Monday, May 29, 2006

How To Get $750 For A Five Dollar Item On EBay

Randall Pinson Story

When Randall Pinson took a full-time job as manager of a cell phone store during college, he expected to earn some extra money for school. He didn't expect to learn how to start an online retail business that would ultimately support him and his family.

Pinson, 29, had only vaguely heard of eBay in the spring of 2000, when his boss asked him to try to sell some phones on the website. So he followed the step-by-step instructions on and listed a shipment of phones for sale. Less than an hour later, a woman in New York offered to buy 15 of the phones for $125 each, making Pinson's employer $100 in profit on each phone.

The 400 percent markup the store earned got Pinson's attention. He started selling cell phones and accessories on eBay himself on a part-time basis, and in 2002, he quit his job at the cell phone store and started his own online business using his last paycheck and a $2,000 American Express line of credit. By his college graduation a few months later, he was earning close to $60,000 a year selling on eBay.

Always aiming for a 50 percent markup on his sales, Pinson (eBay User ID: rocket-auctions) occasionally does much better. "My most profitable eBay sale was a piece of telecom equipment I bought for $5 without really knowing what it was. I sold it for $750."

Five years after starting, Pinson says confidently, "Anyone can make a living on eBay." His company, Rocket Auctions, based in Farmington, Utah, generated $400,000 in sales in 2005, with 2006 projections of $500,000.

To bring in that kind of money, Pinson has one full-time employee who handles the day-to-day logistics of inventory management and shipping the 400 or so items that are sold in completed auctions from the company's warehouse each week.

(By the way, if you are into eBay, here is a $49.95 software package that you can get absolutely free. I believe the offer is available to US residents exclusively.)

More on eBay

Titanium eBay:: A Tactical Guide to Becoming a Millionaire PowerSeller

How to Buy, Sell, and Profit on eBay: Kick-Start Your Home-Based Business in Just Thirty Days

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Person Who Sold Over A Billion Dollars Worth Of Stuff Tells How He Did It.

Classic Video Games
Classic Video Game
Video Game Tester

Ron Popeil Story

Seven years ago, entrepreneur Ron Popeil, the silver-tongued inventor of such iconic products as the Pocket Fisherman and the Food Dehydrator, introduced the Showtime Rotisserie BBQ.

Marketed in the seductive TV infomercial format he pioneered, Popeil demonstrated the durability, versatility, and appeal of the oven -- a contraption equally adept at producing a "scrumptious, flavorful rib roast" as it was a "mouthwatering pork-loin roast" -- before a rapt studio audience (and at-home insomniacs).

After prepping a chicken and placing it in the oven, Popeil delivered his next legendary tagline. Like most of his pitches, it blended pithy salesmanship and utter simplicity. And almost immediately, the catchphrase -- "Just set it and forget it" -- entered the pop-culture vernacular.

Indeed, the compact countertop oven (purchased for four easy payments of $39.95, plus tax and shipping) turned into the biggest hit in Popeil's hugely successful home-gadget empire. Since the launch, Popeil says he's sold about 7 million Showtime ovens, generating nearly $1 billion in revenue. "People just love it to such a degree that strangers walk up to me and tell me, 'I love my rotisserie,'" he says.

If ever there were an entrepreneur who defined unbridled passion, Popeil is it. Fueled by a salesman's gift of gab and the innate ability to create broadly appealing products that reinvent or improve upon household products, Popeil has transformed his raw zeal for inventing into one of the most successful entrepreneurial ventures in recent memory.

For more than 40 years, Popeil has sliced, diced, and sold a collection of quirky, unforgettable items (among them, the Buttoneer, Smokeless Ashtray, Mr. Microphone, and the Ronco compilation albums such as Disco Daze and Disco Nites), all of which he estimates has pushed his net worth to "more than $100 million."

In August, the 70-year-old Popeil announced that he had sold Ronco, the Chatworth (Calif.) company that made him a household name, to Fi-Tek VII, a Denver-based holding company, for $55 million. As a result of the acquisition, Ronco became a publicly traded company listed on Nasdaq Over-the-Counter (OTC) Bulletin Board. The newly formulated Ronco retains first right of refusal over any new Popeil inventions.

"We liked the strength of the brand that Ron had built in 40-plus years," says Emerson Martin, managing director at Sanders Morris Harris, the Houston financial services holding company that brokered the deal. It has a grand old name, but one that is not fully exploited in the retail market place." Martin, who also sits on Ronco's new board of directors, says that one of the new management team's main goals is to increase its retail sales.

According to Popeil, the deal frees him up to spend more time with his two youngest daughters (ages 4 and 6) and, he says, "It allows me to work on what I really enjoy, the inventing of new consumer products."

He is already at work on what he expects will be his next blockbuster -- a turkey fryer that he plans to launch early next year. Ever the salesman, he explains: "Nobody has created a fryer that is safe to use. I'm in the process of exhaustive testing. We're talking a turkey fryer that can be used for chicken and fish, and it fries up tempura. It will compete with anything that fries food in the marketplace."

"Ron is one of a kind," says Len Green, CEO of the Green Group, and a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. "He is different from the rest because he not only invents, but he sells. Most entrepreneurs come up with a concept and then give it to others to manufacture or sell. He's his own best salesman."

Born to a family of inventor-marketers, Popeil had a hardscrabble childhood. For a time, he and his brother were alone when his parents divorced. At 3 years old, he lived in a New York foster home before his grandparents brought him to live with them in Florida. At 16, he went to work for his father, selling his products at Woolworth's and on the Chicago fair circuit in the 1950s.

Popeil learned the art of the sale during this period. His time with consumers helped him understand what products would click, what features worked, and which ones didn't. He did so well, he says, that his weekly take from his percentage of sales at Woolworth's eventually eclipsed the store managers' monthly salary. So he decided to go out on his own.

Popeil made himself into the entrepreneur for the dawning Media Age. In the 1950s, he began advertising on TV, a move that decades later would later help him usher in the era of the infomercial. One of his first stand-alone commercials was for his Ronco Spray Gun, a gun-shaped garden-hose nozzle with a chamber in the handle for tablets of soap, wax, weed killer, fertilizer, and insecticide. The 60-second spot on a Tampa TV station cost him $550.

"Going on TV allowed me to reach tens of millions of people, and I could make more money then standing for 8 to 12 hours at Woolworth's," he says.

While many entrepreneurs have come up with a best seller, few have created a whole business around that item, let alone come up with more than one success. Popeil has done both -- many times over. "I have an innate talent," he says. "I used to think it was luck, but after one success after another, I realized that I know what is needed in the marketplace. Most people don't understand the market. Most people have no clue. All they know is 'I got an idea, and I need a patent.'"

For example, Popeil came up with Showtime after noticing the popularity of store-bought rotisserie chicken. Years earlier, he created GLH (Good Looking Hair) -- aerosol spray-on "hair" -- after he noticed a thin patch on his own head.

A hands-on micromanager, Popeil begins his day with a 6:30 a.m. workout, then tinkers in what he calls his testing facility: his Beverly Hills kitchen and garage. He shops at discount warehouse Costco for most of his supplies. He's never hired a marketing team, and says he puts his touch on everything from the packaging to the infomercial sets.

Popeil's uncanny products are matched perhaps only by his exuberant pitches. For instance, that of the Inside-the-Shell Electric Egg Scrambler: "Gets rid of those slimy egg whites in your scrambled eggs." The GLH infomercial -- "Nine different colors...I use it all the time" -- made Entertainment Weekly's list of TV's 100 best moments.

His TV statements -- "But wait, there's more," "Price so low," and "Operators are standing by" -- have made Popeil and his products synonymous with TV marketing. Popeil insists his catchphrases are unscripted, but says he recognizes when he's uttered a zinger. Then he puts the phrase into heavy rotation.

Over the years, however, a few bumps in the road have cropped up. Popeil has had some notable misses, such as a home glass-froster and a compact trash-can that converted into a stool. In 1987, Ronco went bankrupt after it couldn't cover a bank loan. About two years later, Popeil bought his company back and made his big return to TV, re-introducing the hot-selling Food Dehydrator in 1990. His one regret: not inventing Velcro.

Popeil says his recipe for success is simple and extends to entrepreneurs of all kinds. "If you have that passion, it is conveyed through marketing," he says. "People see it. I get up before them and show them something new and wonderful."

But, he, adds: "I don't know if I could sell insurance. It's something that I didn't create. When I create something, I believe in it, and I am very passionate about it." Operators are standing by.

More on Ron's incredible salesmanship talent:

But Wait! There's More! : The Irresistible Appeal And Spiel Of Ronco And Popeil

Friday, May 19, 2006

Doctor Makes $25 Millions Selling ... Toothbrushes

Puneet Nanda Story

Puneet Nanda was like many parents: He couldn't get his five-year-old daughter to brush her teeth properly. But unlike most parents, Nanda is a toothbrush manufacturer with an irrepressible entrepreneurial drive. Knowing that his daughter was fascinated by her sneakers with flashing lights, he ripped the lights out of her shoes and put them on a toothbrush. That didn't work, so "I went to Disneyland that evening and bought everything that lit up," says Nanda, now 38. The second prototype was more successful. His daughter brushed for a good two minutes before asking: "Dad, will this ever stop, or should I brush my teeth off?"

Bingo. Nanda added a timer so the light would blink for exactly a minute, and the Fire Fly toothbrush was born. The brightly colored Fire Fly -- the newest version sports a see-through handle showing off a tiny toy and a bunch of floating glitter -- is making a name for Dr. Fresh, Nanda's Buena Park (Calif.) company and his medical school nickname. In 2004, Nanda got the original Fire Fly into Target, and by 2005 it was bringing in 20% of the 50-employee company's $25 million revenues.

Nanda, who holds 58 patents, is seizing on the success of the Fire Fly to create other dental products with flashing lights. "I'm building brand equity," says Nanda. "If I have to do something I have to do it the best." He already has a foothold with more conventional wares, such as private-label dental floss sold nationally in Walgreens and Target stores.

Nanda's path to dental success hasn't been easy. The New Delhi native left medical school to join the family toothbrush business in 1989, after his father had a heart attack. Two years later he began hawking toothbrushes to Russians who'd come to India looking for products to sell back home. Nanda moved to Russia in 1993, leaving his wife and son in India and selling toothbrushes out of a warehouse. He soon felt unsafe doing a cash business in Russia and returned to India for 18 months before heading to New York. Having little luck in New York, he tried Los Angeles, where he landed a $180,000 contract with a 99 cents store. "I'd never seen that big of a deal," says Nanda, who then moved his family to L.A.

Nanda knew he needed something clever to grow in an industry dominated by heavyweights such as Colgate-Palmolive and Procter & Gamble. The Fire Fly may do the trick. It initially flopped at Walgreens, so Nanda began selling it directly to dentists he met at conferences. "The flashing light encourages kids to brush a little longer," says San Francisco pediatric dentist Bergen James, who gives it to her patients. "It gets children to brush, and it gets them excited about it."

The positive feedback from dentists encouraged Nanda to recommit to direct sales. He hired 40 women in India to call dental offices in the U.S. and pitch the Fire Fly. And he kept knocking at Target's door, a company he'd been pitching since 2001. Once Target took it, Walgreens was willing to give the Fire Fly another try.

Nanda now spends more than half his time ginning up new ideas. Next up: mouthwash and toothpaste with kid-friendly add-ons. If all goes well, that may turn Dr. Fresh into a big company with a lot of flash.

More on doctors and business

The Business of Medical Practice: Advanced Profit Maximization Techniques for Savvy Doctors

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Millionaires Who Started Out With Nothing, Part II

Tara Krapes Story

Tara Krapes, 33, has a business that made at least $2.5 million in sales by the end of 2004. Not bad, considering she began her company in 2002 with $1,050 from her own savings.

Vesta Executive Housing, based in Cincinnati and named for the Roman goddess of hearth and home, offers executives temporary housing for 30 days or more. Krapes has relationships with 42 top-notch apartment complexes in the area. When a client comes to Vesta, Krapes either has space ready for them, or, more often than not, she has to lease a new apartment for 12 months and hope that after her tenant leaves, she can fill it quickly. She almost always does—she currently has zero vacancies.

It seems impossible that she could have funded this business—with 12 employees and a second office in Lexington, Kentucky—with a paltry grand. Until you learn how she did it.

It helped that Krapes had experience in her field already. All she needed was one customer to begin, she figured. Once she found one, she signed a lease at an upscale apartment complex and paid the first month's rent—$1,050. From then on, whenever she worked with any client, she always asked for the money upfront.

Krapes would invest the money back into her business by purchasing furniture and other necessities for the living quarters or her company. And the more apartments she would rent from a complex, the cheaper the rent and the more revenue her company could pocket.

But most important, by coming up with a formula that allowed her to always get her money first, she says, "We avoided cash flow problems. From that $1,050, we've been able to grow very fast. We've never had any debt or loans." Krapes quickly took on two partners, Paul Pelnar, 39, and Joel Makela, 30, friends and colleagues who both had experience that she didn't. They were also able to contribute some other items, like computer equipment, but no money.

"Eighty-five percent of people get their money from savings or the three F's: family, friends and fools," says Sutton Landry, director of Northern Kentucky University's Small Business Development Center in Highland Heights, Kentucky. "For the [others], some kind of bank loan is involved. Very few people get VC funding or angel funding."

If you're wondering what the "slam-dunk qualifications" are for getting a big bank loan, Landry reels some of them off: "Typically, it's someone who is between the ages of 35 and 50, college-educated, and who has a net worth of a quarter of a million dollars—plus a Beacon [credit] score of 700-plus—with a business plan. It almost doesn't matter how good the business plan is, as long as they have one. Ideally, they're going into a business where they have five to 10 years of experience—half of it in management. Most banks will look at that type of profile, do the credit scoring, and say 'Yeah, these people would rather die than not pay a loan back.'"

But what if you're 26, utterly broke, and wishing you had gotten an MBA instead of a degree in American folklore? Landry says if your credit is halfway decent, you might be able to find somebody to cosign a loan—and "you'll need a business plan, a good business plan," he says.

Beyond that, you're simply going to have to rely on that can-do spirit. "Starting your own business involves sacrifice," says Landry. "Unfortunately, we're not a society that's much interested in sacrifice. But on a practical side, that's how most startup businesses begin. They start part time, and they're constantly re-investing money into the business. It's the same model that a lot of immigrants have when they come to this country, where people work three jobs to build the savings they need. But instead of getting a second job, you're running your business in the evenings and on weekends."

Krapes echoes that thought. She had one serious cash crunch when she discovered how few people need housing during the end-of-the-year holidays: "We didn't pay ourselves for a few months."

More on this subject

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Making Money with Rental Properties

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Homebusiness Millionaires - Laura Dahl

Laura Dahl Story

2006 Projected Sales: $1 million

After earning a master's degree at New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology, Dahl worked for couture designers like Anne Bowen, who creates high-ticket beaded sensations with semiprecious stones. On a whim, Dahl bought some beads to adorn her "wife-beater"-a tank-top undershirt. After receiving scores of compliments and gauging the interest of friends who worked for Vogue and In Style, Dahl started Wifebeader with the shirt on her back in 2003.

Dahl created eight different designs with the help of a beader from Anne Bowen. "I'd be on my couch, in front of the TV with a needle and thread," recalls Dahl. After selling out several trunk shows during her research period, Dahl approached boutiques and took orders on every single visit. "They liked that it's all handmade," explains Dahl. "We use the finest stones and beads from all over the world."

When Bloomingdale's picked up her first collection, Dahl wanted to "pop a bottle of champagne and say, 'We've done it--we've captured New York and the country!'" But she's hesitant to say that she's made it. "It's my personality to always want more and not be satisfied."

Dahl has expanded to 12 silhouettes, new fabrics and a customized Build Your Own Beader option. Wifebeaders are carried in 130 boutiques across the U.S., London, Puerto Rico and Paris; Fred Segal bought her fall 2005 collection; and Dahl is the Sundance Film Festival's exclusive gift-bag designer, for which she's launching a higher-end line, Laura Dahl.

More advice on starting your own business:

202 Things You Can Buy and Sell For Big Profits!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Millionaires Who Started With Nothing, Part I

Sanjay Parekh and Rob Friedman story

Believe it or not, IP intelligence technology provider Digital Envoy Inc. was spawned from two serious sweet-tooths. Sanjay Parekh, 31, started buying candy from Costco and reselling it to his telecom co-workers when he struck up a friendship with Rob Friedman, 38, general counsel at the company and an Atomic Fireball enthusiast. Soon, their friendship moved beyond candy cravings, and they were bouncing around business ideas.

Parekh made an interesting discovery when visiting the FedEx and Ikea websites in 1999: both prompted him to enter what country he was in. "I thought that was kind of stupid," he recalls, and the extra step slowed down his home dial-up session. "So I architected a solution to that problem using IP addresses." Friedman agreed that the technology--which provides general information about an online user, such as the city, local demographics and type of internet connection being used, based only on the IP address--would help businesses. They launched Digital Envoy Inc. in 1999, bringing along senior finance manager and co-worker Dennis Maicon, 40.

Filing fees for corporate documents cost $100, and Friedman drew up all the legal drafts. An article on the Red Herring website about their business led to their very first client, (now owned by AOL). Since they worked from their homes, Friedman quips, "I negotiated that deal in my bedroom." They also hired an intern and Friedman's cousin to do programming work in the beginning.

After moving into an office in 2000, they hired three more employees. Friedman found $10 chairs, and opted for modular desk setups rather than expensive cubicles. In their newest office, they have cubicles, bought inexpensively from the office's previous tenant. When it comes to traveling to trade shows and to see customers, they've also found ways to save their Norcross, Georgia, company money, using slightly out-of-the-way but much cheaper flight options.

Digital Envoy now works with many major ad networks and sites, and estimates last year sales at less than $10 million. The company's latest product, IP Inspector Fraud Analyst, allows companies to fight identity fraud by verifying user identity in real time. They are also combating fraud with a product that analyzes whether an e-mail is really a phishing attack. Digital Envoy continues to grow, but in many ways remains the same. Says Parekh, "One of the philosophies we've always had is to do more with less people."

The Startup Company Bible For Entrepreneurs: The Complete Guide For Building Successful Companies And Raising Venture Capital

Startups That Work: Surprising Research on What Makes or Breaks a New Company

DefenseWall HIPS sandbox Host-based Intrusion Prevention System, anti-spyware, anti-virus, spyware and virus prevention proactive defense, DropMyRights and UAC (User Account Control) replacement

Homebusiness Millionaires: Jennifer Gonzales and John Gonzales

Jennifer Gonzales and John Gonzales Story

Company name: Procharms Inc.
Location: Sacramento, California
Estimated sales: $2.5 million
Description: Sports charm wholesaler

Courting period: When Jennifer Gonzales' husband, John, gave her an Italian charm bracelet for Valentine's Day in 2002, Jennifer--a huge Sacramento Kings fan--searched in vain for a Kings charm before deciding to create one herself. Jennifer visited the Team Store at Arco Arena (home of the Kings) to ask about licensing, and a helpful employee called Kings' co-owner Gavin Maloof and let Jennifer leave a message. She was stunned when Maloof returned her call and directed her to someone at Arco, eventually leading to a $7,000 order.

Sports nut: After talking to local jewelry-makers and suppliers and doing many hours of online research, Jennifer found a company that could manufacture the charms and was a licensee for Major League Baseball, the NBA, NFL, NHL and professional players associations. Jennifer recruited her first rep--a charm-store business owner--and collected a 20 percent deposit from interested charm retailers. The deposit, in addition to maxed-out credit cards, paid for ProCharms' first shipment.

Domestic charm: Jennifer and John set up a work space in their living room and placed shelves on the wall for the charms. "Everyone who knew us thought we were crazy," says Jennifer. But in addition to the advantage of keeping costs low, operating from home also allowed the mother of three to stay close to her children throughout the workday, with the eventual assistance of a nanny. After four months, they moved into a small office and began hiring employees. John handles ordering, inventory and product development, while Jennifer oversees everything as president.

Team spirit: ProCharms now sells to charm retailers, e-tailers and approximately 20 professional sports teams/venues. The company has also done very well expanding into the collegiate sports market, counting 65 college bookstores as customers. New products include a silver-toned, Tiffany-style heart bracelet; cell phone charms; and leather cuff bracelets, all with team logos.

Inc. Yourself: How to Profit by Setting up Your Own Corporation

Jewelry Making for Fun & Profit: Make Money Doing What You Love!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hats Off To This Business Woman

Fiona Markowitz Story

At a birthday party 14 years ago, Fiona Markowitz, 40, rolled up paper bags into hats and let her children paint them for fun. Encouraged by party attendees who were wowed by her creativity, she and her husband Steve, 45, took a chance at making it a business. Now Party Hats Entertainment offers pre-made hats and many decor options, such as feathers, buttons, beads, silk flowers and more.

Fiona credits some of their success to The Special Event, a yearly international conference and expo for event specialists that she began attending seven years ago. "That's where I learned who the [event] industry people were, what their greatest needs were and what we'd be able to accomplish with [our business]," she recalls.

The Markowitzes honed their business skills while learning about the preparation and psychology that go into planning events. "We try to understand who's going to be there and what the needs are," says Fiona. Initially, there was resistance from event planners who thought the idea wouldn't appeal to adults, but the Markowitzes began sponsoring hat-decorating events at the conventions they attended. Says Steve, "Once those event planners saw the energy and realized that it's for [all] cultures, all ages and both genders, it sold 10 times over."

Party Hats has been hired around the country for events of all sizes and purposes. Requested themes are tied into the service. Customers can also throw a Party Hats event on their own with the company's Party in a Box product. The business, with projected 2006 sales over $1 million, isn't just about hats, however. The Markowitzes have made flip-flops, gloves and handbags, all of which can be pre-decorated on request. The latest product: Pimp Your Tux, which gives men the chance to decorate some tuxedo pieces.

"People say, 'This is the best thing ever,'" says Fiona. "Our best source of work is the people who spread that message to others."

Start Your Own Event Planning Business: Your Step by Step Guide to Success

The Birthday Party Business: How to Make a Living As a Children's Entertainer

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Fishing Lures Go High-Tech

Chris Podlewski And Michael Armbruster Story

After working long hours doing contract engineering for space systems, Podlewski looked forward to relaxing with friends on the open water. But with the cost of live bait on top of another $60 to gas up the boat, his hobby was also a bit pricey. That's when Podlewski came up with the idea for an artificial lure, designed to attract fish as well as live bait.

His day job eventually brought him to New York. There, Podlewski tried to make a business out of his artificial lure but could never get past the prototype stage -- until he met Michael Armbruster, an engineer for a consumer-products company in Buffalo, N.Y. The pair started Bikini Lures and is just now bringing their innovative fishing aid, a reusable electronic product that mimics the sound of live bait, to market.

Q: How did you and Chris meet?

A: We met in July, 2003, through mutual friends. Chris was looking for a job. He's a contract electrical engineer, and I was working for a local consumer-products company, so he was looking for a job at that company. First, we started talking on the phone. We didn't know this at the time, but we were both adopted from the same orphanage in Korea.

When we started talking, we had no idea. I thought I was talking to a Podlewski, and he thought he was talking to an Armbruster. When we met, all of a sudden we were like, "Were you adopted?" That's where we just kind of hit it off.

Q: Did you both fish frequently?

A: Growing up in Long Island, I used to fish when I was younger. As I grew up, in college and high school, I had all these miscellaneous activities, so I didn't have time to devote to fishing, but Chris got really interested in fishing when he was doing contract engineering in Florida.

Q: Did you plan to go into business together?

A: We first started off as friends. We didn't really think about starting a business together. He [had] the concept down in Florida. He tried to do something with it with various other people, and he wasn't successful.

When he met me, that's exactly where my background was, in consumer products from conceptualization to the finished product on the shelves. He definitely has an edge with R&D, having worked [on space systems]. He has an electrical engineering background, combined with fishing. We met in July, we started talking about it in the fall of 2003, and then we went and started a corporation in December, 2003.

Q: What was the biggest challenge in making this?

A: Our recharge circuit is what makes it powerful. We've been approached by other lure manufacturers, and they all said the same thing: "We thought of this idea, it's not a noble idea." The thing that's noble is that we were able to do this idea.

There are electronic lures out there. There are electronic lures that have lights, one or two LEDs, and there are electronic lures that have a little speaker inside that buzzes. The reason why a recharge circuit is so critical is when you're putting a microcomputer inside a lure, it's not cheap. The other electronic lures out there are either disposable, meaning once the battery runs out, you have nothing but a plastic body left.

The other option is that there are a few lures out there that have batteries [you can replace] instead of two- to three-button cell batteries. But everyone who fishes knows that once you compromise the seal, electronics and water don't go well. Because our integrated recharge circuit is inside, enclosed, you don't have to compromise the seal or open up the lure -- everything is 100% sealed inside the body.

Q: How do you recharge it?

A: The product comes with recharge cables, and you have many options. Consumers connect the 9-volt battery to the clip, the other side has two cables -- a red and black cable that they connect to the lip and to the tail end of the lure. The tail has a hook on it, and the lip is where you put the line.

Q: So, after a day of fishing, consumers are able to go home and plug it in?

A: Absolutely. Our lure can be used for more than 12 continuous hours, but that's all we're claiming because we want to be conservative, especially if we start changing the programming and it starts reducing the battery time.

Fishing Lure Collectibles: An Encyclopedia of the Modern Era, 1940 To Present

Classic Fishing Lures

Friday, May 05, 2006

TV Show Fan Finds A Unique Niche To Profit From Other Fans

Georgett Blau Story

Linda O'Brien and her 16-year-old daughter, Tess, are devoted fans of Sex and the City. They watched it religiously during its initial TV run, and now relive all the Cosmo-fueled moments on DVD. So it should come as no surprise that on their first trip to New York, the Australian duo have forgone some of the usual hotspots for a different type of sightseeing experience: The Sex and the City Tour.

Creator Georgette Blau introduced the tour a month after the September 11 terrorist attacks, hoping to give a boost to businesses in the same neighborhoods where much of the show was shot. Since then, the three-hour tour, which runs twice a day, has been a sellout.

Visitors from all over the world, most of whom learn about the tour online, eagerly shell out $37 a ticket for a chance to photograph themselves on the stoop of the building where Carrie, the series' central character, lived and to buy the girls' favorite cup cakes from the Magnolia Bakery.

You would think that the business of showing homes, parks, restaurants, and other real-life locations from TV shows and movies would be a given. Glance at a newsstand today, and it's clear that the fascination with celebrity culture only continues to grow. But when Blau moved to New York in 1998, a 24-year-old Skidmore College graduate and newly minted editor at Prentice Hall, she was star-struck and keen to indulge her passion.

What she couldn't find, however, was a tour that could show her famous New York movie and TV landmarks. Often walking past the apartment building featured in The Jeffersons, she came up with an idea. "Imagine my surprise when I couldn't find a single tour," Blau says.

So, in 1999, with $3,000 from her savings, she started what initially was a weekend hobby -- the Scene on TV Tour, starring Blau as tour guide. Soon after, she renamed it the Manhattan TV & Movie Show, with tourists paying $15 to see sites from hit TV shows and movies.

Like many entrepreneurs, Blau identified a way to turn her passion into a business capitalizing on the passions of others who share her enthusiasm for the big and small screens. The pool of potential customers is deep. In 2005, New York welcomed 17.2 million tourists, each spending an average of $190 per day, according to NYC & Company, the city's official marketing and tourism organization.

Blau realized early on that she had stumbled upon a potentially great business idea. New York is one of the most-filmed cities in the world, where many of prime-time hits are based. Of course, it would almost seem like a no-brainer, considering that Hollywood has had tours of movie stars' homes for years, and Hawaii has its own movie tour featuring locations in Kauai from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, and other blockbusters. Even California's Monterrey has a own movie tour that includes a scene featured in Marilyn Monroe's Clash By Night.

Blau's company, On Location Tours, now runs four tours -- the Manhattan TV and Movie Tour, the Central Park Movie Tour, The Sex and the City Tour, and The Sopranos Tour.

But it was tough going initially for Blau, who barely made $400 during the weekends showing visitors places such as the building from The Nanny on the Upper East Side, the Lower East Side police precinct from NYPD Blue, the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, and the Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis High School on 46th Street from Fame. She continued her day job as an editor.

But as the popularity of the bus tour increased, Blau began stepping up her marketing and PR efforts -- handing out brochures at the Museum of Television & Radio and other tourist-stomping grounds, establishing a Web site, generating as much word-of-mouth buzz as possible.

Real success came to Blau when she quit her job as an editor and started a tour based on The Sopranos in March, 2001. The HBO mobster sensation was in its third season, and media interest was at its peak. When Blau started the tour, which features various spots filmed in New Jersey, it generated a major buzz, including a spot on the Today show. The tourists went crazy, and Blau was easily filling up the two buses' 100 seats, even though the tour ran on Sundays.

She later launched The Sex in the City Tour, which has also been a tremendous success. Now 31, with five full-time employees and 18 part-timers, Blau brings in more than $1 million in revenue each year. With a full-fledged operation on her hands, she eventually decided to hang up her tour-guide hat and hire others.

In March, 2005, she advertised on Craigslist to hire guides for The Sopranos and Sex in the City tours. The response was stunning -- 300 people showed up for the interviews, which lasted two weeks. "We're in New York, so we had to pick from beautiful struggling actresses to standup comedians," Blau says.

For the comedians or actresses, the tour is a great forum to practice their craft. Lisa Perlman, a tour guide on the Sex and the City bus, is a standup comic at The Gotham Comedy Club. And it shows. She keeps the tourists entertained and well-humored during the three-hour tour.

"The bus is just like the club -- you're never quite sure how the audience reacts to my jokes, and it's great practice," says Lisa, who peppers her banter with knowledgeable tidbits about New York architecture and questions like: "Are there any shoppers in this bus, or alcoholics, or virgins, anyone?"

The O'Briens can barely contain their squeals of delight as tour guide Perlman fields the question -- "which one among you is a Carrie, a Charlotte, a Samantha, a Miranda?" -- the show's four main characters. Daughter Tess admits that her friends from Down Under have often referred to her as a Charlotte, the well-bred, eternally optimistic brunette.

The tour's fanatical fans are nearly all women. Once, Blau recalls, actor Kyle MacLachlan, who played the role of Trey McDougal, was buying cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery -- one of the tour hot spots -- and was surprised to see a horde of women rushing toward him. "I thought they'd get his autograph," Blau says. But to her surprise, the women all went up to him wagging their fingers and shaking their heads at how poorly his character treated wife Charlotte in the show.

The success of The Sopranos Tour taught Blau the need to constantly update her tours to attract young tourists. So, while You've Got Mail, the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan romantic comedy filmed on the Upper West Side, was part of the tour until just two months ago, it has now been replaced with a stop at Rice to Riches, the rice-pudding store that makes an appearance in the Will Smith's Hitch. Of course, the classics like Breakfast at Tiffany's and the house from Wait Until Dark are always shown, as is the Empire Diner from Woody Allen's Manhattan.

Next up, Blau plans to start a tour in Washington, D.C., within the next few months that will show the sites from movies and TV shows filmed there. Fans of The West Wing and Commander in Chief needn't wait too long before their own "on-location" experiences.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Selling Pickles Online? Actually, It's A Great Business

Rick Field Story

On the surface, Rick Field, a Yale graduate and former TV producer for Bill Moyers, would not seem the most likely candidate to become a pickle peddler, much less spearhead a new pickling movement. But he has done just that. The entrepreneur behind Brooklyn (N.Y.)-based Rick's Picks is offering New-World twists on an Old-World condiment, inventing a whole new pickle palate in an industry whose heyday was a century ago -- and creating a market in the process.

It started as a hobby. Field learned the art of pickling when he was growing up in Vermont. About eight years ago, gripped by a sense of nostalgia, he took up pickling again. In his tiny kitchen, Field made family recipes and then quickly began experimenting.

Inspired by the trend in ethnic food fusion, he infused his brine with new flavors and essences such as coconut and dried cherries, dreaming up innovative varieties of pickled cucumbers, cauliflower, and string beans. "In food, people were interested in new flavors and creating new ideas," he says. "I put that into my pickles."

Field gave his offbeat hybrids to friends and family. Their wildly enthusiastic response to his Windy City Wasabeans (soybeans in wasabi brine) and Slices of Life (sliced pickles in aromatic garlic brine) told him he was onto something. So four years ago, Field entered the annual Rosendale International Pickle Festival in upstate New York and won six ribbons, including Best in Show.

After defending his title for two successive years, Field decided to go pro. "It galvanized me to take my hobby more seriously," he says. At the end of 2003 his job with Moyers ended, and Field says he decided "to go for it."

Initially, Field gained a local following selling his wares at the Union Square Green Market in Manhattan and on his Web site. Culinary nods from New York magazine and Food & Wine soon followed, and Field found himself in the brine full-time.

The challenge, he says, came in converting a personal passion into a viable business without losing the artisanal spirit in translation. "It was really an issue of scalability," he says. "From home canning to making 80 cases in multiples of 40 was not straightforward. I made this first massive batch of brine that was incredibly vinegary. I had to throw it out."

That was a relatively inexpensive mistake. Field says he blew $1,000 on labels that were not refrigerator-grade. Furthermore, he chose square jars that he says looked great, but the labeling machine couldn't roll properly. Field ended up hand-rolling 3,000 jars.

In one year, Field says, his sales have increased 200%. He sells 10 different varieties (nine more are in the works) online and in specialty stores in nine states including Whole Foods and Dean & Deluca. Now, he says, "My issues are not of pickling but of taking a small business and nurturing it into an intelligent business."

He's not the only one facing that challenge. Until recently, pickling was a dying art. The number of pickle merchants in New York City, once the cuke capital, had by the late 1990s dwindled to less than a handful. By 2000, only Guss's, established in 1910 on Essex Street, had survived.

Across the country there were a few outfits, such as Minneapolis' fifth-generation family-owned Gedney's, which celebrated its 125th anniversary this summer. But for the most part, the descendant of the Eastern European culinary tradition could be found only on supermarket shelves in mass-produced jars.

However, in the past five years, the pickle has made something of a comeback. Fueled in part by the artisanal movement, an interest in unprocessed foods, and the trend in ethnic flavors, a new crop of pickle merchants have revitalized the iconic cuke. Borrowing from Eastern European customs and marrying them to those of Indian, Chinese, Korean, and other pickling traditions, the new picklers offer both an urban sophistication and a folksy, homespun allure.

Sold at farmer's markets across the country and in gourmet specialty stores, these new pickle crossbreeds are finding their way onto the menus of trendy, upscale restaurants and pickle bars. They've also given rise to a number of shops devoted to the making and selling of homemade pickles.

"After 100 years, pickles were on their way out," says Lucy Norris, the author of Pickled: Preserving a World of Tastes & Traditions and the commercial kitchen manager at the Food Innovation Center at Oregon State University in Portland. "Now you see people in their 20s and 30s reclaiming their food heritage, making pickles accessible and combining Old-World flavors with ethnic ingredients and a making a completely new pickle."

Getting Rich Off A Simple Idea

Ron Lando Story

Lando's six-year-old, six-person company, with headquarters in Tiburon, Calif., had a breakout year in 2005, generating more than $5 million in U.S. sales and another $2 million overseas. CliC glasses have been spotted recently on CSI, Nip/Tuck, Will & Grace, Freedomland, and the Rolling Stones, who donned CliC reading glasses and sunglasses when last year's tour brought them to San Francisco.

Which means Lando, 52, who looks like Paul McCartney (he plays guitar in a '60s Brit-rock cover band, the Whining Bullies), is living a distinctly American dream: The one where you wake up one morning with an idea so simple, so right-, uh, over-your-nose obvious, you can't believe nobody ever thought of it before. You arm yourself every which way with patents. You take your invention to market. Voila, you're rich.

Of course, a lot can go wrong between ah-hah! and ka-ching!

Someday Lando may go head-to-head with a well-heeled copycat. He has, after all, no secret ingredient. Lando - a 20-year industry veteran who previously worked for his father's eyewear-design company - came up with the idea after just a week of focused fiddling. The only part missing was the fastener. "I was originally thinking about a hook or a snap," he says. He even considered Velcro. Regular magnets wouldn't work because they'd have to be as big as silver dollars. Then someone showed him a powerful neodymium magnet, which had just come on the market, and the whole thing snapped into place.

To protect himself, Lando went to Steve Schneider, director of the Sawyer Center in Santa Rosa, a SBA-sponsored resource center for California inventors. Schneider did a patent search (the coast was clear), introduced Lando to a patent agent and patent lawyers, and showed him how to file for trademark protection, all at no cost. (Ultimately, Lando says, he spent about $250,000 on fees, lawyers, and other startup costs.)

In March 2000, Lando took a suitcase full of prototype goggles to the Ski Industry Association trade show in Las Vegas and came back with a sheaf of orders, including one for $100,000 from a national sporting goods chain. Suddenly Lando was in business, even though he had yet to secure a manufacturer.

"I immediately flew overseas," says Lando, "brought them my prototype, and said, 'Make this for me.' "

Originally Lando focused on ski goggles. Then Harley-Davidson proposed a licensing deal, and he moved into motorcycle goggles. In 2003 Lando had the bright idea of expanding into reading glasses; now they account for two-thirds of his business. The latest: sunglasses - a nearly $2 billion market.

"Everybody tells me that will be bigger than readers," Lando gushes. (He's staying away for now from prescription frames, which he views as a boutique business.)

Whether Lando can hang on long enough to reap the full benefit remains to be seen. What's clear is that he's willing to risk everything to maintain absolute control. Lando manufactures up to 360,000 units a month at a factory in Taiwan and prepacks for quick shipment by the dozen from a warehouse in San Francisco. He's cautious ("Whenever you act quickly, for some reason you make mistakes"), and he's not greedy ("I'm very comfortable right now with my size"). His salespeople are all independent reps he's known for years. He has no PR machine, no marketing staff, and no ad budget in the U.S.

"I've got basically one product," he says. "You want it or you don't. And we're the only people who have the product."

For now, anyway. But despite the risks, Lando doesn't listen to those who encourage him to sell his business before it gets snatched away.

"It's like my own baby," he says. "Nobody tells you how to raise your kid. This is my patent, and I'm going to do what I want to do. Somebody wants to give me 50 million bucks, I'll pull the pin. But I ain't pulling the pin for five million or ten million bucks." Lando fiddles with his glasses. He straightens his shoulders and puffs out his chest. "I'm doing everything right," he says. "Shame on me if I screw this up."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Billionaire Junk Man?

Brian Scudamore Story

IT was a misty Thursday in the suburbs of this sprawling city, and inside a recently vacated house, Austin Atkins and Stefan Meissner were up to their elbows in junk.

The detritus was the usual: ratty couches, empty paint cans, old mattresses. In a closet sat a dusty upright piano. Out back, in the weeds, lay a rusted hydraulic car jack.

Mr. Atkins, however, was undaunted. "Time to clean up," he said. Over the next 90 minutes, the cleanly uniformed duo grunted and grimaced as they carted every ounce of junk out to their flatbed truck. When they were finished, they toweled off, shook hands with the real estate broker who hired them, accepted payment and headed for the dump.

The routine was typical for this tag-team of Mr. Cleans, junk haulers from the local franchise of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, a company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, that has jazzed up the traditionally impersonal act of carting away trash.

Since it was founded 17 years ago, the company has grown from a sole proprietorship in Vancouver to an international corporation that expects revenues of $120 million this year.

The secrets to this success are uniformed haulers, shiny Isuzu trucks and service with a smile. While most carting companies send scruffy men to retrieve refuse from the curb, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? sends haulers right into customers' homes, removing not only the trash but also clean up when they're done.

For Cameron Herold, the company's chief operating officer, the approach is nothing short of revolutionary. "We've done for garbage what Starbucks did for coffee," he said, noting that most of the company's franchises charge a flat $500 per truckload, which includes gas, labor and dump fees. (There are smaller fees for one-quarter and one-half of a truckload.) "We think of ourselves as the FedEx of junk."

But there's more to this story than a bold brand. As many small businesses are turning to angel investors or venture capitalists for help, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? has done it alone, bootstrapping the business exclusively on cash flow, and sharing 25 percent of profits with employees through a bonus program.

The company has also built itself around technology, centralizing call-center operations and dispatching new orders through a proprietary Web-based processing system that will soon use Global Positioning System data for better service.

"When a customer calls, we want to be able to get to their junk and remove it as quickly as possible," said Brian Scudamore, the company's founder and chief executive. "Once you've decided to get rid of this stuff, you really don't want it lying around."

Like many small businesses, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was born on a whim and youthful enthusiasm.

Back in 1989, Mr. Scudamore was waiting for food in a McDonald's drive-through when he spotted a pickup truck with the words "Mark's Hauling" on the side.

"I looked at the truck and said, 'Now there's an idea,' " he remembered, noting that he was a freshman at the University of British Columbia at the time. "I needed a way to pay for college, and I thought hauling junk was a good choice."

Mr. Scudamore acted immediately, shelling out $700 for a 1976 Ford F-100 pickup, and distributing fliers to spread word that he was the new hauler in town.

Slowly, gigs trickled in. The first year, he earned $1,700; the next year, he broke into five digits. By 1993, the business was taking so much of his time that Mr. Scudamore dropped out of school altogether.

Later that year, he bought two new trucks, and pulled in $100,000. By 1995, the company earned $525,000. Business was booming, yet Mr. Scudamore began to grow wary of complacency.

He dealt with those anxieties by reinventing his company under a franchise strategy, beginning with a pilot in nearby Victoria. When that office teamed with headquarters to top $1 million in revenue in 1997, Mr. Scudamore realized he was on to something. In 1999, he sold another franchise, to an entrepreneur in Toronto.

"By relying on franchise owners to come in and share some of the risk, I realized I could expand the firm without having to turn to outside investors or other funding sources," Mr. Scudamore said. "To me, this was a solid plan for growth."

In 2000, the same year that Mr. Scudamore hired Mr. Herold, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? dipped into the United States. The first franchise sprouted in Portland, Ore.; shortly thereafter, some friends from Canada opened a franchise in San Francisco.

Since then, the company has grown like a pack rat's National Geographic collection, blossoming into 40 franchises by 2002 and 214 by 2005. Last month, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? opened its 242nd franchise, in Spokane, Wash. It recently opened a franchise in Sydney, Australia, and will open one in Birmingham, England, this summer.

Many of these franchise owners are thriving. Alan Remer, owner of the company's outpost in Philadelphia, paid $28,000 for his franchise in 2002. Last year, the enterprise earned $900,000, and he predicts it will earn $1.5 million this year.

"I honestly believe I have bought into McDonald's in the 1960's," said Mr. Remer, who retired as a Wall Street stockbroker after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "People want their basements back, and we're the cheapest way to create space in a home."

The haulers, too, are sharing in the success. Each truck tandem receives credit for the money it brings in, and profit sharing is tied to a bonus program for the peak performers. Mr. Herold said that the company gave its top workers bonuses of 17.4 percent last year.

Smaller rewards are offered as well, like items that seem too good to wind up in a dump or a recycling center. At the house that Mr. Atkins and Mr. Meissner were cleaning out in San Jose, the spoils included a BMX bike.

Mr. Scudamore expects 1-800-GOT-JUNK? to become a $1 billion company by 2012. To help achieve that, the company will invest millions in JunkNet, its centralized Web-based system that is used to dispatch orders from Vancouver to franchise owners. Currently, franchise owners must call to keep up with truck locations. But by September, Mr. Scudamore says, the company will begin using G.P.S. in many trucks, enabling dispatchers to send new orders right to the trucks based on where they are.

"The new technology won't only make us more responsive to our customers, but it also will make scheduling easier for our franchise partners," he said. "When's the last time you heard a junk company say something like that?"

How To Make Your Staff SELL MORE

What No One Ever Tells You About Franchising: Real-Life Franchising Advice from 101 Successful Franchisors and Franchisees

Monday, May 01, 2006

Thinking Small Can Make You Rich

Mike Cayelli Story

Think small. That was the basic starting point for Mike Cayelli when he decided to open an online retail business two years ago. With a tiny house, little capital to invest, and only "spare time" to devote to the project, Cayelli knew his big dream had to stay manageable. The Washington (D.C.) entrepreneur still hasn't quit his day job, but he's projecting $500,000 in sales this year for his company, Cuff Daddy.

You have a full-time job. Why start your own company?

About two years ago, I was working for [a hardware chain] as a manager in the regional professional contractor division. I still work there, in fact. But there was some reorganization going on, and I became concerned about my future. So I wanted to hedge my bets by starting my own company.

How did you settle on becoming an online retailer?

I wanted to emulate my cousin, who's been enormously successful selling mobile phone accessories online. He imports products from Asia and realizes a substantial profit margin. I also wanted to do something purely on the Internet so I could keep working at my "real job" and develop the company in my spare time.

Your major concern was finding a niche product that was physically small. Why?

Well, we had a small house that I planned to use as headquarters. So I needed inventory that I could store in a footlocker, have my wife ship out of a home office, and haul around in a car instead of a truck or trailer. As for shipping, about 90% of our orders can be mailed first-class with two stamps in a .13-cent padded envelope.

How did you settle on cuff links?

It was not easy. I spent several months looking at things like buttons, watchbands, shoe laces, and collar stays. Every time I thought of a small, niche product I'd write it down on a scrap of paper and shove it into my pocket to research later.

I wanted a product that could produce high sales volume and a high profit margin. I didn't want something that sold one unit per week. So when I got an interesting idea, I would search for it on eBay and run it through a research tool called Andale. For $7.95 a month, you subscribe to this Web site and you can get diagnostic information about any product's online sales volume and average selling price.

One morning about 6 a.m., I stumbled onto some cuff links for sale on eBay and noticed there was tremendous action on that listing. I ran upstairs and woke up my wife and told her I'd found the right product.

Once you zeroed in on a product, you had to find suppliers. What was that process like?

Again, I went to the Internet. I found two great places that help you source products overseas. One is Global Sources, and the other is called Alibaba.

I looked through thousands of vendors that are listed on these sites, found products I was interested in, e-mailed the manufacturers, and got them to send me samples. I never even had to pick up the phone.

When I put the first samples up for sale at eBay and they sold extremely quickly, I knew I was onto something. We wound up with six regular vendors based in China, Hong Kong, and India that provide us with a product line that we buy for between $1 and $6 a pair and sell for $15 to $55 a pair.

How much money did it take to start the company?

We started very small with a $500 investment, though it felt like a lot because I was worried about losing my job, and my wife was home taking care of our two little boys. We used that money to buy 100 pairs of cuff links. The minute I felt comfortable that they'd all sell, and we could reinvest the money we made, we doubled that order. Sales were quick right from the start, so we started adding more products pretty fast.

What about the cost of establishing a Web site or online store?

We didn't do that right away. For the first nine month, we sold strictly through a store we set up on eBay. We wanted to have minimal startup costs, and we only had five products. With that small a product line, if you open a Web site you're going to look like a joke.

By the time we were selling about 50 items, we figured we were ready to establish our own Web site. We outsourced the development to a friend who charged us $500. We host it on Yahoo!Stores because they have virtually no down time, it's easy to use, and they offer good metrics, so I can analyze things like who is buying our products and who are our repeat customers. I can also see how well things like coupon promotions work.

What's been the toughest part for you?

The marketing is really hard, and I still haven't gotten good at it. I could have a cure for cancer, and nobody would know about it because it's very, very difficult to get the word out. We've paid people to do search engine optimization for us, but it hasn't really helped.

We got completely burned once by a salesman who took us for $1,000 for a marketing product that was useless. We are doing some pay-per-click campaigns with Google and Yahoo! now that seem to be working a bit better, and we're also going to start an e-mail marketing campaign, so we'll see how that goes. But overall, I was surprised by how much the barriers for starting a company have come down. I was lucky that my cousin shared his recipe for success with me, and now I'm trying to do the same thing. I'm mentoring a guy I work with who's also starting a company thinking small: He's selling fishing lures.