Saturday, September 30, 2006

Would You Like To Make $200 Million A Year From A Website

Jeff Fluhr Story

Projected 2006 Sales: More than $200 million

A void in the market for a reliable, one-stop shop in the secondary ticket market prompted Jeff Fluhr and a former partner to start StubHub in 2000. “We felt there were a lot of problems with the options that were available for fans,” says Fluhr, who wanted to transform secondary ticket sales from back-alley deals into secure transactions.

So he pioneered a system that allows sellers to list tickets at for a 15 percent transaction fee, and buyers to purchase tickets for a 10 percent transaction fee--guaranteeing the safety of the transaction for both parties. “We provide an escrow-type service,” notes Fluhr.

Security is the number-one priority for StubHub. The system allows sales only after both buyers’ and sellers’ credit cards are fully vetted, leaving nothing to chance. StubHub also has a direct partnership with FedEx to generate the shipping labels for sellers, so the company can monitor delivery at every step.

While the core of the business is based on peer-to-peer sales, Fluhr has found it helpful to build partnerships with venues and teams nationwide, including the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. Such alliances help market StubHub’s services to season-ticket holders who might want to unload a few tickets during the season.

Constantly improving StubHub’s customer service is key for Fluhr, who is also a fan of the music, theater, comedy and sporting events that are his company’s bread and butter. In fact, a phenomenal Rolling Stones concert at Madison Square Garden was one of his most memorable “product testing” outings.

And Fluhr’s not just trying to win fans on the spectator side of the stage--while starting his business, he recalls working to convince “old-school businesspeople in the music industry that the secondary market is a huge opportunity for them, not a threat.” Fluhr admits it’s an ongoing challenge for StubHub.

Break Into Sports Through Ticket Sales

Friday, September 29, 2006

Adventures In Gift Certificates.

Gavin Bishop Story

Though the multimillion-dollar gift-giving market will never cease to exist, gift-giving patterns change as often as the latest fashion trends. In recent years, research shows consumers are looking for gifts that are unique--not your run-of-the-mill department-store gift cards. As one of the first companies to catch on to this trend, Xperience Days lets customers give an opportunity of a lifetime as a gift.

According to co-founder Gavin Bishop, Xperience Days offers a wide range of life-enhancing experiences "that people dream and talk of doing, but rarely get around to doing." The average cost of the gift certificates is $275 to $300--prices range from $65 for a trapeze lesson to $110,000 for a private zero-gravity flight.

The concept of giving experiences, which is common in the United Kingdom, was an idea that UK native Bishop, 37, and his co-founders, Michelle Geib, 29, and Robb Young, 34, knew would be a hit in the States. They were right-since the company's launch, at least three competitors have entered the market. "People in the U.S. generally have an adventurous streak and are willing to try things," says Bishop, who met his co-founders while attending business school in South Africa. "Plus, they're very good gift-givers."

Though the company targets anyone "with an adventurous spirit," the founders focused on the San Francisco Bay and New York tri-state markets when they launched in January 2005. As popularity increased and they realized there were plenty of adventurous activities available nation-wide, the trio added experiences throughout the country, such as Formula One racing in Las Vegas and white-water rafting in Pennsylvania.

Although sales figures are difficult to calculate because the company sells gift certificates, which are a deferred income, Bishop projects 2006 sales of about $2 million--drastically more than the $100,000 it took the three entrepreneurs to finance the startup. They knew investing in such a project--with no asset backing or constant cash flow--would incur serious risks. Nothing quite as risky, though, as jumping out of a plane.

Corporate Renaissance: Business as an Adventure in Human Development

Thursday, September 28, 2006

How To Make 18 Million Dollars With A Simple Real Estate Site.

Steve Weber Story

Steve Weber always wanted to be part of something big, but he repeatedly saw opportunities, like the fax and PC markets, pass him by. "I told myself, 'I'm going to get on the front end of one of these market waves,'" says Weber, 42. "When the internet came, I knew that was it. I didn't want to miss out on the biggest opportunity in the history of business."

In 1998, Weber left his job as director of sales at a website provider to start With $2,000, a desk and a computer, he and one of his former co-workers, David Baird, 30, launched the internet marketing company out of a small office. They roughed it in the beginning, sitting on metal folding chairs, using a dial-up internet connection and having college interns help with cold calling. "It was duct tape and Band-Aids for the first year," Weber says, "but I wasn't worried. It was clear every business would need some sort of web presence."

A year after launching, Z57 narrowed its marketing services to the real estate industry. That same year, the company had its first $50,000 month; sales have increased every quarter since. Even during the dotcom crash, Z57, which remained privately funded and owned, managed to thrived.

Today, Z57 has four offices, 225 employees and 2006 projected sales of $18 million. The company offers website design, e-mail marketing and personal coaching to real estate agents nationwide.

Though home sales have recently slowed, Weber sees no end in sight to Z57's potential growth. "We've reached less than 2 percent of the real estate market," he explains. "There's tremendous opportunity to move forward."

Real Estate Rainmaker: Guide to Online Marketing

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Wooden Mats As A Business.

Pierre Klee Story

While remodeling a friend's home office, one-time construction company owner Pierre Klee had to choose flooring that was both attractive and practical.

Klee, 42, found his solution in a wood-finished laminate. After installing the floor, Klee gave his friend and future partner, Jeff Baudin, 42, an extra pack of the material. Baudin took a piece of the laminate to his regular office and slid it under his chair on the commercial-grade carpeting. Instantly, the two knew they had a great idea.

In January 2004, they started developing an alternative to the unattractive plastic chair mats common in offices. More than $150,000 and six prototypes later, they launched SnapMat Inc. in June 2004. The sectional chair mats snap together and create a more polished complement to office furniture.

"We started selling them online, and people just loved them," Klee says. "Besides thinking the mats were attractive, [customers were] just so tired of the plastic ones."

There were still kinks, though. The sectional mats were only recommended for use on commercial-grade carpet, and Klee's customers wanted something for their home offices. After sliding through 2004 with $30,000 in sales, Klee began 2005 by buying out Baudin and creating a one-piece mat better suited for high-pile carpeting.

With both mats available online in a variety of finishes and sizes, including custom orders, at, the company increased sales to $125,000 in 2005.

Klee says the mat also has some unconventional uses, including in music studios--the mats make it easier to slide heavy equipment over carpet--and as dance floors. Klee jokes that the company could have a special web-site dedicated solely to tap dancers.

With arrangements finalized with and deals with other retail outlets underway, Klee expects SnapMat Inc. to garner $500,000 in 2006 sales. He hopes to spur even more growth for the company by automating the production process to increase output from 20 mats to 150 mats per day, which would allow Klee to lower the price.

"I like inventing, so it's been fun for me to figure out all the problems," Klee says. "I've always been a good trouble-shooter."

Feng Shui for Business & Office

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Solar Money

Randolph Gray Story

On a trip to Hawaii in January 2001, Randolph Gray noticed beachgoers talking incessantly on their mobile phones. But every once in a while, someone would run out to the parking lot. "They were interrupting their fun because their cell-phone batteries were dead," he says.

Fascinated by solar energy as a student, Gray built a solar-powered bicycle in college. After earning a bachelor's degree in 1995, he pursued other interests but continued to follow solar technology. At the beach he thought about creating a portable charger, but then he had a better idea: Why not build a solar cell into the bags that sunbathers were already carrying?

When he returned home to Texas, Gray bought a solar charger on eBay and sewed it into a backpack. He founded Innovus Designs in 2003 and a year later sold his first solar bag, the Reactor. Last year, Gray says, Innovus turned a small profit on revenue of about $80,000. Now he's working on a bag that can recharge laptops, and he's also pursuing an online MBA. Needless to say, there's less time for the beach.

Turn Your Idea or Invention into Millions

Monday, September 25, 2006

Half A Million Dollars With Inflatable Chairs.

Lori Elder Story

During the 2002 World Series in San Francisco, Lori Elder was watching her hometown Giants battle the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and was amazed at the number of people floating in the bay just outside AT&T Park. "I looked at my friend and said, 'The thing to sit on would bу a big inflatable baseball glove,'" says Elder, 43.

Elder called Major League Baseball a few days after the series to see if she could find such a product with the Giants logo on it, but no such prod-uct existed. So with almost $50,000 that she gathered from friends and her own savings, Elder started searching for a manufacturer who could help her with a design. "I was basically sketching my own baseball glove," says Elder, who has a background in art. She also applied for a license from the League in hopes of offering an official product with team logos.

Eight months later, in 2003, she had the license along with her final proto-type. The result was an inflatable chair in the shape of a baseball glove, constructed of heavy PVC, with three separate air chambers and, of course, cup holders. The chairs come in two sizes and are suitable for indoor use as well as on water.

Manufacturing problems set her back a year, but Elder was finally able to begin offering her product in January 2005. The chairs are available on and, and with the recent addition of baseball-shaped chairs, Elder expects 2006 sales of $500,000.

101 Best Businesses to Start: The Essential Sourcebook of Success Stories, Practical Advice, and the Hottest Ideas

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Ultimate Ears Story

Jerry Harvey Story

In 1995, while on tour with Van Halen, Jerry Harvey designed a custom-made earpiece for drummer Alex Van Halen. When news of his work spread to other musicians, he found himself filling orders as favors.

As a sound engineer, Jerry, 44, knew many musicians were frustrated with clunky headphones or amplifiers that couldn't capture the sound on stage or in the recording studio. "I miniaturized the technology that was being used in big rock 'n' roll systems," says Jerry. He then designed an earpiece custom-made from an impression of the musician's ear.

Mindy Harvey, 41, loved everything about her husband's new creation, except the fact that he was making them for free. The couple began asking for payments upfront to keep startup costs at zero, and they relied on word-of-mouth within the music industry to gain new customers.

Ultimate Ears' current high-end custom pieces can cost in the $900 range, but the Harveys also began targeting the growing iPod audience in 2002 with their generic, lower-priced consumer line, Today, the company has almost 20 em-ployees, and 2005 sales stand at well over $5 million.

Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook: 201 Self-Promotion Ideas for Songwriters, Musicians & Bands

The Ultimate Ears Story

Jerry Harvey Story

In 1995, while on tour with Van Halen, Jerry Harvey designed a custom-made earpiece for drummer Alex Van Halen. When news of his work spread to other musicians, he found himself filling orders as favors.

As a sound engineer, Jerry, 44, knew many musicians were frustrated with clunky headphones or amplifiers that couldn't capture the sound on stage or in the recording studio. "I miniaturized the technology that was being used in big rock 'n' roll systems," says Jerry. He then designed an earpiece custom-made from an impression of the musician's ear.

Mindy Harvey, 41, loved everything about her husband's new creation, except the fact that he was making them for free. The couple began asking for payments upfront to keep startup costs at zero, and they relied on word-of-mouth within the music industry to gain new customers.

Ultimate Ears' current high-end custom pieces can cost in the $900 range, but the Harveys also began targeting the growing iPod audience in 2002 with their generic, lower-priced consumer line, Today, the company has almost 20 em-ployees, and sales are estimated at well over $5 million.

Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook: 201 Self-Promotion Ideas for Songwriters, Musicians & Bands

Saturday, September 23, 2006

How YOU Can Make $500,000.00 or More a Year in the Music Industry by Doing it Yourself

Bud Anderson Story

In the music industry, competition isn't just for gigs but for agents as well. "Agents basically work for free until they get commissioned on a show," says Bud Anderson, founder of "So it's hard to invest in a brand-new artist."

Anderson, 34, created as a sister company to Prince SF, the agency he already owned that couldn't handle all the talent coming its way. His new company takes a different approach, allowing artists to hire agents to make cold calls, pitching their acts for $1.50 per call. At the end of the minimum 100-call run, the artist gets a color-coded spreadsheet detailing each call and contact information. It's more than telemarketing, Anderson explains--bands still face a strict review process, but the shortened relationship allows more talent through the door.

Startup was simple. With the agency infrastructure already in place, Anderson paid $50 for a web domain and programmed the site himself. He opened separate phone lines and a bank account, and he hired three agents. As IHB's business jumped--from sales of $175,000 in 2004 to $500,000 for 2005--the agency expanded into larger offices and hired additional staff.

Anderson describes his marketing as "very grass roots." After an initial run with 10 artists, word spread like wildfire. Says Anderson, "I knew there was demand for representation but didn't realize it could be quite so high."

The Music Business: How YOU Can Make $500,000.00 (or More) a Year in the Music Industry by Doing it Yourself!

Friday, September 22, 2006

$1 Million From Gardening

Lars Hundley Story

While caring for his own garden, Lars Hundley had a vision of protecting the world's gardens as well. So this former freelance writer put down his pen, bought six push lawn mowers for $100 each and began, which sells environmentally friendly gardening products, such as gas-free push mowers, organic fertilizers and electric trimmers/weed-eaters.

To cut costs, Hundley used his cell phone as a business line, built his own website and sold mowers from his apartment. He made his share of mistakes along the way, from overspending on ineffective advertising to stocking too many mowers in his apartment. When began to take off, the business initially suffered because it wasn't set up to accept credit cards. Hundley solved that problem by hosting his site through Yahoo! Stores and letting them handle the secure credit card transactions.

Hundley, who now works from an office in his three-bedroom home, expects 2005 sales to hit $1 million. Yet his focus is less on profits and more on finding new environmentally safe products and educating customers about the importance of conservation. In addition to promoting eco-friendly products such as rain barrels and reel mowers, his site offers a comprehensive list of websites that teach people about healthy gardening practices.

"I don't know how many of my customers I am converting to an environmentally friendly lifestyle," says Hundley, 35. "But judging by how many questions I answer from people who have never composted, collected rainwater or used a reel mower before, I think I am certainly making a difference."

Starting Your Own Gardening Business

Thursday, September 21, 2006

How To Get Rich Selling Ads On Flags.

Andy Yocom Story

While golfing with his brother one day, Andy Yocom saw prime advertising space on the flags on the course. He and his brother Timmy reasoned that any marketing messages would get prominent attention if they were placed on the flags, since golfers focus on them when they take their shots.

Convinced the idea would work, Yocom set out to persuade golf course owners to warm up to the concept of brand advertising on their greens. "With golf as traditional as it is, finding people in the industry that can think outside of the box was a challenge because they're so protective of the golf course image," Yocom, 37, explains. "I get the comment a lot that they don't want to 'NASCAR' their courses."
Yocom fought the skepticism by persistently visiting golf courses in the Atlanta area.

Finally, he was able to hook up with some golf course management companies-they had several courses under their umbrella and could see the benefits of the idea. Once some well-established courses signed on, Yocom presented the concept to corporations that might be eager to market to the golf crowd. "The fact that we advertise 365 days a year and are a one-stop shop on and off the course-it's a very unique situation," says Yocom.

Today, Invision Golf Group has expanded its advertising and marketing services beyond just flags to include whole golf course sponsorship-from banners in locker rooms to advertising on golf carts. The strategy is working: At press time, the sales were standing at $300,000 a year, and the company now has a presence on 142 golf courses in 26 states.

Bob Bly's Guide to Freelance Writing Success: How to Make $100,000 a Year As a Freelance Writer and Have the Time of Your Life Doing It

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

How To Make $2 Million A Year, Setting Up Christmas Lights

Bob Martin And Larry Jones Story

Bob Martin and his employee-turned-partner, Larry Jones, couldn't help but notice the attention they were receiving as they put up their first client's Christmas display. "We had 25-foot toy soldiers, a 40-foot arch going across the driveway, a 36-foot-long Santa's Express in the front yard, and about 400,000 lights going throughout the property," says Martin, 45. The extravagant display even attracted the attention of the local media in New Lenox, Illinois.

That was in the winter of 1996. Martin got the creative spark for his company,, when he realized most people dread the yearly task of hanging holiday lights. Confident that people would pay for the convenience, Martin launched the business from his garage. He spent just $2,500 at startup, purchasing supplies such as advertising signs, ladders, lights, timers and other equipment.

Thanks to free consulting help from his local Small Business Development Center, Martin developed a solid business plan and even got help with marketing and financing. By sponsoring the local TV station's toy drive and giving away free lighting displays through radio shows, he was able to score much-needed exposure in his community for next to nothing.

In 1997, also began offering year-round landscape lighting services along with its seasonal decorations. Now with two showrooms and four warehouses in Illinois, the company projects nearly $2 million in sales this year.

What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School: Notes From A Street-Smart Executive

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How To Network Millions.

Melissa English Story

At a speed-dating event last summer, Melissa English walked away with more business contacts for her sister Sonia's web design company than she did phone numbers for herself. At the same time, Sonia attended a business-networking event hosted by the local chamber of commerce and walked away with nothing. Sensing a perfect match between speed dating and networking mixers, the two sisters launched 5 Minute Networking. Their events give individuals from all industries the chance to meet 20 different professionals, one-on-one, in five-minute increments.

Their idea was an immediate hit-- the first 50-person event, held in Newport Beach in September 2004, filled to capacity within eight days of being announced. The company went national four months later, holding 25 events in 13 cities across the U.S. Melissa and Sonia only host local events; outside event directors are hired for events in other cities. "The response we get from events is absolutely phenomenal," says Melissa, 27, adding that they expect sales to jump from $300,000 in 2005 to $2 million in 2006.

"One of the reasons I think people like 5 Minute Networking is that it works for every personality type," says Sonia, 30, pointing out that many people don't like to initiate introductions or waste time on small talk. "You have your outgoing personality type, like me, who wouldn't mind walking up to a group of four people already talking at a networking mixer. And then you have your other personality type who goes to networking events all gung-ho, but ends up staring at their glass the whole night, not interacting with anyone."

Now in the process of patenting the software they designed to optimize their events, the sisters are also exploring franchising the concept and plan to publish a book with networking tips and stories about high-level professionals.

Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty : The Only Networking Book You'll Ever Need

Monday, September 18, 2006

How To Make Half A Million Bucks Pissing Off Scateboarders.

Chris Loarie Story

It's not easy stopping a herd of determined skateboarders from practicing where they're not wanted, but Chris Loarie invented a way to do just that when he came up with Skatestoppers. When these small brackets are attached to exterior walls, benches, curbs and more-the very places skaters seek out-skaters are prevented from practicing in those areas, and private property is protected from damage.

Loarie got the idea after hearing his police officer brother discuss all the complaints he had received from business owners about disruptive skateboarders in front of their establishments. Loarie designed the first prototypes in 1996, and throughout 1997, he focused on refining them to make them stronger and less likely to be broken by disgruntled skaters.

As he perfected the design and started getting rave reviews from business owners, city parks and school districts, Loarie added an artistic line with seashell designs and the like to make the practical product aesthetically pleasing as well.

Still, Loarie realized that although he was very popular with property owners, rebuffed skateboarders were hardly fans. "The skateboarders will say, 'Why can't I just skate anywhere? You're taking our rights away,'" Loarie explains. "To me, it's fairly straightforward: Somebody has a piece of property, and they don't want you there. It's within their rights to ask you to leave, especially if you're doing something that's disruptive or destructive."

Loarie is working with contractors to incorporate Skatestoppers into the design of new building areas. Now that company revenues are expected to hit about half a million dollars this year, it seems there's no stopping this entrepreneur.

The Perfect Business

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Four Million Dollar Massage

Mark Eberhardt Story

Spending an uncomfortable afternoon in an airport inspired Mark Eberhardt, 51, to come up with a relaxing way to wait for a flight-he imagined how nice it would be to sit in one of those fancy massage chairs he'd seen before in high-end stores.

With a background as a stockbroker, however, it was a challenge for him to modify the chair to accept cash-not to mention the hurdle of getting it into malls and airports. Many people, without really understanding the concept of the chair, recoiled at the word massage, thinking it was something illicit.

And getting a foothold in airport concourses is not generally an easy prospect for any company-let alone a new business. Eberhardt had to meet with people face to face and actually show them the chair to get them to appreciate his idea.

In 1996, Eberhardt got the chair into Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. To date, First Class Seats are in 125 shopping malls, and Eberhardt has plans to expand into more airports and malls around the country. With annual sales expected to hit $4 million, it seems like relaxing is the way of the future.

Success Beyond Work: What Prosperous Massage Therapists Know--Minimum Work, Maximum Profits, and a Sellable Business

Friday, September 15, 2006

How A Stupid Joke Made One Man A Millionaire

Dan Goggin Story

Where do million-dollar ideas come from? Dan Goggin's began with a nun's habit -- a rather bizarre gift from a friend who thought Mr. Goggin, then a little-known composer and actor, might use it theatrically someday. Then, coincidentally, another pal offered up a Saks Fifth Avenue mannequin, which Mr. Goggin dressed in the habit and posed around his New York apartment (washing dishes was a favorite). Visitors laughed, and inspiration struck.

What follows is a true tale of how dead nuns, deadpan actors and an investor's $25,000 gamble turned into a small fortune. Twenty years after receiving his habit, the cherubic 60-year-old Mr. Goggin now heads an empire of musicals based on the premise that anything amusing is more amusing when a nun does it. His original 1980s off-Broadway production, "Nunsense," follows five sisters as they raise funds to bury convent members poisoned by bad vichyssoise -- cooked by none other than Sister Julia, Child of God. The production unfolds like a Carol Burnett variety show, with the sisters crooning through various skits, jousting with audiences and unleashing an unapologetic liturgy of tame ecumenical one-liners: "How do you make holy water? ... You boil the hell out of it!"

"Nunsense" ran for a decade. It became off-Broadway's second-longest-running musical, behind "The Fantasticks," before closing in 1995 and now is licensed to theaters world-wide. Real nuns and priests are among its most devoted fans. In fact, they often compete to land bit parts in performances where a portion of ticket proceeds go to charity. (One gutsy Baltimore sister recently sang "My God" to the tune of "My Guy," netting $1,200 for a nursing home.) Mr. Goggin has parlayed his idea into five equally irreverent spinoffs, including the all-male "A-Men"; the Christmas-themed "Nuncrackers" and most recently "Meshuggah-Nuns," which sticks the cast on a cruise ship.

To date, "Nunsense" and its sequels have grossed $300 million in ticket sales world-wide and earned Mr. Goggin some $7 million. The shows count Phyllis Diller, television's Georgia Engel and the late John Ritter among cast alumni. "I took a pay cut to play Mother Superior," says the 86-year-old Ms. Diller. "It's a funny show. A funny person can make it funnier. And I'm a funny person."

To put Mr. Goggin's success into some quick perspective: There were 1,192,967 would-be visionaries seeking a copyright, patent or trademark last year alone. While luck and timing certainly have a lot to do with creating hits, money-making visionaries share certain traits that distinguish them from the rest of us -- such as just how far they are willing to go to pursue a brainstorm.

Indeed, Mr. Goggin held on to his nun fixation through several incarnations before arriving at his theatrical cash cow. First, there was a line of greeting cards that featured a friend dressed in the habit. (One pictured her on a motorcycle with the message: "Hell, You're No Angel.") The friend made promotional appearances at stationery stores, doing some gags about raising funds for her poisoned convent sisters. "I remembered some people in New Jersey dying of botulism from canned vichyssoise soup in the '70s," Mr. Goggin says. By the end of 1981, he and three collaborators had sold 200,000 cards, each pocketing $5,000 after costs.

Not bad for a few laughs, but Mr. Goggin still didn't hang up the habit. Instead, he penned a tongue-in-cheek cabaret act, featuring three nuns, a priest and a brother. In 1983, the show landed a booking at a small Manhattan club called the Duplex, where it was scheduled to run four weekends; it ran for 38 weeks. Costs were covered but nobody was getting rich. Yet to his agent's dismay, Mr. Goggin wouldn't quit.

Intrigued that the nuns got all the laughs, he axed the priest and brother for the script that became "Nunsense." It featured five sisters, including Sister Mary Amnesia, a toothy country singer with a memory problem, and Sister Robert Anne, a reformed gang member who angles to get a bigger chunk of the spotlight. As Mr. Goggin conceived it, the sisters would do everything from singing (one standard: "Nunsense Is Habit Forming") to whipping up dishes from the "Baking with the BVM" cookbook -- BVM being the Blessed Virgin Mary, of course. That script got him space at a 99-seat theater -- at which point, Mr. Goggin recalls, "my agent made me promise that I'd give it one more shot and then move on to something else."

Eight weeks later, Mr. Goggin broke his promise. In the 1980s, when conspicuous consumption dominated the zeitgeist, theater-goers seemed taken with the nuns' simple humor, and the show played to nearly sold-out crowds. Believing his nuns had momentum, Mr. Goggin wanted to move "Nunsense" to off-Broadway. One problem: He needed $150,000. He didn't have any money, and he didn't know anyone who had money. So he gave away his entire producer's stake as a finder's fee to friends who turned up investors. One night someone brought a well-known financial writer, Andrew Tobias, to a performance. After sitting through an evening of wisecracks, the author cut a check for $25,000. "It was so much fun, and I thought, 'What is it doing at this silly little theater for five dollars?'" Mr. Tobias says.

With Mr. Tobias's blessing, Mr. Goggin made it to off-Broadway, only to have his faith tested once more. Audiences were enthusiastic, but they weren't big enough at first, and the theater moved to kick the production out. Still believing "Nunsense" had life in it, Mr. Goggin scrambled to raise $36,000 for a move to a more-trafficked location. Having already sold 100% of the production, he took the bold step of overselling the show by an additional 12% -- meaning if the show ever made real money, he'd have to make up the 12% to investors from his own pocket.

His bet paid off. In a bigger theater in Manhattan's bustling Sheridan Square, walk-in crowds kept audiences packed. A favorable New York Times nod, coupled with four Outer Critic's Circle Awards in 1986 -- including best off-Broadway musical -- pushed "Nunsense" to the tipping point. Mr. Goggin began licensing the show to amateur and stock theaters, including high schools and churches, and soon the royalties were coming in. "It's a cheap show to do," Mr. Goggin says. "At the end of the day, all you really need is five black sheets."

To date, the original $150,000 investment by early believers has brought them a $3 million return -- half a million dollars alone for Mr. Tobias, who now quips the best investment he ever made "was a comedy about dead nuns." Meantime, Mr. Goggin's sacrifices have cost him $1.5 million from his lost producer's stake; there are also continuing payouts for the extra 12% he sold. "My business manager cringes every time there's a royalty distribution, and I have to write a check back to those investors," he says. "But the whole thing wouldn't have happened otherwise." And it doesn't hurt, of course, that he's $7 million richer.

Reviews are occasionally less than divine. "What's missing is wit ... " sniped the Washington Post in January; "well-worn lines and wide-spaced gags," zinged the Louisville Courier-Journal. Mr. Goggin smiles patiently. "The critics have no say about 'Nunsense.' "

He also shrugs off suggestions that he's sold out creatively by milking one concept for so long. He estimates that about half of the audience members for the spinoff shows are repeat customers who've come to follow the sisters' next act. The brand awareness cuts back on the marketing costs most new shows face.

"Look, it wasn't broken," Mr. Goggin says of his original idea. "So I didn't fix it." What's more, he'll edit a work should anything offend his mainstay Bible Belt and Midwestern fan base. In previews of "Meshuggah-Nuns" in 2002, a nun asks a Jewish character: "If you're the chosen people, why did God make us?" The response: "Somebody has to pay retail." Says Mr. Goggin: "Minneapolis was horrified. So we took it out." He swears "Meshuggah-Nuns" will be his last nun-themed work -- then adds, "That's what I always say."

Overhead for his enterprise is virtually nil. There is no "headquarters," other than wherever Mr. Goggin happens to be -- which is usually either at his rent-stabilized Manhattan apartment or at a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., condo he bought for $140,000 in 1997 and now shares with his partner, Scott Robbins. Mr. Goggin runs a small merchandise business, Nunstuff, which operates from a dilapidated rental house in tiny Garrison, N.Y., where he once had a home. The sole employee is Walter Johnson, a 64-year-old retiree and Mr. Goggin's former neighbor, who is on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and does everything from rent habits and sell glow-in-the-dark rosaries to mow the lawn.

Nunsense still rules Mr. Goggin's life. Currently, he's financing a 20th-anniversary reunion tour of the original production out of his own pocket, with Mr. Robbins producing. They are in early talks with new investors about taking the show to Broadway. "To be that successful is not an accident," says Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American Theatres and Producers. "It's a rare and significant achievement in the business of theater."

Still, even Mr. Goggin doesn't expect his nuns' good fortune to last an eternity: The name of his company is TTM&R Inc. It stands for Take the Money and Run.

Watch Nunsense

Thursday, September 14, 2006

How To Make Six Figures, Selling Cardboard Boxes

Marty Metro Story

When Marty Metro and his wife added up the number of times each of them had moved over the years, it came out to an astounding 29 times. Metro, 34, knew they weren't alone in using massive amounts of cardboard boxes and was convinced he could help movers, businesses and the environment by creating a solution to the cardboard quandary. Says Metro, "I'm a systems guy; my life revolves around using technology to enable business processes."

With a decade of experience working and consulting on large-scale business technology, Metro made it his goal to build an online marketplace that would allow big companies to get rid of their used boxes and scraps in an earth-friendly way, as well as offer companies and individuals the opportunity to buy used cardboard boxes at roughly half the price of new ones. Leaving the lucrative corporate life he had known, Metro traded in his BMW for a delivery truck and developed the web-based infrastructure that would help him fulfill his earth-friendly goals., a U-Haul authorized dealer, has also netted contracts with large booksellers, clothing importers, manufacturers and even some real estate firms to pick up unwanted cardboard. Local deliveries are made to those who purchase cardboard boxes (the company also sells moving supplies), and when the move is done, will pick up the used boxes.

Currently covering the area between Los Angeles and San Diego, the company plans to expand by franchising in the top 50 cities in the United States in the next three to five years. For now, offers an online exchange for those outside the delivery area to link up and exchange boxes with others for a nominal fee. With annual sales projections exceeding $750,000, the company boasts 75 percent-plus gross margins. "It makes me feel great," says Metro. "We have created a win-win environment."

Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

How To Make $3 Million A Year… Selling Towels

Susan Nichols Story

For Susan Nichols, success really was a combination of inspiration and perspiration. During a yoga class in New York in May 2000, her sweaty left foot slipped during the chaturanga pose, causing Nichols to take a faceplant.

She bought a Mysore rug, which is moistened and placed atop a yoga mat to prevent sliding. But when her office mates commented on the wet-puppy smell, Nichols went hunting for a fast-drying alternative. After turning up nothing, she decided to make her own.

Nichols set out to find the ideal material and stumbled upon a water bowl for dogs with rubber nubs on the bottom to prevent sliding. "That's it," she thought, figuring that the nubs could be affixed to microfiber for added grip.

After getting certified as a yoga teacher and moving to Santa Monica, she discovered a Korean factory that could manufacture microfiber with PVC nubs. In 2003 she founded Yogitoes to sell her Skidless-brand towels.

The towels, priced from $20 to $70, initially scored placement at 20 yoga stores and sold out within a few weeks. "I was surprised when I got a request from a studio in Nova Scotia," says Nichols, who relies solely on word of mouth.

Annual revenue went from $123,000 in 2004 to nearly $1 million last year, Nichols says. With sales set to hit $3 million in 2006, she no longer has to worry about falling on her face.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How To Make Good Money Buying And Selling Vintage Guitars

When Aaron Madsen isn't installing garage door openers or recording aspiring musicians in his home studio, he can often be found poking around in pawnshops, looking for guitars.

That's how he scored a beat-up 1974 Fender Stratocaster last October for $400 that he resold a few months later for $1,000. All told, Madsen says, he made $3,500 in recent months buying and selling guitars.

And he hasn't even sold his most valuable pieces, such as the 1968 Gibson Les Paul Custom that's appreciated 750 percent to $8,500 in the five years he's owned it.

"That's something I'm hoping to put my kid through college with," says Madsen, soon to become a first-time father.

The idea of putting a kid through college on a guitar is not as far-fetched as it sounds. The value of guitars - electrics in particular, but acoustics too - is exploding.

Consider: A 1960 Gibson Les Paul, the model played by Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, sold for $192,000 in May at a Christie's auction in New York; had it been a year older, it could have fetched $250,000.
A collectors' market

The Vintage Guitar Price Guide, the bible of such matters, indexes a collection of 42 guitars it bought in 1991 for $150,000. Today they're worth $540,000 - almost doubling in the past five years.

The key driver of this sizzling market: baby boomers with spare cash and a yen for the playthings of their youth, especially the sexy guitars played by their idols.

The market is made up of big dealers, big private collectors, newcomers excited about the idea of guitars as investments, and enterprising guys like Madsen. At the high end are those prized Les Pauls, along with 1950s Fender Stratocasters (picture Jimi Hendrix) and Telecasters (Keith Richards), which have soared 50 percent in the past year and command prices in the $40,000 range.

Such high-end guitars have risen in price so rapidly that most investors have been priced out of the market. But the lower end remains a fertile plain of opportunity, and that's where Madsen tends to focus.

He monitors prices on eBay , though he's cautious about buying there. He relies heavily on the Vintage Guitar Price Guide, as well as the Blue Book of Electric Guitars and Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars, which provides feature changes by year.

Such knowledge is crucial in this frothy and hence risky market. As an appraiser of instruments, Stan Jay of Mandolin Bros. in Staten Island, N.Y., says he often delivers "the bad news that a guitar purchased for $40,000 was worth only $4,000." (Here's a tip: Spend the $150 for an appraisal up front.)

A key part of Madsen's strategy is to try to anticipate tomorrow's in-demand guitars. A few years ago, Madsen noticed an upturn in the market for 1970s Fenders, guitars generally frowned upon because of the poor quality of Fender's mass production during that era.

He began scouring pawnshops, music stores, and Craigslist. He picked up three mint-condition Stratocasters - made in 1973, '76, and '79 -for a total of $2,200. Today those guitars could fetch about $6,300.

Madsen is also betting on a rise in the value of 1980s American-made guitars from Jackson and B.C. Rich that were staples of heavy-metal bands like Poison, because the teenage headbangers who couldn't afford them then will soon be able to. "I'm trying to scoop up all the ones I can," Madsen says.

Madsen plays a mean guitar himself, but you don't have to be a picker to mine the six-string boom. Still, it's critical to buy a guitar that sounds good and has a well-preserved neck.

Vintage guitars are functional beauty; they must be authentic and function optimally to increase in value. If you don't have the expertise to buy a good one, get help from someone who does. Otherwise you'll never get near the price in the guides, because a store won't pay top dollar for a guitar that doesn't play easily. And neither will Madsen.

For More Stories Like This One, visit

Monday, September 11, 2006

How To Make Millions With Yoga Clothing

Chip Wilson Story

When Chip Wilson took his first yoga class in 1997, the fashions on the mats around him were abysmal. Everyone wore Lycra because it stretched, but it was hardly flattering. As Wilson points out, "Lycra only looks good on you if you're a 10 out of 10."

In 1998, Wilson founded Lululemon Athletica to give yoga clothes a makeover. His first step: devising a thicker, softer Lycra-nylon blend called Luon that wicks away sweat. Since then Lululemon, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, has grown into a yoga powerhouse by churning out stylish apparel with attention to tiny details, such as flat seams and zipper covers that prevent chafing.

The company's secret is a research and development process that catches ideas as they bubble up from customers, yoga instructors, and employees. Lululemon boutiques, too, act as idea incubators; the company has 36 stores worldwide and plans to open 20 more this year. "Most designers look at the cosmetic elements and add gimmicks later," says Wilson, now Lululemon's chairman and chief product manager. "For us, design is the critical initiator."

Many of Lululemon's innovations--such as a seaweed-based fabric called Vitasea, which releases vitamins into the skin--appeal to male and female athletes of all stripes, including runners and rock climbers. In fact, only a third of the company's clothes are now purchased by yoga aficionados. That's one reason privately held Lululemon has doubled both revenue and earnings in each of the past four years, according to Wilson, who says sales exceeded $60 million in 2005. Last year he sold a 48 percent stake in the company to two private equity firms, Advent International and Highland Capital Partners, and hired a veteran Reebok exec as CEO.

Because highly functional and fashionable clothes aren't cheap--most of Lululemon's items retail for $50 to $120--the company each year recruits a number of yoga instructors as "ambassadors," who get free samples in exchange for providing regular e-mail feedback. In addition, Lululemon stores keep suggestion forms near their fitting rooms so shoppers can offer opinions or draw pictures of features they'd like to see. After several customers complained that Lululemon's bras didn't cater to curvy women, the company designed two cheekily named new models, LetmeHOLDthose4u and Bounce Breaker, the latter of which is adjustable in just about every direction. "We're not afraid to hear what we should be doing," says Andrea Murray, a Lululemon designer. "If we need to, we'll go back to the drawing board."

The Business of Yoga: How to Start and Grow Your Yoga Business

Sunday, September 10, 2006

How To Convert Multiculturalism To A Cool $1 Million.

John and Cynthia Ham Story

When John and Cynthia Ham were expecting their first child in 1997, they knew they wanted to decorate the baby's room but couldn't find exactly what they were looking for. But when Cynthia saw celebrity mom Holly Robinson Peete in a TV interview talking about the multicultural mural she commissioned for her children's room, inspiration struck. Cynthia also wanted a border on her child's walls that would reflect their African-American heritage.

The Hams hired an artist to make that vision a reality, and when friends and relatives saw the beautiful multicultural border, they all wanted it for their own children. It was then, says Cynthia, that they knew they had a business idea. Cynthia researched the market and found that the leading wall-covering companies weren't interested in the concept. "They said it wouldn't work," she recalls. "And I thought 'How do you know?'"

Armed with passion for their idea, Cynthia, 35, and John, 38, enlisted the help of their friend Steven V. Jones, 36, to get the unique product off the ground. Their first offering was an alphabet border featuring different African-American characters for each letter. Marketing was the next order of business-so they took the product to their college sororities and fraternities and began to spread the word through that network of alumni. They also attended the national Black Expo, a trade show for African-American products and services held by the National Minority Supplier Development Council, to drum up business.

Today, Cultural Hangups, which now includes multicultural wallpaper borders for kids of African-American, Hispanic and Asian descents, can be found on Wal-Mart store shelves in North Carolina and Georgia. Year-end sales are expected to hit $1 million, thanks to a new décor line for teens and the addition of bedding and accessories.

Business As Unusual: My Entrepreneurial Journey, Profits With Principles

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Crazy Motorcycle Jacket Idea Makes Japanese Inventor $1.5 Million Richer.

Kenji Takeuchi Story

Kenji Takeuchi used to drive his car every morning to Mugen Denko, the electrical services company he founded in Nagoya, Japan. One day in 1994, he witnessed a motorcycle accident along the way: The rider flew into the air and landed hard on the ground. Questions flooded Takeuchi's brain: "What if he has a family? How will his wife or girlfriend feel?" And then the one that would preoccupy him for the next decade: "How can I protect someone in a motorcycle crash?"

An airbag on the motorcycle wouldn't do. After all, riders usually fall far from their bikes in a crash. Takeuchi learned that upper-body impacts cause 90 percent of fatalities and serious injuries in traffic accidents, so he thought about sewing an airbag into a motorcycle jacket. But how to make it inflate before the rider hits the pavement?

While he was pondering that challenge, a friend invited him to go scuba diving. Takeuchi declined, but he noticed his friend's unusual vest. It had a key ring that, when pulled, would cause an emergency buoy to inflate and rise to the surface.

Takeuchi's company built its first prototype jacket in 1996. Like eventual production versions, it had an airbag inside that inflated automatically when a pin connecting the jacket to the bike was forcefully pulled from its socket. (A one-touch release button allows riders to get off their bikes without inflating the bags.) But when Takeuchi took his invention to motorcycle shows in Tokyo and Osaka, bike manufacturers shunned him. "They thought the jacket would remind people that riding a motorcycle was dangerous," he says.

Undeterred, Takeuchi began selling the jackets in Japan in 1999 under the name Eggparka; in 2001 he relaunched the brand as Hit-Air. Today, Mugen Denko sells 16 styles of airbag-equipped motorcycle jackets and vests for about $270 apiece in Asia, Australia, Europe, and South America. (Product liability laws have been an obstacle in the United States.) In 2003 the police department of Japan's Ibaragi Prefecture adopted Hit-Air vests for its motorcycle force, and Brazilian motorcyclist Jean De Azevedo, who finished seventh in the 2005 Paris-Dakar Rally, had a Hit-Air jacket custom-made for the race.

Total revenues from Hit-Air products reached about $1.5 million in 2005, and Takeuchi says his interest in safety products hasn't let up: He's currently working on extra protection for people on bicycles, skis, and skates, as well as for medical rescue personnel. But he's proudest of the testimonials he's received from Hit-Air buyers. As one happy Japanese customer reports, "I should be dead."

How to License Your Million Dollar Idea: Everything You Need To Know To Turn a Simple Idea into a Million Dollar Payday

Friday, September 08, 2006

Peer To Peer Fundraising

Louis Helm Story

Like most college students, Louis Helm had a cash-flow problem. He had come up with an idea for a new digital-music distribution service, but he couldn't get the money to launch it. Which gave him an even better idea.

In early 2005, Helm launched, a for-profit website that lets anyone raise money for anything--to make a movie, organize a concert, start a company, or plan a high school reunion. Users can solicit donations from friends, family, or strangers while offering donors a credit in the film, a copy of the album, or tickets to the event they helped finance. Fund-raisers simply create a page explaining how much they need, by when, and for what, and start accepting pledges. If the desired amount is raised by the deadline, Fundable collects the money and forwards it to the fund-raiser, minus Fundable's 10 percent cut. If the total isn't reached, nobody has to cough up the cash.

So far, a Miss Sun Fun USA winner used Fundable to raise $800 for a pageant gown, friends collected $1,200 for a Cayman Islands dive trip, and some open-source programmers fetched $2,300 to upgrade their e-mail management application. In the biggest Fundable campaign to date, residents of a Katrina-ravaged New Orleans neighborhood raised $9,260 to buy a newspaper ad demanding better flood protection. "I knew from experience that there was a need for something like Fundable," says Helm, 24, "but I never predicted the diversity of need."

In fact, Fundable seems like the natural consequence of two important trends: the popularity of social-networking sites and the growth of online fund-raising, which generated roughly $3 billion for nonprofits in 2004, according to consulting firm Kintera.

Preventing scams could be a challenge, to be sure. But Helm notes that most campaigns involve donors and organizers who know each other, and donors can always take steps to verify that organizers are legit.

Helm says Fundable has collected nearly $70,000 in donations so far, despite an average gift size of less than $30. He and co-founder John Pratt attracted users through little more than word of mouth and paid Fundable's $8,000 startup expenses out of their own pockets. Of course, if they need to raise more capital, they probably know where to turn.

Effective Fundraising For Nonprofits: Real World Strategies That Work

Thursday, September 07, 2006

How Scratched CD Made One Man Multimillionaire

Joe Born Story

As an engineering graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin in 1992, Joe Born loved the Clint Black album Killin' Time--but the CD had become scratched, causing it to skip during the song "A Better Man." Born says, "It was like having a stone in my shoe."

While pursuing his master's degree, Born worked part-time at an auto body shop. One day, while trying out an industrial paint buffer, he wondered if the same machine could be used to smooth out the scratches that had ruined the Clint Black CD.

After all, he knew that CDs are made of the same plastic as eye-glasses--polycarbonate--and that eye-glasses can be buffed. He also knew that the data on a CD resides beneath the outer plastic layer, so the music would be safe. After polishing the damaged CD with the car buffer, he popped it into a boom box, and "A Better Man" played flawlessly. Born received a patent for the idea in 1995.

The Payoff: With investments from friends and family, Born spent almost four years perfecting his invention. (An early prototype actually scratched discs while buffing them.) Just after winning the patent, he founded Digital Innovations, in Arlington Heights, Ill., and in 1999 the company released SkipDr, a $30 disc-repair unit that is now available at retailers such as Best Buy, Radio Shack, and Wal-Mart. Today, Digital Innovations markets 50 products that repair and clean CDs, DVDs, videogames, and office equipment. According to the privately held company, 2005 sales were about $25 million.

From Idea to Profit: How to Market Innovative Products and Services

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

How To Make Money From Head Bands

Vincent E. Norment Story

There's nothing like a headband soaked with sweat and falling into your eyes to get you off your game. At least that's what Vincent E. Norment thought as he watched a professional basketball game. He saw the players struggling with their athletic headbands and wondered if there was a better way.

Norment, 42, believed a thick strap across the top of the headband, made with the same superabsorbent material as the rest, would not only absorb more of an athlete's sweat, but also stay in place. With a background in sports-related products, he approached headband manufacturers to drum up interest. "They looked at the product and said it wouldn't work," he says. "I didn't let that stop me."

A patent search found nothing similar on the market, so Norment immediately patented his idea for DBands under his DApparel Inc. moniker. He'd been around the sports market long enough to know that the key to success with an athletic-themed product is to get it into the hands (or in this case, on the heads) of professional athletes, so Norment promoted DBands during the three-point shooting contest at the 2003 March Madness collegiate basketball playoffs. After asking athletes for their opinions, he persuaded one player to wear the headband on ESPN. Thanks to the exposure, Norment landed endorsements from professional players-Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers and Brad Miller of the Sacramento Kings, to name a few.

With the $9.99 to $14.99 product coming to sporting goods stores like The Athlete's Foot and Foot Locker, Norment expects to sell between 50,000 and 100,000 DBands by the end of the year. His ultimate goal is to make the DApparel brand a household name-one head at a time.

How to License Your Million Dollar Idea: Everything You Need To Know To Turn a Simple Idea into a Million Dollar Payday

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Ink Refils Millionaire

Dan White Story

Four years ago, Dan White, a naturalist, decided that he wanted to start a company that helped the environment. He founded Rapid Refill Ink, in Springfield, Ore., which remanufactures and sells inkjet and laser toner cartridges at a 40% to 70% savings to consumers.

"There are 1 billion cartridges in landfills," he says. "We can refill one cartridge over 20 times— that's a huge environmental savings." Today the company has expanded to include 70 stores and an additional 300 franchise contracts nationwide.

In addition to creating an environmentally friendly product, White went even further, making sure the stores themselves were made of repurposed materials. Rapid Refill's walls are made of corn stalks, the marble-looking countertops are made of sunflower seed shells, and the carpets are composed of recycled materials like milk cartons.

"There are so many products generated in our culture," says the Green MBA's Stayton. "Consumers are encouraged to purchase more and more, but what happens to all those products? Without being mindful of the final destination, we are going to end up with a world full of junk. We need companies that are creative and innovative and will take products out of the waste stream and turn them into something new." In doing so, they prove that one man's garbage can be an entrepreneur's goldmine.

101 Small Business Ideas for Under $5000

Monday, September 04, 2006

How To Make Money From Old Tires.

Lindsay Smith Story

It is estimated that America produces about 380 million tons of waste a year. This also generates a number of harmful gasses and emissions into the atmosphere and maintains the nation's dependence on landfills. Entrepreneurs who have taken to creating businesses based on the trash of others are not only launching new livelihoods but giving a second life to discarded rubbish while helping the environment.

In 2001, outraged at seeing 26 trees marked for destruction in her Gardena (Calif.) neighborhood because their growth was damaging area sidewalks, Lindsay Smith, a Hollywood screenwriter, unwittingly became an activist and an entrepreneur, soon launching Rubbersidewalks. "These were healthy, mature trees that were being destroyed because the city couldn't afford to repair the broken sidewalks," she says. "We weren't even given the opportunity to weigh in on the choice."

Smith went into action. "It turns out this was a really big problem," she says. And not just in her neighborhood. According to Rubbersidewalks, 330,000 miles of U.S. sidewalks are damaged annually. Moreover, many municipalities simply cut down the trees because it has become too costly to constantly repair the sidewalks.

After doing some investigating, Smith got a grant from the state of California to do research on using rubber pavers as a substitute for concrete sidewalks. Smith spent two years in R&D, eventually coming up with a product made entirely of recycled rubber tires.

The pre-molded, prefabricated rubber squares are cut to fit and are installed over a layer of crushed granite. Interlocking dowels connect the pavers. For repairs, individual pavers can be unlocked and removed.

Smith's rubber sidewalks created a solution to four problems. First, they reduce the number of tires piling up in dumps—according to the Rubber Manufactures Assn., every year more than 250 million scrap tires are thrown out in the U.S.

Second, using rubber pavers, which are unbreakable, reduces the cost of repairing sidewalks, as well as the number of lawsuits resulting from injuries sustained from people tripping on broken concrete. Rubber sidewalks also help preserve trees, and they don't add to what's called heat-island effect, the increase in urban air and surface temperatures due to pavement, asphalt, and building infrastructures.

According to Smith, Rubbersidewalks have been installed in 60 cities across the country and Canada. She says she's gotten requests from metropolitan centers in Asia, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand as well.

Moreover, Smith says she has heard from senior citizen homes interested in installing rubber sidewalks because they are safer and easier on limbs. "We've had 1,000% growth this year," she says. "We will have more growth next year—it has skyrocketed."

Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Garbage To Gold

Eli Reich Story

Two years ago, Eli Reich was a mechanical engineer consultant for a Seattle wind energy company when his messenger bag was stolen. The environmentally conscious Reich, who rode his bike to work every day, decided that instead of buying a new one, he would simply fashion another bag out of used bicycle-tire inner tubes that were lying around his house.

Soon compliments on his sturdy black handmade messenger bag turned into requests. "That was the catalyst," says Reich, who obtained a business license, gave up his day job, and quickly launched Alchemy Goods in the basement of his apartment building. The company's motto: "Turning useless into useful."

For a slew of new entrepreneurs, garbage is not just a matter of personal opinion, it is, ahem, their business. In other words, they're creating new companies out of other people's junk.

While innovation has always been the entrepreneur's trademark, a growing interest in the green movement is propelling small business owners to create new products and services that also happen to be inventive recycling solutions for the country's vast waste heaps. "The sustainability and restoring of our environment are providing opportunities in many fields of small business," says John Stayton, co-founder and director of the Green MBA program at San Francisco's New College of California.

Reich's Alchemy Goods grew quickly. At the outset, he worked solo, making about 5 to 10 bags a month. Now there are three employees. "In our first year, we probably made about 125 bags," he says, "since last year we've probably made another 1,000."

Initially marketing consisted of word of mouth, and the products were sold on the company's Web site. Today the bags can be found in retail outlets in Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, California, Montana, and two stores in Japan.

And the products, made from materials found at local junkyards and bike shops, have grown, too. Alchemy now offers different styles. The classic messenger bag ($148) and the smaller Haversack bag ($88) are made from recycled inner tubes and seat belts. The Adbag, a $30 tote, is fashioned from old mesh outdoor advertising banners.

Reich says he is looking to broaden his product line and expand his distribution channels. "After we started the company, I didn't see a lot of other recycling products," he says. "I've learned quite a bit about companies taking similar innovative approaches to product design. It's a niche now, but it's a growing field. People are becoming more aware of what products are made of and where they go after they are done owning them."

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Shoestring Millionaires

Michael And Lewis Story

Start-Up Cost: $583

After eight years of working for others-after he'd owned his own business-Michael Lewis got the inspiration to start The car enthusiast had been chatting on a Pontiac Grand Prix community Web site when he met Brian Marks, 28, and the two commiserated about the difficulty of finding specialty car parts. Both had jobs in the tech industry at the time, yet they wanted to launch a Web site to meet car hobbyists' needs. Says Lewis, 42, "We had this idea we could do this with little risk because we could use the Internet as our catalog."

The partners started part time out of their homes-with Lewis in Sammamish, Washington, and Marks in Raleigh, North Carolina. "We didn't even meet until we'd been working together for three months," says Lewis. Their earliest expenses were $55 per month for Web hosting and application fees for the Internet transactions and merchant bank account. To save money, they didn't stock inventory at first, but relied on drop-shipping from vendors instead.

In 1999, Lewis quit his job to devote himself full time to the growing venture; Marks quit his job in 2000 and still resides in North Carolina. Lewis credits outsourcing with keeping overhead low-even today, with sales in the millions, they outsource warehousing, distribution and shipping. "As much as you want to start with $2 million in capital, keep the day job, and get your toes wet," says Lewis. "Learn when the consequences aren't so high."

Start Your Own Automobile Detailing Business

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Brilliant Twist On A Selfstorage Idea

Kim Akhtar Story

Kim Akhtar was a typical new yorker with a typical problem--too little closet space for all her clothing. "I've lived in New York for 20 years," she says. "You're always complaining about space." She knew her predicament was not unique--plenty of professionals and fashionistas have more designer clothes than closet space. Tired of the massive effort it took each year to switch her closet from spring to winter and store her off-season clothes with the local dry cleaner, Akhtar wanted a readily accessible place where she could store her things and keep them in good condition.

Out of that desire, Garde Robe was born. Akhtar, invested nearly $200,000 of her own money into the idea, rented a Tribeca loft and began to market her clothing storage service. For $225 per month, Garde Robe will photograph, catalog and store clothing and accessories for clients ranging from professionals and socialites to celebrities. A few clients even live outside New York but require storage in New York City for business trips. Akhtar modeled her service after that of a concierge--available 24/7, clothes are delivered to a client's home or hotel room in Manhattan in 90 minutes or less.

In addition to clothing storage, Akhtar provides each of her 35 clients with a leather-bound catalog of his or her wardrobe as well as a secure online clothing portfolio. Akhtar completes the service with wardrobe and image consulting as well as seamstress and repair services. "We don't like to market it as a luxury," says Akhtar, whose sales are currently in the six figures. "For New Yorkers, it's a practical service. We're offering them extra space in their own homes."

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