Monday, July 31, 2006

Wedding Insurance Millionaires.

Karen and Roger Sandau Story

When planning their wedding in late 1999, Karen and Roger Sandau were struck by how risky it was to give large, nonrefundable cash deposits to vendors without any protection if something were to go away on the wedding day. From a vendor going out of business to an important family member being stricken ill and unable to attend, the Sandaus thought of all the things that could possibly go wrong on their wedding day and wished they could find some way to protect their investment.

Finding wedding insurance available overseas but not in the United States gave the couple a great idea—they figured there were many people like themselves who would feel much more calm before the big day if they knew they were covered for unforeseen circumstances. Karen, had a background in catering and event planning, and had heard of event cancellation insurance; and Roger, had a background as an entertainment attorney, so he knew the ins and outs of events in general.

The newlyweds combined their expertise and started detailing the types of things the insurance would cover, such as severe weather emergencies on the wedding day, a damaged or stolen wedding gown, and lost or damaged wedding rings, to name just a few. They also decided to offer liability insurance for any damages incurred at the wedding site (something many venues require).

They went about finding an underwriter for the policy as well as developing software that would enable them to organize and sell their insurance cheaply. Their product has resonated with couples and especially wedding planners.

In fact, marketing to wedding professionals has helped the Sandaus grow their business to between $2.25 million and $2.5 million in sales. "Everyone has heard of a wedding story gone awry," Roger says. But now, with WedSafe at the helm, mishaps don't have to spell catastrophe.

How to Have an Elegant Wedding for $5000 (or Less) : Achieving Beautiful Simplicity Without Mortgaging Your Future

Friday, July 28, 2006

Making Dough Selling To Fratboys.

Joseph Tantillo Story

Reading a business magazine in the doctor's office inspired Joseph Tantillo to try his hand at online retailing. At the time, he and his wife were expecting their first child and wanted to work from home. An article about starting an online store jumped out at him, he recalls—and, as a member of a fraternity in college, he decided to sell personalized Greek apparel to that market.

After setting up shop for just $79.95—the cost of a merchant account with Yahoo!— he began researching what kind of products his former fraternity brothers might like. Tantillo then located suppliers who would work with him on a drop-ship basis and began selling. He opened his online doors in May of 1999 and had his first three sales by June.

He and his wife moved into a farmhouse owned by their family so they didn't have to worry about a mortgage. That gave Tantillo the freedom to go full time and research the market. "I spent a lot of time online—hours, all through the night—e-mailing people about linking to our website, e-mailing people about our products, asking friends for criticism and suggestions," says Tantillo, 36.

His persistence helped him become the preferred vendor for a few national Greek organizations. Tantillo then secured partnerships that would allow him to advertise on their websites in exchange for a sales commission to the organizations for every click-through purchase.

Using the strong Greek network worked, as he's built's yearly sales to $1.9 million. In addition, the company recently moved into its own 5,000-square-foot facility, complete with its own screening, embroidery and printing equipment. With success like this, Tantillo's frat brothers should be proud.

If, on the other hand, you hate fraternities and sororities, you'll love reading this:

Wrongs of Passage: Fraternities, Sororities, Hazing, and Binge Drinking

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

DNA, Your Ancestry And A Great Business Idea.

Dr. Rick Kittles Story

As an African-American, Dr. Rick Kittles wanted to know who his ancestors were and their countries of origin. So the geneticist decided to create a database of African lineages.

After working on this database for several years, Kittles, 38, who holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology, joined forces with businesswoman Gina Paige, 38, to start a company that allows African-Americans to confidentially obtain information about their genealogy.

By using DNA technology, the company aids individuals in determining maternal or paternal ancestry. Customers go online ( to order a $349 kit, use swabs to collect their cheek cells and then send their samples to the company via Express Mail. After the DNA is extracted from the swabs and sequenced, Kittles matches the sequence to his database of more than 25,000 African lineages and 389 ethnic groups.

Upon receiving their results, many clients feel they've received a priceless gift. "For many of [our clients], there's a sense of connectedness," says Paige, who adds they have a 95 percent success rate. "There's a sense of completion because this answers a question people thought they'd never be able to answer in their lifetimes."

African Ancestry has more than 3,000 clients, including celebrities such as actor LeVar Burton, director Spike Lee and Congresswoman Diane Watson. The company earned $300,000 and they expect to increase sales by 50 percent this year.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Six Figure Business Setting Up Pajama Parties.

Melody Biringer Story

Women want to network with other women while wearing pajamas, getting spa services and shopping—at least this is what Melody Biringer, 41, found out when she founded Crave Party.

Inspired by a pajama party at a friend's home, Biringer got the idea to create fun business networking events for women on a larger scale—at fancy hotels and ballrooms with champagne and strawberries. She secured local spa professionals (massage therapists, nail techs and so on) and merchants to provide the pampering services and shopping, and charged women a $35 fee to register. Her first three nights of Crave Parties sold out in two weeks.

Thanks to word-of-mouth marketing, her parties have grown in popularity. "[It's] networking in your pajamas in a swanky environment—that makes it even more fun to walk into this place," Biringer says. With parties under her belt in New Orleans; Phoenix; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Biringer would like to bring the concept to every major city—and even create annual parties themed around events such as holiday shopping or the Oscars—to push annual sales into the mid- to upper-six-figure range.

More information for women who want to start a business:

101 Best Home-Based Businesses for Women, 3rd Edition: Everything You Need to Know About Getting Started on the Road to Success

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Trashbag Millionaire

Terry Feinberg Story

Terry Feinberg was seeing red. "I can't count how many times I went outside and found my garbage ripped apart in the street," Feinberg says. He was tired of having pests and animals snooping around his garbage bags, so he decided to come up with a new type of bag that would discour-age them by both scent and color.

He says his Repellem Garbage Bags are "light red, almost pink"-a color that doesn't appeal to animals and pests' visual spectrums. "Typically, manufacturers make white and black kitchen garbage bags," says Feinberg, 44. "But animals and pests are attracted to white and black."

Feinberg, the owner of a health-care and beauty product distribution company, began researching his product three years ago. He asked a chemist friend to help him create a scent offensive to animals and insects but pleasant to humans. By taking out a home equity loan, he was able to get the $50,000 he needed for startup costs. The all-natural scent, which Feinberg describes as "peppermint-citrusy," is patent-pending and features a combination of botanical oils and other natural ingredients.

Feinberg is currently testing his Repellem Garbage Bags, which sell for about $13 to $15 per box, in more than 100 Petco stores and is negotiating to have his product appear on QVC. He predicts 2006 sales will be between $1 million and $2 million.

Trash to Cash

Friday, July 21, 2006

Bachelor Party Business That's Anything But Cliche

Darren Hitz Story

Darren Hitz knew there had to be something better for bachelor parties than a weekend filled with booze and exotic dancers. Looking beyond this cliche, Hitz, 29, decided to plan a bachelor party around a weekend of adventurous white-water river rafting in West Virginia.

The trip was a blast, and Hitz knew there had to be others looking for the same kind of thrill--and their future wives' approval. After searching for companies that catered specifically to guys' pre-wedding bashes and finding nothing, he took it upon himself to fill the void.

In 2004, Hitz launched Adventure Bachelor Party with about $8,000 of his own money. Hitz's niche market is one he's intimately familiar with--because it's his own. "Guys are lazy," he says. Hitz gives guys nation-wide the chance to do something they may not think to do on their own and also gives his other client base--local adventure outfitters--a chance to be seen on a national level.

Although the cost doesn't include airfare, just about everything else is taken care of once the group lands at its destination: three- or four-star accommodations, lavish dinners, the adventure itself and transportation throughout the trip.

With over 20 adventures, including cattle herding in Texas and fishing off the San Francisco coast, Hitz is looking to expand his trips while keeping them intimate. He has also created three separate businesses under the parent company he formed, Hitz Adventures, for bachelorette parties, corporate team-building trips and weekend adventures.

Not only is Hitz's business taking off--he expects sales of over $300,000 in 2006--but he's having fun, too. Says Hitz, "I enjoy being able to provide a service where everyone has a great time and is happy."

Related reading:

The Playboy Guide to Bachelor Parties: Everything You Need to Know About Planning the Groom's Rite of Passage-From Simple to Sinful

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Celebrity Cookies? It Made A Million Dollars For This Person.

Chuck DiRocco Story

When former investment analyst Chuck DiRocco noticed that cookies were missing from the wide variety of snacks sold in video stores and at theater concessions, he started searching for a way to link cookies to Hollywood. Then the idea hit him: Create cookies in the form of popular movie stars, such as Renйe Zellweger and Jack Nicholson. One cup of flour, two cups of sugar and three eggs later, the first cast of LikeUms was formed.

DiRocco, 33, spent months surveying moviegoers, analyzing feedback and researching the industry to find out which stars were most popular. Although theater and video chains were initially reluctant to carry his product, he continued to send samples and mass mailings to them in hopes of making his new cookies more recognizable. Before long, in July 2004, DiRocco landed a deal with Regal Entertainment Group, the world's largest motion picture exhibitor, to release LikeUms in select theaters.

As DiRocco continued to market aggressively nationwide, he managed to get LikeUms on the shelves of convenience stores and in amusement parks and gift baskets, pushing sales to more than $400,000 in the first year. Realizing the cookie characters had potential in other venues besides theaters, DiRocco began marketing them to international exporters, school fund-raisers, charity events and corporate offices. Some NBA teams have even sought to create a version of LikeUms to help market their athletes and sporting events.

With sales of more than $1 million in 2005, you can bet DiRocco is enjoying the sweet taste of success. Coming attractions: He plans to expand the line to include more celebrities, including pop singers, radio personalities and entertainers.

From Kitchen to Market: Selling Your Gourmet Food Specialty

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

How To Make $100000 A Year Uploading CDs To iPods.

Catherine Keane Story

Apple Computer's iPods are everywhere these days, and they're hungry. Just ask Catherine Keane, 24, who started her business, HungryPod, shortly after an acquaintance offered her $500 to load his CD collection onto his iPod. Keane took the offer and determined that with two more customers paying similar prices, she could launch a business for $1,500--enough to buy a computer that could handle large volumes of data transfer.

Loosely based on what its first client paid, HungryPod charges $1.75 per CD for the first 50 CDs, and $1.50 for each additional CD. Keane will pick up both the CDs and iPods at her clients' homes or offices in Manhattan for an extra $15--unless they have more than 100 discs, in which case pickup is free.

Keane, who interned at a top 40 radio station in Florida prior to starting HungryPod, also recommends music to clients based on their collections for a fee. According to Keane, 1 in 4 customers requests this service.

Thanks in part to a small story in The New York Times, Keane's advertising efforts on Craigslist and word-of-mouth, HungryPod has expanded to three employees and four computers, and has annual sales that exceed $100,000. Now others want to get involved, so Keane has hired a marketing/sales employee and hopes to start HungryPod centers nationwide in the near future.

How to Do Everything with Your iPod & iTunes, Third Edition

Monday, July 17, 2006

Getting Rich From Dog Manikins

Craig Jones Story

To many people in his inner circle, creating life-size models of pets seemed like a silly business for Craig Jones to start. But to him, it made perfect sense.
Jones, 41, sensed a business opportunity after completing a pet first-aid class with the American Red Cross. He discovered that the unrealistic dog manikin they used for training was offered by only one company in the U.S.

Jones, a former emergency response instructor, knew that his background in emergency medicine for humans, coupled with his contacts in the special-effects industry, were the resources he needed to create lifelike animal manikins. Together with his wife and co-founder, Jacqui Pruneda, 39, Jones began designing a true-to-life dog manikin that would fit the training needs of veterinary professionals. "We didn't want it to look like a stuffed animal you would buy at a toy store," he says. "We wanted it to look realistic."

In 1998, Jerry, Rescue Critters' first dog manikin, was born in the couple's garage. The American Red Cross became their first customer, and response to Jerry was so positive that word soon spread throughout the veterinary field. Other manikins quickly followed: Fluffy the cat; Lucky, a life-size rescue training horse; and Critical Care Jerry and Fluffy, more advanced versions of the originals that train students in life-saving techniques such as IV insertion, suturing wounds, intubation, and listening for heart and breath sounds. Primate manikins, birds with real feathers for trimming, and manikins that let users draw blood are in the works.

Rescue Critters has since moved from its garage location to a storefront and now sells its manikins to customers worldwide, including veterinary technician programs, fire departments, U.S. Army canine hospital units and police department K-9 units. Each animal model is made to order, and customers can add features to base-priced models according to their needs. With 20 to 25 requests per year for manikins and projected sales of $1.3 million, it seems like Jones' idea wasn't so silly after all.

Out Of The Cubicle And Into Business: 114 Questions To Answer Before You Make The Move From A Corporation Or University Job Into Your Own Business!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Most Incredible Record Company You Never Heard About

Andrew Rallo Story

Andrew Rallo was standing on a New York City subway platform in his nicest suit, waiting for the B train to take him uptown for an interview at a marketing outfit when he heard music in the distance. The guitarist across the platform wasn't much to look at, but his talent was obvious. "People just started coagulating around this guy," Rallo recalls. "They were talking to each other and smiling and giving him money. They were doing things that New Yorkers don't normally do." And so the idea for Subway Records was born.

For the next two years, Rallo worked as a technical sales engineer for an online advertising company while saving money and scouring the subway for musical talent. He finally launched his fledgling record label and Web site in the fall of 2002. His vision is to create a comprehensive search engine -- a "Google for subway musicians" -- to get their music heard and market its energy to the public.

How does a 26-year-old launch a record company with no experience, no marketing, and no capital behind him? Well, for starters, Rallo has always believed in his mission to bring that unique subterranean energy above ground -- he's committed to helping those who have a surplus of talent but no voice. And he knew he had to take advantage of the most accessible and inexpensive media outlet out there -- the Internet -- while tapping a product that markets itself constantly to the 3 million to 6 million people who ride the New York City subway every day.

Many artists on Rallo's label, like Lorenzo LaRoc, an electric violinist who has played the subway for years, already have their own promotional Web sites. They just need someone to work on their behalf. With Subway Records' backing, LaRoc was able to trade the screech of passing trains for the screams of Madison Square Garden fans. "Playing the halftime show for the Knicks game was a dream come true," he says. "And I got paid $500 for two minutes of work."

To book the performance, Andrew Rallo relied on the age-old practice of cold calling. "To me, it just made sense," he says, "Subway music and Madison Square Garden are the perfect match. I just didn't stop calling until I made it happen."

Believed to be the only search engine for subway musicians, Subway Records delivers its service in tiers. First, it gives musicians Web-based exposure by listing and marketing their music online. Most times, artists have already produced their own albums, and Subway Records sells them on their behalf. However, unlike traditional record labels, the Subway Records musician pays nothing for this service. For its cut, the company charges the consumer an extra couple of dollars on top of the musician's asking price.

Rallo also acts as agent, booking his artists' paying performances at gallery openings and other events for a negotiated fee, generating additional revenue. He's constantly networking to find opportunities for his musicians to perform, and many times event hosts find him via his all-important Web site.

The second tier comes after judging an artist's marketability. If Rallo notices that a musician is working hard to sell CDs online or they're driving a lot of traffic to the site, then he will spend more time and energy on the artist. He'll even fund production of an album for musicians he feels have the potential to sell enough CDs online to be profitable, and the artists take it from there. After all, they're constantly performing -- simultaneously promoting themselves and Subway Records.

Down the line, a select few will be raised to the highest tier -- into the hands of upper-level record executives, who may mold them into bigger sellers. Through his networking skills, Rallo has already seen larger outfits express interest in forming marketing and production partnerships with Subway Records.

Don Gorder, head of the music business/management department at Boston's Berklee School of Music, says Subway Records' model -- using technology to promote a particular niche -- represents "the wave of the future" in the industry. But he warns that the approach remains very much the exception rather than the rule. "We have yet to see a really hot, successful label marketed entirely over the Internet," he says. "But I think it can be done."

Rallo says Subway Records is in the black, and he confesses that much of its growth has come from simply filling a void. "No one else wants to do what we do," he says. "No one has been willing to work with these musicians because of the deep-rooted stigma they carry with them of being bums or beggars."

But Steve Ciabattoni, editor of CMJ, one of the most prominent magazines supporting independent music, says Subway Records shares qualities with some of the most successful indie labels: "They appeal to a loyal fan base because the artists all come from one community and are chosen because the people supporting them really love their music." Ciabattoni, who admits to missing trains after becoming so engrossed by musicians on the platform, adds, "I believe Subway Records will succeed if they keep that spirit." He had been keeping tabs on one of his favorite subway acts, a tribal percussion band called Mecca Bodega, when he learned of its integration into Rallo's growing network.

By the end of 2004, Subway will represent over 200 musicians. And the site's traffic keeps increasing: With no outside marketing, it garners 2,000 to 20,000 hits per week depending on the level of recent media coverage, and fans have purchased almost 200,000 CDs online to date. Rallo is also looking beyond the Big Apple, with plans to sign musicians from Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, and Tokyo over the next few years.

Still, the process remains rooted in simplicity. All subway musicians are subject to the same test: If people interrupt their commute long enough not only to listen but to fork over their hard-earned money, then Rallo knows he has found a winner.

If you think about starting your own independent record label, read Music Business Made Simple: Start An Independent Record Label

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Sport Fans Score $1 Million From A Bright Idea

Dominic And Brennan Latkovski Story

This wacky mascot troupe makes crowds at games laugh, while behind the scenes is a serious effort to run a professional, respected business.

It's not safe coaching third base -- or any base, for that matter -- when the ZOOperstars are in town. Just ask the countless coaches who have been swallowed whole by 10-foot-tall Clammy Sosa, one of the most popular of the ZOOperstars.

In the mascot troupe's signature bit, the impressively tall inflatable clam clad in a Sammy Sosa jersey greedily "devours" opposing coaches, bat boys, or whoever else happens to be around, then spits out his meal's shirt, shoes, and cap, all while Weird Al Yankovic's Eat It plays in the background.

"Yeah, the Eat It skit is a real favorite," says Dominic Latkovski, who founded ZOOperstars with his brother, Brennan, in 1998. "The crowd loves it."

It's just one reason why the Louisville-based ZOOperstars have turned into one of the hottest sideline acts in the sports world. The company's goal is to perform in 300 shows at various events this year -- from the hardwood of the National Basketball Assn. to the fields of Minor League Baseball, the company's biggest sport. Latkovski says revenue from ZOOperstars may hit $1 million this year.

While event attendance in general has sagged as of late, Minor League Baseball continues to surge in popularity, in large part because teams have set out to create a "fan experience" that includes extra entertainment like ZOOperstars. In 2004, minor league teams drew a record 39.8 million fans, up more than 800,000 over the previous year, according to league statistics.

The ZOOperstars have tried to set themselves apart from the competition (and yes, there is competition, such as the Raymond Entertainment Group, out of Newark, Del., best known for Reggy the Purple Party Dude) by taking a serious approach to business -- despite making a living wearing giant, inflatable costumes. Their attitude is greatly appreciated by harried team executives, who would rather not spend time worrying if the guy in the clam costume will show up late.

"They're real professionals," says Jeff Ney, assistant general manager with the Kane County Cougars, a Class A minor league team in Geneva, Ill., which has hired ZOOperstars seven times during the 2005 season. "They return my calls quickly. They send me the right paperwork and documentation. They send us posters far enough ahead of time so we can promote their appearances. Those little things make all the difference."

"Even though this is nothing more than dressing up in funny costumes, we run this like a business," says Dominic Latkovski (he's the family member who speaks about the startup in this story). "We do everything that is necessary to run a successful business, from marketing to customer service. People look at what we do and think it's easy. But they have no idea how difficult it is to run a business like this."

Among the challenges he cites: coordinating travel across the country, juggling scheduling dates, and constantly dreaming up new characters to keep the shows fresh. Staffers also regularly attend sports trade shows.

But the Latkovskis have always had a fondness for mascots. Dominic, for instance, started performing in 1990 as Billy Bird, the mascot for the Triple-A Louisville Redbirds. He soon started his own character, BirdZerk (one he still appears as, though the manic bird is a separate entity from the ZOOperstars cast).

Like many entrepreneurs, the Latkovskis can trace their big idea to small beginnings. Dominic, Brennan, and their father were snacking at an area restaurant when the trio began tossing around ideas for mascots based on existing players, with emphasis on humorous animal concoctions. The idea for the ZOOperstars was born.

The act now consists of 30 giant inflatable animal characters, with such names as Ken Giraffey Jr., Shark McGwire, Shaquille O'Seal, Cow Ripken Jr., and Tiger Woodschuck. The company recently introduced its first female character, Mia Hammster, based on soccer great Mia Hamm.

These creative characters have helped give the ZOOperstars an edge over other mascot troupes. They've been a boon, too, to general managers and promotions staffers who need to fill large home schedules with unique acts.

"Visually, to me, the ZOOperstars are the best act and entertainment there is out there," says Mike Nutter, general manager for the Fort Wayne Wizards, a Class A minor league team in Indiana. "Before they even get into their skits, some of the kids absolutely lose it just seeing the appearance of these characters. They're larger than life. It's like a live cartoon."

Adding to the entertainment value, a dozen or so of the performers -- playing Clammy Sosa, Harry Canary, Stallion Iverson, and other characters -- are former gymnasts or cheerleaders who already know how to play to a crowd.

Like the the four-person office staff in Louisville, the troupe members out in the field have received high marks for their customer service -- a lifeline for this small business that, like many, relies on word-of-mouth advertising.

"They're so well organized with what they need, everything from how many breaks they'll need in a game to how many towels or bottles of water they'll need," says Ney. "They'll tell us if they need an umpire's uniform for a skit, whatever it is, so that we'll be sure to have it when the time comes."

The ZOOperstars also take notes while working for a team. That way, when the troupe comes back for a return engagement, they'll already know the names of the team's officials, where the dugouts are located, and where the entrances and exits to the field sit.

"That may not seem like much of a big deal, but believe me it is," Nutter says. "A lot of times you'll have worked with people for years, and they'll come up to you and say: Now, what's your name again? That doesn't happen with these guys."

The ZOOperstars characters can attribute their popularity in part to their high level of detail. Mackerel Jordan, for example, features a tongue that lolls out of his mouth, just like his real-life counterpart, basketball legend Michael Jordan. Dennis Frogman and Stallion Iverson sport tattoos, just like the real Dennis Rodman and Allen Iverson.

And when Ken Griffey Jr., was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Cincinnati Reds, his ZOOperstars alter ego, Ken Giraffey Jr., also switched uniforms.

This leads to some tough decisions. When Michael Jordan came out of retirement to join the Washington Wizards, the ZOOperstars decided to leave him in his Chicago Bulls uniform. The reason? Far more people associate Jordan with his championship days in Chicago than with his two seasons in a Wizards jersey.

Such attention to detail doesn't come cheap. The average ZOOperstars costume costs $5,000, estimates Latkovski. They're not easy to lug around, either. The inflatable outfits measure a minimum of 6 feet in height. Shaquille O'Seal stands close to 15 feet. The costumes weigh about 35 pounds -- including the battery packs and motors that keep them inflated.

But without such elaborate and intricate costumes, Latkovski says, the ZOOperstars would hardly stick out in the minds of team officials. "People think they can just get a costume and be a success," notes the entrepreneur. "But it's a lot more than that. People are paying us good money to perform for them. You have to be professional, and you have to offer them something unique. That's the real challenge."

Fun and games, it turns out, are very hard work.

The Business of Sports

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Profiting From Lost Baggage Big Time.

Bryan Owens Story

In Scottsboro, Alabama, Bryan Owens, 44, is CEO of Unclaimed Baggage, a store started in 1970 by his retired father, Doyle. It may be one store, but what they sell brings in more than 1 million customers per year. Unclaimed Baggage is just what it suggests: a store selling airport luggage that has gone unclaimed. There is so much of it, the retail outlet has expanded over a city block and now attracts visitors from around the world.

Owens, who bought the company from his father in 1996 and watched it grow 400 percent, says Unclaimed Baggage has exclusive long-term contracts with airlines around America, Asia and Europe, ensuring his store is the only one of its kind. It's also proof that the word "trash" should be used with wide latitude.

Every year thousands and thousands of wayward suitcases end up in Scottsboro—specifically, at the Unclaimed Baggage Center. Once an airline has tried and failed to reunite suitcase and owner (a process that varies according to airline), it will compensate the owner and sell the suitcase—and all its contents—to the UBC, which buys suitcases by the truckload and hauls them to its 50,000-square-foot complex in Scottsboro. There the UBC staff sorts through the bags and puts their contents in a showroom (or some of them: others are given to charity, still others discarded), where they can be seen and bought by members of the public. But are people really interested in buying other people's, uh, lost stuff? "We'll have close to a million people come to the store this year," says Bryan Owens, the owner of the UBC, "from every state in America and thirty foreign countries. This is kind of the Mecca for lost bags."

Owens's father started the UBC in 1970, with a rented old house, a borrowed old truck, and a $300 loan. Today the center gets nearly 7,000 new items every day, and Owens says that people can't seem to get enough. "It's a treasure hunt," he says. "Every day is like Christmas here—we never know what we're going to find. Just last week we found a twenty-eight-thousand-dollar tennis bracelet and a one-point-six-karat diamond ring. We've had a medicine-man stick adorned with a shrunken head, and a Nikon camera that was in the Space Shuttle. Back in the eighties we got a well-traveled Gucci suitcase that was packed with artifacts that dated back to 1500 B.C. And once we found a guidance system for an F-16 fighter jet, in a shockproof case from the Department of the U.S. Navy. It was labeled 'Handle With Extreme Caution—I Am Worth My Weight in Gold.'" The UBC sent that one back.

No B.S. Business Success

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Poop Scooping Millionaires

Matthew Osborn

Matt Boswell

The most noted pioneer in the poop-scooping business is Matthew Osborn, who runs He never knew that this business would one day make him a millionaire. Osborn got started back in 1987 when he opened Pet Butler in Columbus, Ohio. "I had been interested in small-business ideas since I was a kid," he says. "My friends thought it was an interesting but far-out idea, and many of them just couldn't grasp the concept. They all said, 'People aren't going to pay you for that.'"

At the time, Osborn was working two full-time jobs and making less than $6 per hour at each. He had a wife, a daughter and a son on the way, and was desperate to make some extra money. Osborn began doing research at the local library, studying the area's demographics and census data. He eventually contacted the county auditor and learned that there were about 100,000 dogs within 15 miles of his home."I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and got started with very little money," he says.

The business slowly took off, and despite the dirty work, Osborn says he enjoyed satisfying the customers and working outdoors in some of the nicest backyards in Ohio. However, it wasn't all fun and games. "I didn't enjoy driving around in my little Honda Civic with hundreds of pounds of dog poop in the back," he says. "It sort of gave me nightmares until I was able to buy pickup trucks for the business."

Eventually Osborn employed seven people and owned a fleet of six trucks serving about 700 regular customers. "I was making more money than ever before and spending most of my time with my family doing the things I enjoyed," he says. After a nearly 10-year run, Osborn sold his business in 1998 and started, which contains an international directory of pet waste removal businesses. His newest business venture is that of writer. He recently released a book, "The Professional Pooper-Scooper: How to Start Your Own Low-Cost, High-Profit Dog Waste Removal Service."

While Osborn may have put poop scooping on the map, Matt "Red" Boswell is taking it into the future. Boswell owns the Texas-based Pet Butler. He recently moved the business out of his house and into a 1,200-square-foot office just north of Dallas. Today, Pet Butler is the largest pet waste removal service in the country, and serves about 3,000 clients.

"Most of our customers are middle and upper-middle income," says Boswell. "But can you think of anyone who wants to clean up dog poop or cat poop?"

Boswell explains that at an average of just $10 per visit, nearly anyone can afford Pet Butler's services. "Rarely is Pet Butler considered a luxury service by those who use us," he says. "Most consider Pet Butler a mandatory and highly valued staple for their yard maintenance needs."

Boswell, 35, hasn't always been the poop-scoop king he is today. Back in 1997 he was near bankruptcy after his Internet start-up venture crashed and burned. After months of false starts and dead ends, his girlfriend suggested starting a poop-scooping business. "I was quite offended she thought I would even do it," Boswell says. But figuring he had nothing to lose, he launched Pet Butler in 1998. "It failed miserably," he says. "But I was done quitting. I didn't care if everybody on the planet thought I was an idiot. I dropped all pride. I was determined to make it happen."

Two years later Pet Butler was still struggling, but through relentless marketing, a little press, and word-of-mouth referrals, he finally started making some headway.

Boswell, who refers to himself as Pet Butler's "chief excrement officer," is quick to point out that he's not just some executive in a suit, but that he's paid his dues and gotten his hands dirty -- literally. "I have personally scooped over a million piles of poop," he says proudly. "I have had more than a few make me literally gag. Even the dogs wouldn't go near them."

The company has seven employees working in the field scooping poop, and six in the office who help run the day-to-day business operations. Boswell admits it's not what'd you call a glamorous job, and there are some occupational hazards.

"This job has caused some guys to lose more than their share of girlfriends," Boswell says.

And Boswell says that most of his "Fecal Matter Removal Technicians" have to occasionally deal with temperamental "clients." "Most technicians will normally get bitten sometime in their first six months because they get lazy and too trusting," he says. "Fortunately that is all it takes for the tech to never let it happen again."

Boswell is in the midst of launching Pet Butler Franchise Services Corp., and foresees Pet Butler franchises popping up all over the country. And despite his unorthodox and some would say unsavory career choice, Boswell says he has long gotten over any embarrassment he had over his job, and actually relishes the attention. "I love when people ask what I do for a living," he says. "People just can't get enough of the idea that we actually scoop poop for a living."

Of course, when your company is projected to gross over a million dollars and you have nearly 20 franchises sprouting up all over the country, including 10 in the Dallas/Forth Worth area, it helps ease the embarrassment. In fact it was Boswell's success story that landed him a gig as guest speaker at last year's Pooper Scooper Round-Up in Houston. Boswell was also awarded the Golden Shovel for winning the Turd Herding contest. However, there was some controversy over his technique. "He decided to forgo tools, and just grabbed the turds and stuffed them inside his slacks," says aPaws president Ewing, who came in second. "This is not a technique that is used in the field, so I protested his win, but the board voted against me."

Boswell says he's put the controversy behind him and is focusing on the future goals of Pet Butler. In fact they're posted on a big bulletin board in the new office above the printer: "By June 2010 Pet Butler will support at least 100 franchises across North America. We will serve more than 50,000 clients each week, and offer service to over 50 million people in North America and collect in excess of $500,000 each week and donate $100,000 to pet-friendly organizations each year."

"We've got some huge goals," Boswell says. "It's an industry that's untapped. We plan on becoming the Microsoft of dog poop."

The Scoop on Poop

Saturday, July 01, 2006

How To Sell $1.2 Million Worth Of Product In 40 Minutes

Denis Simioni Story

Denis Simioni, 38, had owned an advertising and graphic design firm for 15 years in his native Oakville, Ont., when he first happened upon a substance called "ojon." Seven years later that little word has transformed his life, along with the lives of thousands of indigenous Hondurans, who supply ojon oil to his hair-care company, Ojon. Simioni, whose company employs 32 people full-time and projects $40 million in sales this year, says managing an operation with employees spread all over the globe is both exhausting and rewarding.

Here is his story:

How did you go from advertising to hair care?

My ad agency specialized in the beauty industry, so I learned all about launching a brand in this industry. One Saturday my wife came across a little jar in the bathroom with something in it that looked like peanut butter. It had been sitting on our shelf for two years. She called her grandmother, who lives in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and is always sending us natural cures and native remedies. Silvana's grandma told us that the product was ojon oil she'd purchased from an Indian. Silvana's hair was really brittle and broken from swimming and coloring it, so she put some of this stuff in and with just one treatment the difference was incredible.

So you decided to figure out what exactly this mystery goo was?

We changed our vacation from Disneyland (DIS) to Honduras that year so I could track down this Indian. Turns out he was from the Caribbean side of the country, from a Mosquitia rain forest. I contacted a nonprofit group called Mopawi that helps preserve the rain forest and the indigenous tribes who live there. They agreed to take me to meet the Tawira people, whose name actually means "the people of beautiful hair." You could hardly get a better testimonial. What was even better was that I flew into the jungle and was traveling downriver in a mahogany canoe for 5½ hours. Suddenly, we started to see people who weren't wearing any hats. All the other tribes use hats to protect their hair from the sun, but the Tawira put ojon oil in their hair and don't need hats. I met them, saw the process they've used for centuries to collect nuts from the ojon tree and produce the oil. The women unraveled their long hair and showed me how beautiful it was.

Did you know immediately that you could commercialize this product?

Yes. It took several years to secure intellectual-property protection and collaborate on the formula with some skin-care manufacturers from Italy that I'd known from the ad agency. I had fallen in love with this company, Origin Italian, because they were all about passion and purity of ingredients. They didn't have any experience making hair-care products, but they had a laboratory and a boutique manufacturing facility and they specialized in organic ingredients. We formed a partnership with them covering manufacturing costs, and we self-financed the startup.

How did you get the word out about your new product, given how saturated the hair-care market is already?

I had a friend who had a relationship with QVC. I got me a meeting with them, they loved our story and invited us to launch our first product on Dec. 27, 2004, at 10 p.m. As soon as the show aired, we sold out our initial inventory and had a wait list of 3,100 units. A year later, on the same day, we launched our first one-hour show on QVC, and within 40 minutes we sold out $1.2 million of product.

Why has television been so successful for you?

I realized that TV is the medium we need to tell our story and the story of the Tawira. Being on QVC drives our sales month-to-month. We're now their fastest-growing hair brand.

The story of the indigenous people is key to your sales and marketing. Do people ever wonder if you are exploiting these natives?

Yes, we're always fighting that perception because of all the past exploitation. That's why we've continued to work through the nonprofit organization, whose president is a Tawira himself and speaks their language. Because we are buying so much product from them, at a price about 230% higher than what they used to get, we've provided full-time work for more than 1,000 Tawira in about 30 villages in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. We've also provided them with scholarships, safety equipment, and education. They have elected indigenous committees to negotiate with Mopawi and with Ojon Corp., mostly made up of the women who produce 80% of the oil. Now they are purchasing land in one of the larger villages that has schools and a hospital, so their kids can have better lives.

How much have their lives changed because of your company?

They are still incredibly, incredibly poor and their development is decades behind what we know. But they used to support themselves by subsistence farming and deep-sea diving for lobsters, which was very dangerous. The children used to dive instead of going to school. Now that each of them can earn about $300 a year making ojon oil (they made about $67 annually in the past), a lot of them have switched over to that. I'm looking into building schools in their villages. I want to do that in partnership with the government, so that they'll have qualified teachers and materials.

You could have set up an operation to harvest the ojon nuts and produce the oil with modern technology, bypassing the indigenous producers. Why not do that?

I fell in love with these people. They have absolutely nothing in the world, but spend a week with them and you'll see that they are always smiling, calm, and peaceful. It's difficult because of the language barriers, their lack of education, and their remote locations. There's no telephone in these villages, and everything moves slower there. They're not on any time clock. But they believe that I was sent by God to help them and they've put me on this pedestal. I feel it's my calling to live up to that.

Business Builders in Cosmetics