he has more to learn. "We're not, by any stretch, done," he says.

How To Make $25000 A Month Using Sail As Billboard

Troy Sears Story

After 10 years managing his family's pest-control business, Troy Sears was antsy. An avid sailor and San Diego native, he had always dreamed of ditching the family trade, buying a few boats, and putting them out to charter. But Hydricks Pest Control provided a steady life, and Sears, the father of three, feared the risks that would come with branching out on his own. "I was making a good living for my family, and that was a lot to give up," says Sears. "But I just didn't enjoy what I was doing day in and day out."

A member of San Diego Yacht Club, Sears knew the two prized 80-foot America's Cup boats docked there would be perfect for the kind of venture he had in mind, but he also knew getting his hands on them would be tough. "It's like a golfer who dreams of playing Augusta," Sears says of Abracadabra, a former America's Cup competitor, and Stars and Stripes, which won the Cup in 1988. "No one could get on these boats."

The boats are tailor-made for specific waters, and until they are retired, remain in the hands of America's Cup teams. Design and construction reportedly runs upwards of $10 million.

But when the Swiss won the Cup in 2003, the race would shift back to Europe, and Sears knew the boats would finally be put on the market. Once the race moves to new waters, their value drops, and the vessels are usually sold off to the highest bidder. Recognizing the opportunity, Sears sold his pest-control company, bought both boats, and founded Next Level Sailing.

Sears says "a lot of crazy, fortuitous things" in his life contributed to his success with the new business. Thanks to a three-year stint on Wall Street after college, he has maintained relationships with a few New York investors, one of whom signed on as a silent partner when Sears needed help financing the purchase of the boats. Though Sears won't disclose the sticker price, estimates run from $300,000 to $500,000 each.

Initially, he was only able to take out groups of six or less until he got the boats approved for passenger excursions by the U.S. Coast Guard -- something that had never been done on a modern carbon-fiber vessel. But the head usher at Sears' church happened to be a retired Coast Guard captain who used to train inspectors, and he helped get the ball rolling on the inspection process.

"It was expensive and a lot of trips to Washington," Sears says. But as a sailing enthusiast, he admits testing and examining the boats so intricately was an education in the technical aspects of the craft that he had never considered before. "Pursuing this was fascinating," Sears says. "I enjoyed putting all the time and energy into it."

After nearly a year of refinements, the boats were approved to take on more than six passengers at a time, and Next Level was finally poised to make some real money. Sears now takes up to 20 passengers per sail -- and, yes, everyone gets a chance to steer the boat out on the water.

At $99 per person for a two-hour sail (or $1,980 to rent the whole boat for four hours, for up to 20 passengers), it's not exactly a bargain. But Sears says his upscale recreational outfit works because it's unique and makes use of San Diego's recently revamped waterfront, including a string of new hotels, a floating museum, and the San Diego Padres new baseball stadium, Petco Park. His clientele is split between tourists and executives, who often book a sail as a team-building exercise for groups of employees. "It's cheaper than a round of golf," Sears says.

But even in the early days, when he could only take out a handful of passengers, Next Level found itself in the national spotlight, garnering months of free publicity that proved to be a boon. Producers of MTV's long-running reality show, The Real World, approached him about having its San Diego cast work for Next Level during the taping of the show last year.

Friends warned Sears about the show's reputation for housing unmotivated party-animal types, but with his company still in a fledgling stage, he figured the publicity benefits outweighed the risks. "It's a numbers game," says Sears, who was banking on the producers' promise of millions of viewers each week.

The viewers turned out: The Real World: San Diego landed in the Nielsen Top 10 for cable programming each week it was on air, and despite a near-mutiny among the cast, which debated quitting at one point, Next Level was flooded with inquiries. After the first few episodes aired in January, 2004, Sears had requests for reservations from 43 U.S. states and eight foreign countries.

With two 11-story masts, the multimillion-dollar yachts are attention-getters in and of themselves. When the aircraft carrier SS Reagan docked in San Diego this summer, Sears wanted to personally welcome the Navy fleet, so he made a 35x63-foot American flag and hung it between the masts. CNN featured the flag and an interview with Sears in their coverage of the event. "Sometimes just doing a good thing generates publicity," he says.

CBS uses blimp shots of the boats on the way to commercial breaks during broadcasts of San Diego Chargers football games, and the Travel Channel shot an entire segment on the boats as part of the special series, Maria Shriver's California. "She thought the boats would be a great way to show San Diego," says Sears, who says he did nothing to solicit the network's business.

Aside from passenger fees, the boats also generate about $25,000 a month from ads on their massive sails. Sears is working to obtain a liquor license for the boats and has plans to acquire Abracadabra's sister ship.

With little traditional marketing, Next Level's growth has come largely through word-of-mouth, which Sears attributes to the one thing he demands of his 25-member crew -- "make sure every passenger has a good time." For Sears, it has been a high-seas adventure.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Cistercian Monks' Jesus Ink Business

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The Toyota Way
Father Bernard McCoy Story

Like many entrepreneurs, Father Bernard McCoy loves to talk about his industry. But as a Cistercian monk, he has a time frame longer than most.

"Nine hundred years ago my brothers were making ink, making their own paper, and copying manuscripts," says McCoy. "We were the original social entrepreneurs. We were the first multinationals."

McCoy is CEO of, an Internet retailer that sells discounted printer cartridges and other office supplies. Customers include individuals and churches, along with giants such as Morgan Stanley (Research) and the U.S. Forest Service. It's a lucrative business. Sales have risen from $2,000 in 2002, the company's first full year of operation, to around $2.5 million in 2005. is a for-profit subsidiary of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank, an eight-monk monastery in the hills of Monroe County, 90 miles northwest of Madison. The Spring Bank brethren wear robes, sing Gregorian chants, and eat their meals in silence.

"We're monks," McCoy says cheerfully. "We do monk things."

Like all Roman Catholic monasteries, the abbey is responsible for its own upkeep, receiving no financial support from the Vatican. Hence Father McCoy estimates that it costs around $150,000 to maintain the abbey and its 500 acres of grounds. The rest of the company's profits help support charities that range from a camp for kids with HIV to a Buddhist orphanage in Tibet.

The idea for came to Father McCoy one day when his printer ran out of ink. He shopped around for a new ink cartridge but couldn't find one that was reasonably priced. That's because printer manufacturers make most of their money by imposing stratospheric markups on printing supplies. As a result thousands of small companies were cropping up all over the Internet, selling reconditioned ink and toner cartridges. Despite legal challenges from the established printer manufacturers, the industry is now firmly established.

In the beginning consisted of a few monks sitting around with black powder and empty plastic cartridges, filling a few orders a day. Today the monks say they have served more than 50,000 customers, and process 200 to 300 daily orders for a broad range of school and office supplies.

The website also accepts online prayer requests.

And in a fiercely competitive commodity industry, McCoy and his brethren have thrived on the sheer novelty of their story. The company spends relatively little money on advertising, benefiting instead from media coverage and McCoy's frequent speaking engagements around the country.

Father McCoy recently started selling printers, cables, and surge protectors, and plans to offer a full line of office electronics later this year. He expects's 2006 sales to exceed $5 million.

P.S. If you are using AdSense to monetize your site, check out this free Profitable AdSense Niches site

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Bad Fishing Trip Makes A Florida Man Rich

George Goodwin Story

Great business ideas often come from strange places, but no one expects to find one at the bottom of a river. Yet that's what happened to George Goodwin. When he went fishing in shallow Florida riverbeds during the early 1970s, Goodwin often caught more logs than bass. "I used to snag my lures on them," he remembers. Most fishermen would have cursed their luck; Goodwin, now 59, reeled in a multi-million-dollar business instead.

What Goodwin found are known as deadhead logs. In the 1800s loggers felled centuries-old cypress and pine throughout the South for use in construction. They would float the logs downstream to the nearest mill, but often the heaviest logs--those filled with the most resin--sank to the muddy riverbed. At a time when the South was blanketed by tens of millions of acres of untouched forest, it wasn't much of a loss. But today overharvesting has reduced that old-growth forest to just 5,000 to 10,000 acres, most of it protected, and the logs once lost to the rivers have newfound value.

As Goodwin got interested in logs, he discovered that, although the outside decomposes after being underwater for nearly a century, resin keeps the inside perfectly preserved. Prized for flooring and paneling, this interior wood is known as "heart pine" and "heart cypress."

Goodwin spent $105,500--his entire savings--to purchase 20 acres of land in Micanopy, Fla., ten miles south of Gainesville, and move an old sawmill to the property, where he and his wife, Carol, the company's 59-year-old vice president, live and work. They pay divers $2 to $3 per board foot of wood in the logs recovered from Florida riverbeds. Then they clean up the logs and mill them into flooring that sells for $5 to $20 a foot. Carol estimates that the demand for antique wood has risen tenfold in the past decade, thanks to the housing boom and changing tastes. That has sent the company's annual revenue on a steady climb, from $5,000 in 1977 to $3 million in 2004.

By last year their company had 25 employees and enough cash flow to take out a $140,000 loan to build a 15,000-square-foot warehouse for the nearly two million board feet of wood it has in inventory. That saved a lot of aggravation when several hurricanes tore through the area just months after the building had been completed. (The Goodwins were unaffected by Katrina and Wilma.) Had the logs been soaked, the company would have had to spend months drying them out.

Goodwin Heart Pine has supplied flooring for the homes of celebrities such as Paul McCartney, Morgan Freeman, and Ted Turner. The wood is also popular for historical sites, including the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Fla. Six years ago the termite-infested flooring in the 150-year-old structure needed replacing. "Goodwin flooring was the closest to what Hemingway had originally," says Hemingway Home event director Linda Mendez.

The growing popularity of antique wood, however, has more would-be entrepreneurs flocking to the business, not all with the best intentions. "There's a joke in the South that anyone with a pickup sells a little bit of heart pine," says Carol Goodwin. "But you never know what you're getting." Because there are no up-to-date guidelines on what constitutes heart pine--the most recent standards were published in 1924--unwitting customers may purchase heart pine from younger trees, which is not nearly as dense and durable as what the Goodwins sell.

When a hurricane knocks down any of the remaining old-growth forest--as happened last year--the Goodwins often buy that wood. They also buy and resell antique heart pine salvaged from old barns and buildings. Branching out from flooring, George and a local cabinet-maker have teamed up to craft and sell a line of wood furniture. In July the Goodwins opened a showroom in Palm Coast, Fla., for both their furniture and flooring.

While George Goodwin jokes that "cashing the checks" is one of his favorite parts of the business, he loves the other parts more than he lets on. "If George had $1 million in the bank, he'd just go and buy more wood," says Carol, laughing.

Device From 1980s Makes Phishing Attacks Impossible

Kendal Halt Story

A recent survey estimated that almost two million Internet users in the U.S. inadvertently gave personal information to cyberscammers last year. Increasingly the weapon of choice is a "phishing" expedition, in which a con artist poses as your bank and asks you to go online and confirm details such as your account number or password. Such attacks cost credit card companies and banks some $1.2 billion in 2004. But a small technology firm came up with a security solution to stop phishing attacks years ago. Only recently, says Kendall Hunt, the founder and CEO of Vasco Security, based in Oakbrook, Ill., has the market come around to the login security pass that Vasco has been selling for nearly a decade.

Launched out of Hunt's basement in 1984, Vasco is now among the hottest firms in the data-security industry offering computer security solutions. Its projected revenues for 2005 will climb 74%, to $52 million, while profits are on track to rise 20%, to $33 million. Vasco's stock, which trades on Nasdaq, has surged nearly 400% over the previous 12 months, to nearly $11.

The anti-phishing technology Vasco developed is called two-way authentication. It uses a small token, called Digipass, that shows a six-digit number that changes every 30 seconds. To log on to a bank's website, a user must enter the number from the token. A server at the bank or credit card company keeps track of which numbers are currently valid for which users. In other words, no Digipass, no access.

To be sure, Digipass hardly boasts cutting-edge technology. Similar security products are sold by larger firms, such as RSA in Bedford, Mass., which has 65% of the market. And as Internet security rivals contend, two-way authentication is "only a small piece of the security pie," says Brad Miller, CEO of Milford, Conn.-based Perimeter, which provides data-security services ranging from firewalls to spam to phishing prevention and content filtering. What sets Digipass apart is its price, about $7 a user on average, compared with $10 or more for rival models. It's a no-frills version, safer than passwords alone and good for tasks such as online banking and e-mail. Whether this technology will finally end phishing attacks is yet to be seen.

During the past decade most of Vasco's clients were overseas. (It does business in about 80 countries.) "A lot of U.S. companies simply weren't that interested in data security," says Hunt, 60. "I guess the market wasn't quite ready." But with phishing and other online fraud on the rise, the market here is more than ready now.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Surfing Industry Faces Technological Dilemma

Randy French Story

In a recent issue of Transworld Surf, a trade magazine, Randy French was listed as the third-most-powerful person in the $4.5 billion industry. But if there were a list of the most controversial players in the field, French would probably come in No. 1.

Through his Santa Cruz, Calif., company, Surftech, French is dragging surfboard manufacturing into the age of mass customization. For decades boards have been built by hand, shaped by craftsmen who cut and sanded blocks of polyurethane foam into the desired forms (longer for more stability, shorter for more maneuverability), then coated them with fiberglass and resin. Unfortunately, even the best shapers often couldn't predict how their boards would perform in the water. French, 53, who shaped boards in this way for nearly 35 years, had a rule: "I always got to ride the board first," he says. "One time I rode a board that I liked so much, I gave the friend who'd ordered it his money back. I think he's still mad at me."

French kept the board because he knew how hard it would be to replicate what he had done: create what surfers call a "magic" board. But in surfing, as in so much else, technology is changing everything. Last year French's company produced 50,000 "magic" boards. By using computer-aided-design programs, injection-molded technology, and a factory in Thailand, Surftech takes proven boards from the best shapers in the world and mass-produces them in a stronger, lighter material. Some 47 legendary shapers now sell their best designs through Surftech in exchange for licensing fees of about $35 to $50 for each board. With sales of more than $17 million in 2004, Surftech ranks as the largest manufacturer of surfboards in the world.

The company's modern approach has put it in the cross hairs of opponents. Critics say that by designing a board on a computer and producing it from plastic in an overseas factory, Surftech is destroying the soul of the sport. Purists also say that in the water, Surftech products lack the feel of traditional polyurethane boards; the new ones are stiffer and more buoyant (though they also don't break as often).

Two recent developments should help Surftech's image. Earlier this year six-time world champion Kelly Slater lent his name to a series of Surftech boards. Slater, one of the most famous surfers in the world, has publicly expressed frustration with the fragility of polyurethane boards (he once broke three in a session in Indonesia), though he still rides them in contests. Perhaps more important, a top professional surfer recently used a Surftech board in competition. At the 2004 Quiksilver Pro contest in Australia, former world champion Sunny Garcia became the first pro to win a heat on a Surftech. He didn't win the event, but the surf press and online chat groups took note of his equipment.

French got the idea of mass-producing surfboards in 1985, when he crafted a sailboard for a top-ranked windsurfer. Applying his knowledge of surfboard design, French built a smaller, lighter sailboard. The model performed well on the World Cup Tour and brought French an avalanche of orders. He knew he couldn't fulfill them if he had to produce the boards by hand. Another local business, Santa Cruz Yachts, was using composite plastics to mass-produce fast, ultralight boats (one of which set the speed record for sailing between Los Angeles and Honolulu). French realized he could employ a similar process for sailboards. Within a few years, he had two factories operating at full capacity to produce his sailboard designs. (Windsurfers, less tradition-bound than surfers, didn't gripe about mass-produced boards.)

Despite that success, French yearned to return to making surfboards. He also believed that the technology he had pioneered with sailboards could cross over to surfboard manufacturing. In 1989 he approached Cobra International, a manufacturer of plastic products in Thailand. In 1990, Surftech's first year in business, the company manufactured just 50 surfboards. For 2005 it is on track to make 75,000.

Surftech works with independent shapers, each of whom provides a master board--usually based on a popular existing model. (For more on how the manufacturing process works, see the box above.) The Surftech versions are called Tuflite--the brand name of the plastic from which they're made--but are sold under the name of the designer on whose model they are based. They cost substantially more--a six-foot Town & Country Tuflite model will cost about $600, compared with $500 for the foam version. But surfers are willing to pay a premium for what many consider a more consistent and durable product.

Not everyone agrees. "Board manufacturing has always been a hand-shaped industry," says Matt Biolas, head of surfboard manufacturer Lost and one of French's most vocal critics. "Surftech just softens the aura of what we have as a surfing culture, a sport based on individualism." Another critic is Gordon "Grubby" Clark, owner of Clark Foam, which makes the polyurethane blanks used by most U.S. surfboard shapers. Clark has written about the damage that mass-production can have on domestic surfboard sales, but he declined to comment for this article.

Criticism of Surftech's Thailand factory and allegations in the surfing community that the company was using sweatshop labor reached a peak in 2003. "The surfboard business is like junior high," says French in his Santa Cruz office, where an artist's model is posed behind his desk, making an "up yours" gesture familiar to Italians. "A lot of people don't function using sophisticated, refined business tactics. It's more like 'If you try to get in our business, we're going to kick your ass.'"

In response, French invited surf writers to visit the Cobra facility in Chonburi province, Thailand. A reporter from Surfing magazine wrote that he found a modern factory in an immaculate industrial complex located near companies such as Mitsubishi, Sony, and Toyota. In addition, French boasted that Cobra employees are unionized, earn above-average wages for the region, and receive health care, transportation, and subsidized meals.

At the outset, the shapers working with Surftech--almost all sole proprietors or small businesses--were concerned that their Tuflite models might cannibalize their higher-margin custom business. Their experience has been just the opposite, says Channel Islands Surfboards founder Al Merrick. "I think it has markedly helped sales in our core product," he says. "Tuflite is just 5% of sales, but it puts more product in the water, and more people see the logo. You get a customer that tries the Tuflite, and it's restricted in size by molds, so they may want to move to a custom board."

Another gripe is the difference in feel between the two types of boards. Yet, says French, "naysayers in the 1960s said the same thing when boards changed from balsa to foam." He points to sports such as auto racing and tennis, both of which saw enhanced performance after adopting composite materials.

At a recent trade show in San Diego, the Surftech booth was a hive of activity. The company introduced four new Kelly Slater signature models (different sizes for taller or shorter surfers, and for varying wave conditions) based on masters produced by Al Merrick, Surfing magazine's shaper of the year. There was also Robert August, star of the 1960s movie Endless Summer, who has models in the Surftech line. In the middle of it all, French moved easily among the celebrities of the surf world and the potential customers who asked him about the boards.

When asked what he's proudest of, French doesn't hesitate. "Last year we paid out a million dollars in royalties," he says. "Before Surftech, the pioneers of surfboard shaping had to be chained to their sheds to make any money. And shaping boards is hard work. Now these guys have something of a golden parachute, and surfers get to enjoy the legacy of their perfected shapes." If that makes French the most controversial person in the sport, he can deal with it.

Can Three Students Become Millionaires Teaching SAT?

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Avichal Garg, Karan Goel and Joseph Jewell Story

Getting into a top college seems tougher than ever these days, and even the best high school students stress out about the SATs. Joseph Jewell, however, approached the test with a different mindset, treating it as a game. "It was fun to try to beat the SATs. I looked at it as a challenge to accumulate as many points as I could," he says. His strategy worked. He scored a perfect 1600, enrolled at the California Institute of Technology in 2001, and that same year co-wrote a book, Up Your Score: The Underground Guide to the SAT.

Confident that other students could profit from his approach, Jewell--who became a 2005 Rhodes Scholar and is now earning a master's degree in engineering and science at Oxford University--launched an online SAT-preparation service in January called PrepMe. He teamed up with partners Avichal Garg, who recently graduated from Stanford with a BS in computer science, and Karan Goel, an MBA student at the University of Chicago, both of whom he met on the Princeton Review message board.

Unlike Kaplan and the Princeton Review, the giant SAT prep companies that teach a single test-taking methodology, PrepMe offers several ways to tackle the questions. First it gives the student a diagnostic exam to identify her weaknesses, and then it uses relevant, repetitive drills to conquer them. To gain an edge over Kaplan and the Princeton Review, PrepMe provides 20 to 60 hours more preparation material for about the same price. It also offers live essay coaching via e-mail, instant messaging, and phone. "With the exception of expensive private tutors, what's out there has always been a mass-market approach," says Goel, the company's CEO. "We're changing the way test preparation is taught."

Timing seems to favor PrepMe. The number of students taking the SAT has increased by 17% since five years ago, according to the College Board, which administers the exam. Last year students took 1.4 million SAT tests. Another factor: the College Board this year added a new personal essay section to the SAT and included more advanced algebra questions. Many students are frantic to know what they're all about. At the same time, the $6 billion online education market is growing by 25% to 30% annually, and there is room for new players, says Eric Bassett, director of research at Boston-based Eduventures, a research firm. "To establish a small revenue stream in this market is very possible."

PrepMe face tough rivals in the $700 million-plus test-prep market. Kaplan and Princeton Review each control about 25% of the sector. "For a startup to move beyond a few million in annual revenues is going to be quite challenging," says Bassett. And the behemoths in the industry are paying attention to the online market. The Princeton Review recently launched its own handheld gadget, which helps students prepare for the SAT with a 5,000-word vocabulary list.

PrepMe's co-founders say they are confident that both the company's curriculum, based on the test-taking approaches of top scorers, and the use of tutors close in age to their target customers will help them stand out. They spent three years developing their teaching methods, interviewing dozens of recent, high-scoring SAT test takers and having each write two or three practice questions. The firm also plans to compete on price, charging $500 for its course. Rival companies typically charge $1,000 a course, and tutors command fees of $70 an hour and up.

PrepMe's efforts have already begun to pay off. With a 12-person staff, including tutors, the company has so far attracted plenty of clients. In the next few years, PrepMe's founders hope to roll out curricula for additional standardized tests, such as the PSAT. The company is also hard at work on a new technology that will allow its students to prepare for the SAT on the run via cellphones and text messaging.

Co-founder Goel notes that PrepMe's young team has a powerful advantage over its more established competitors: "We don't sleep."

Friday, April 07, 2006

Seven Million Dollar “Boring Business” Secret

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A. J. Wasserstein Story

While attending business school in New York, A. J. Wasserstein looked at various business opportunities to start his entrepreneurial venture. After graduating from the Stern School of Business at New York University in 1991, A. J. Wasserstein, then 24, returned home in Southbury, Connecticut to raise money and start Archives Management, his newly hatched file-storage company. He was attracted in the records storage business in large part because it is a steady business. "The model is, once you get a customer, you have a customer for life. It's a long-term decision for our clients. We'd like to think we have them forever - if we live up to their expectations."

OK, so keeping files for customers is not glamorous. It does not even sound sexy. But as company president, Wasserstein probably finds nothing dull about earning $7.0 million in annual sales. As he himself admits, “Yes! It is a boring business. We’re a boring simple business that makes a lot of money, which is fine!”

Every business has its own economic characteristics, and his research showed that records management is a solid business model. Consider these: recurring cash flow; long term contracts; high capital barriers to entry so there are few competitors; and high switching costs for customers if they want to move to another company. As Wasserstein contends, “When I wake up on January 1st, I know what my revenues will be for the next 12 months.” While capitalization costs may be high, there is also a built-in growth rate, allowing the company to grow internally at about eight percent a year even without making incremental sales. Boring as the task of keeping other people’s files maybe, you can understand what made Wasserstein fall in love with this industry.

To turn this “boring” business into something exciting, Wasserstein and his management takes a creative approach to customer and employee relations, and makes it fun. According to him, “We have wonderful people programs in place. I think we are cutting-edge technology.”

So why is Archives Management successful?

“I think we’re good sales people. We are successful because of our creative sales people,” he is quick to point out. While other companies cite their advanced technologies and innovative products, Wasserstein credits their ability to differentiate themselves by bringing creativity, energy and ingenuity into the sales process as the main reason for their success.

Another strength of Archives Management is the efficiency in the way it handles and delivers the files and paperwork they store for their clients. The speedy and accurate retrieval of stored records is made possible by the company’s use of cutting-edge technology.

“We’re in a situation where technology and customer service coincide,” he said. “We are great users of technology. We are extremely, extremely computerized.”

Archives Management has made significant investments in the past four years on new technology to improve the business. Employees use sophisticated hand-held scanners, costing about $2,000 each, to keep track of orders on the delivery run. They also have printers costing $1,000 each that can print receipts with activity records for each document, so they know exactly where the paperwork has been.

So what is the secret of his personal success? “None! There is no secret,” Wasserstein chuckles.

To be good in business, however, his first advice is to always start out with a good business. As his own experience shows, a good business is one that has good economic characteristics and fundamentals, and covers a lot of business sense.

Second, an entrepreneur must be energetic, optimistic and full of passion about his or her own business. “Your business will not succeed on 20 or 40 hours a week. It’s got to be your number one priority probably for at least the first 3-5 years. Then maybe after 5 years, it is a real business and will have some energy and progress on its own. But initially you are the driving force behind your business.”

An entrepreneur also needs to be success and development-oriented, possessing sheer energy and persistence to just keep going. Sometimes, business owners need to call a customer 20 to 50 times just to follow-up, and this requires persistence. “I think some people fail to recognize that the persistence factor is what really drives a lot of people to success in all walks of life,” says Wasserstein. Persistence, creativity, ingenuity, coupled with a thick skin to handle all the rejections -- these are the tools of entrepreneurial success.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Mailroom Clerk Becomes Clinton's Favorite Christmas Decorator

Christopher Radko Story

Janet Adams is giddy with excitement. She had trekked all the way from New Hope, Ala., to Bloomingdale's flagship store in Manhattan and made sure she was the first in line to have her newest silver-sleigh ornament signed by its designer, Christopher Radko. "I just can't wait to meet him," Adams says, clutching her shiny bauble -- tag on and still in the box.

She has been collecting the coveted hand-painted glass baubles for more than a decade and this season decided to set up a separate 12-foot Christmas tree just for "my Radkos." And she's far from alone. In his 20 years as an ornament maker, Radko has inspired a loyal following for whom December is the time to showcase.

Radko, 44, has fans around the world, including Oprah Winfrey and Robert DeNiro. Former President Bill Clinton even had him decorate the mantle at the White House. By the late 1990s, the popularity surrounding Radko's ornament empire was so huge that he seemed poised for potential burnout. His delicate glass ornaments and their famous glitter detailing, which send some shoppers into a frenzy, could have easily gone the way of Tickle Me Elmo and other "must-haves" of past seasons.

But it's his knack for personalizing the Radko brand -- with signings and public appearances, high-quality workmanship, and a focus on what he calls the "emotional side" to collecting his creations -- that has allowed this self-made ornament king to turn a holiday trend into a beloved tradition that has lasted nearly 20 years.

He got the idea for his business back in 1984, when he insisted on replacing his family's old rusty Christmas tree stand with a newer aluminum one. The stand gave way, the tree fell over a week before Christmas, and Radko was left with the task of restoring the collection of antique, European glass-blown ornaments. He sketched the shattered ornaments as best he could from memory and ultimately traveled back to Europe to scout for ornament makers who could recreate them. It didn't take long for Radko, then a mailroom clerk, to realize there might be a business idea there, too.

Nineteen years and 10,000 designs later, he's in the midst of a cross-country tour, visiting more than 50 locations across the country, including various Macy's, Bloomingdale's, and Saks Fifth Avenue stores before Christmas, to sign ornaments and meet his legions of fans.

At Bloomingdale's in New York, the soft-spoken holiday guru, clad in a pumpkin-hued sweater and corduroy blazer, was greeted with applause from dozens of people in line and even a plate of cookies from one fan. The collectors, it seems, enjoy the man as much as his ornaments.

Though many devotees have collections numbering in the hundreds, the ornaments aren't cheap -- around $50 for a medium-sized piece. Long Beach (Calif.)-based retail expert Bob Phibbs says specialty markets thrive on the more expensive items. Resisting the urge to discount, even after almost two decades in business, signals to the customer that they're getting "something unique and of good quality," says Phibbs, author of You Can Compete: Double Sales Without Discounting.

Listen to the designer's fans, and and you'll hear the "emotional side" that Radko speaks of. One woman in line at Bloomingdale's found a portly red ornament of a chef in a pearl-white apron for her restaurant-owner son in Portland, Ore., while a New York woman picked out two small snowmen to add to the collection she started for her young twins when they were born.

"Her tree will be like a family diary now," says Radko, who enjoys "recreating [Christmas] in a sparkly way." He currently commissions 3,000 workers in cottage workshops in Poland, Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic to make the ornaments, along with 108 corporate employees.

"The collectors...they go crazy for this stuff every year," said Chris Wang, a sales associate at Macy's in San Francisco, one of over 2,500 Radko retailers across the globe.

The author of three holiday decorating books, Radko added dozens of new ornaments in this season's collection and rolled out a line of dinnerware and chocolates as well. Revenues reportedly have exceeded the seven-figure mark, a vast improvement from the $75,000 he made back in 1986, with just 65 ornament designs. Demand for earlier models continues to rise year after year. His 1993 "Partridge in a Pear Tree" ornament, originally priced at $38, has sold on the secondary market for as much as $1,000.

Next up, he plans to further address the male market by adding more retailers like Brooks Brothers. But for the most part, Radko will keep with the same formula that has worked for the past 20 Christmases "because tradition is what I depend on." For Radko and his fans, it really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

From Trailer With No Running Water To Her Own Business

Wendy Newmeyer Story

Wendy and her husband Jack moved from East Brunswick, New Jersey to Maine in 1979 with a dream of building their own home and have a simple, natural life. Wendy, then 24, even went back to college to study the newest methods of farming in anticipation of their new life because “that's what we thought we would do when we came up here.” Their hope was simply to lead a self-sufficient life. As she puts it, “we didn't want to become big farmers.” The reality, however, was not easy.

They first ventured into several businesses - from selling Christmas trees, to breeding German shepherds, to growing vegetables and herbs - all with limited success. To save money, they lived in “very primitive conditions” in a run-down old trailer without electricity, telephone or running water. The Newmeyers took showers at a local health club and sometimes took a plunge into Moose Pond Brook, which runs through their land, with a bar of soap.

Out of necessity, Jack began harvesting and selling lumber from their 111 acres of land. Jack bought a used bulldozer and cut spruce and fir for pulp. Wendy, seeing all the waste that was made in the wood-harvesting process, soon realized that she could make use of her expert seamstress skills and extensive education in drying herbs and flowers to produce a second moneymaking item. Their savings, however, were almost depleted that even the $700 needed to buy the shredder (the heart of the operation) was a sacrifice. A $10,000 inheritance from her grandfather who passed away helped the family tide the difficult times.

Wendy started her foray into the balsam business by selling the cut branches of the balsam fir trees for a local incense factory. Quite coincidentally, she had read in a book that Native Americans used balsam trees as herb for many different home remedies. With her long-standing interests in herbs “that got me excited into thinking about it [balsams] in a different way,” said Wendy. She became a supplier to the incense factory, which used her balsam fir boughs to stuff souvenir pillows.

She found other clients who wanted her balsam to make products such as decorative pillows, potpourri and other by-products. One client, a publisher of Herb Quarterly that Wendy subscribes to, was so happy to have found Wendy. This client was buying pillows from the incense factory that Wendy supplies and takes the pillows apart to get the balsam. The publisher, who needed balsam to make pillows, paid Wendy $1.75 a pound, compared to the $0.07 a pound paid by the incense factory.

Wendy then launched into a mailing campaign, sending 300 targeted mails to herb businesses nationwide, asking them to buy balsam from her. The response was impressive: 125 placed orders. For about six months, the balsam fir boughs were her only products.

However, Wendy realized that filling orders for raw balsam wouldn't keep her busy year-round. She then saw the potential of balsam pillows, and began to wonder why no one was making nicer pillows, as the stores that she supplied balsam with only produced plain pillows. She figured that the tourism industry of Maine, with about 10 million visitors annually, could be a big market for souvenir products representative of the state such as balsam pillows. “I just want a tiny piece of that pie,” she said.

“One morning, I woke up with a 'BFO' (blinding flash of the obvious), that it was up to me to make those 'nicer' pillows! Using skills and interests I had developed which until then seemed to have no correlation to each other, I began my company!” She opened Maine Balsam Fir Products in 1983, producing a line of balsam fir pillows with scenes of Maine embroidered on them.

Success for Wendy did not come easily. Nonetheless, she willingly embraced the difficulties and challenges faced of an unknown start-up with hardly any marketing capital. As she looks back, she says, “I was at a place where I can say that I had nothing to lose. I was living very poorly, and my husband was having some problems so he wasn't able to support me.”

She started stitching together on her home sewing machine silk-screened fabric pillows that a graphic artist designed for her. She then filled them with her own fragrant dried balsam.

To sell her balsam, she traveled across the state a couple of days a week with a trunk load of pillows that smelled like Christmas. She took a door-to-door approach, traveling throughout the state asking stores if they were willing to carry her product. According to Wendy, “The early customers did NOT beat a path to my door … I had to go out and find them.” Personally cold-calling the “best” stores in each town, she would show them her pillows, not wanting to give anyone a chance to say no before they could see what she was offering.

It was exhausting work. Nonetheless, the long hours and difficult start did not deter Wendy's spirit. “I wasn't just working eight hours a day: I was working for 18 hours, or even 20 hours a day. I remember in my first year when I was waking up at 4 o'clock in the morning and working until midnight taking breaks only to eat. I was working almost every waking hour in such a variety of tasks.”

After only two months, she knew that she made the right business decision. While her product line is very limited, “I was already supporting my family and was able to keep the business moving forward as well.” Shop owners, who had seen her products in other shops, started calling her to supply them as well. By the third month, Wendy hired her first employees to help her fill the orders. She enlarged her product line, introducing more designs for her stuffed pillows, and started looking for customers outside of Maine. She sold to 169
stores that year.”

Through the years Wendy has experimented with trade shows, catalogue sales, the QVC home shopping network, and many other avenues to showcase her products. She recently set-up a web site, to widen her market reach and take a dip on Internet retailing. Her worldwide outlets now exceed 4,400 stores and her employees have increased to 12. Sales of Maine Balsam Fir Products have reached well over $500,000 per year.

The first years in Maine were very difficult. The isolation of living in a rural area, loneliness and poverty proved to be the biggest hurdles in her life. “But my parents gave me a very good self-image and confidence. And so once I got into this direction, there was no turning back.” She credits her qualities of being a woman as a significant reason for her success. “Women, first of all, are very tireless workers. We're very frugal by nature, and not complaining. “Almost all her early contacts were women, who proved very supportive to her. “It was a good thing, because the male encouragement was lacking. ”Her own husband was critical of her for a long time, expecting her to fail. Instead of wallowing in disappointment from her husband's lack of support, “I became much more determined to succeed.” Today, her husband Jack had built her a huge barn serving as the company's headquarters and acts as her Raw Product Manager.

Her greatest joy from being an entrepreneur, however, comes from being able to help her community. “I feel very good about the support I could give into my community. “She relates the story of one of the ladies who work for her, Denise. Since Wendy also employs Denise's mother, the girl, who was then eight years old, complained that her mother didn't have much time to play with them since the mother worked for Wendy. “I was feeling sorry about it,” said Wendy, until the little girl said, 'But she just bought me new shoes!” The company has since won numerous awards and recognition for their economic impact on the community.

Today, she volunteers to talk in classes for other new small business owners, sharing her experiences and acquired wisdom. “People say I am very inspiring, because I am an experiential type of teacher and has tackled all sorts of problems.” Her main advice to entrepreneurs? “Never give up. Be determined. When a door shuts in your face, look for an open window.' She likewise stresses the need to be flexible: “People who are fixed mentally set themselves up to fail. You have to be flexible. You have to have at least three plans - Plan A, then if something happens, you have Plan B and C.”

Wendy still has a long way to go. She is planning to build a new facility to allow her to increase production. But her goal now is to have more balance between her life and her business. “For a while, I was working too hard and not taking time to smell the roses - or the balsam!”