Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How To Make Money Naming Domains.

PickyDomains.Com is a perfect example of how to turn one’s talent into a profitable business. With ever expanding Internet and tens of millions existing websites, finding an available domain name that’s not already taken by cybersquatters can be a real nightmare.

But one man’s problem is another man’s solution. Rather than to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a domain name on the aftermarket, an increasing number of web entrepreneurs turn to professional “domain namers”.

While most naming agencies charge a non-refundable fee that can be as high as $1500 for a corporate domain, one service that unites 17 professional domain namers from countries like United States, Russia, Australia and New Zealand, decided to offer a risk-free service that costs only 50 dollars per domain.

After 50 dollars are deposited, clients start getting a list of available domain names via e-mail for a period of 30 days. If they see a domain they like, they register it and notify the service about domain acquired. The individual, who came up with the name, gets $25, the other half going to the service. If no domain is registered, the money is refunded in full.

While the idea is brainlessly simple, it appears that PickyDomains.Com has no competition with its risk-free business model. But that is almost certain to change as more people find out that finding available domain names for other people can be a profitable business.

Domain Names: How to Choose & Protect a Great Name for Your Website

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Million Dollar Helmet.

When American Julia Mancuso won the gold medal in the super giant slalom at the 2006 Winter Olympics, Stefan Ytterborn may have been the only Swedish skier celebrating.

But he had a good reason: His startup, Poc, designed the high-tech helmets that Mancuso and three other U.S. skiers wore as they crossed the finish line.

Now the tiny Stockholm-based ski equipment maker is careening into the mainstream with its flagship product, the Skull Comp, considered the Porsche of ski helmets.

"Our goal was to have one World Cup skier using our products the first season," CEO Ytterborn says. "Instead, we got four Americans and the Swedish downhill ski team."

He founded Poc in 2003 with funding from several business partners and angel investors like Swedish World Cup skier Patrik Järbyn. The futuristic-looking Poc helmet hit the market last year but has already scored nearly $1 million in sales.

Ytterborn's timing couldn't be better: The ski helmet market is exploding. Revenue in the United States alone has almost doubled to $57 million since 1999, and the category is expected to maintain double-digit growth for the next several years.

Why? Because people actually want to be seen wearing them. "Helmets are no longer just a protection product," says Ed Wray, Eastern sales and marketing manager at SnowSports Industries America. "They're also a fashion product."

Not that Ytterborn has ignored the safety aspect. He met with doctors and neuroscientists to design a helmet that would best prevent head and spinal injuries.

This ski season, Poc helmets will be sold by as many as 450 retailers worldwide. Revenue will be eight times what it was last year, Ytterborn says, and if all goes as expected, the company should be profitable by 2008 and ring up at least $50 million in sales by 2012.

"We have a vision to become the No. 1 supplier of protection for skiers," he says. Looks like he's off to a flying start.

Ski Faster: Lisa Feinberg Densmore's Guide to High Performance Skiing and Racing

Monday, January 29, 2007

Mobile Bandits.

Have you ever mistaken somebody else’s cell phone for your own? It’s not difficult to do with the proliferation of the handy little gadgets in our busy lives, which is why the Wagner family came up with Mobile Bandits.

“It’s a great, simple concept,” says John Wagner, 54, describing the small plastic bands that come in six different colors and fit neatly onto almost any cell phone antenna. In late 2004, his daughter, Alison, now 25, told him about the family plans she was selling while working at a Verizon retail store. “People kept asking her how they could tell the cell phones apart,” John says. So she came up with the idea of putting tiny, easily recognizable and brightly colored bands on the phone antennas.

Using his own money, John hired a local plastic manufacturer in Denver who was able to produce their designs using parts available in the shop. “I just looked at whatever existing inventory he had,” John says. While John was busy with the first batch of Mobile Bandits and filing a patent, his son, Andrew, 20, designed a logo and created a website ( By searching online, the Wagners were able to find a packaging company that fit their budget.

“It went really fast,” John says. “I looked at is as we either go quickly with it or we don’t go at all, because it could have easily been copied.”

The Mobile Bandits are currently distributed in Phones Plus stores around Denver, with 2007 sales projected at $100,000. The Wagners have big plans for the little plastic bands and are looking to sell them wholesale to major phone companies like Cingular and Verizon to be packaged with family plans.

Think Two Products Ahead: Secrets the Big Advertising Agencies Don't Want You to Know and How to Use Them for Bigger Profits

Claude Hopkins Prophetic Insight

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Bamboo Skateboards Generate $1 Million In Sales For This Entrepreneur.

When skateboard-maker Sector 9 in San Diego decided to add a couple of bamboo skateboards to its product lineup, company managers thought they might appeal to a few environmentally conscious customers. But in less than two years, customer demand led the company to expand the line to four models, Sector 9 vice president and co-founder Dennis Telfer, 37, reports.

At press time, sales for the bamboo boards were projected to top $1 million in 2006. The bamboo skateboards are popular not only because they save trees, but also because “the boards are really durable and they’ve got a different look,” says Telfer, who co-founded the business with Steve Lake, 38, and Dave Klimkiewicz, 36.

As Telfer discovered, bamboo has more going for it than just being a fast-growing, easily renewable relative of grass. Bamboo is strong and has a tropical, exotic appearance that appeals to customers who are interested in the tiki-Hawaiian look or just seeking out something new.

The Street Smart Entrepreneur: 133 Tough Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

Don't Blame Capitalism

Friday, January 26, 2007

Open This

About four years ago, Thomas Perlmutter and his wife took their friends the Lewises out for dinner to celebrate Robert Lewis's 45th birthday. The Perlmutters even gave the birthday boy a gift: a Montblanc fountain pen. But when Lewis tried to use the pen, he found that he was unable to pry it from the hard plastic case in which it was packaged.

It was an especially awkward moment: Perlmutter's business was designing inserts for those obnoxious "clamshells," the difficult-to-penetrate plastic packages that hold everything from MP3 players to, well, fountain pens. "You," his wife complained, "should invent something to open those things."

That wasn't exactly a dumb idea. Manufacturers and retailers love clamshell packaging because it deters theft while showing off products in all their glory. But what consumer hasn't had to resort to scissors, keys, fingernails, or even teeth to get inside one? A friend of Perlmutter's once joked that clamshell makers probably own stock in kitchen-knife companies. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that attempts to open plastic packaging led to 2,943 injuries in 2004.

So Perlmutter took his wife's anti-clamshell sentiment seriously—and began addressing it immediately. Before finishing their filets mignons, he and Lewis had drawn back-of-the-napkin sketches for a safe, easy-to-use tool. A few days later, they met in Perlmutter's office and began working on a prototype, which took two months to bang out. "The hardest thing was to get the blade at the proper angle so that people wouldn't cut themselves," Perlmutter recalls.

That wasn't the only obstacle, though. Perlmutter was at first convinced that he could manufacture the cutting device—he was already calling it OpenX because OpenExperts was too long to write on the handle—in the United States. But factories in Pennsylvania and California, where he initially farmed out the work, were too slow. "It took them a year to make a mold and forever to make some changes," he says. Finally, Perlmutter got in touch with a plant in Taiwan, which shipped back a finished product six weeks later. "They delivered exactly what they said they were going to deliver," he says.

In February 2003, Perlmutter and Lewis founded a company called Ranchmark to market OpenX. The tool sells for $9.95 at the company's website ( and at retailers including Perlmutter, who is CEO and runs day-to-day operations, says Ranchmark was profitable on revenue of $250,000 last year, and demand shows no signs of flagging.

A big break came in May, when the popular gadget blog Gizmodo praised OpenX as "a great solution to an infuriating problem." The next day the company received 1,100 orders. Of course, such success pales in comparison with how OpenX has improved the Perlmutters' home life. The couple uses the cutter not only for plastic clamshells but also to open letters, boxes, FedEx envelopes, and plastic wraps around water bottles. "I was part of the problem, and now I have created the solution," Perlmutter muses. He's on the lookout for his next invention—and listening very carefully to his wife's complaints.

Brilliant Rent-A-Bag Idea

Thursday, January 25, 2007

How To Make $500 An Hour As A Luxury Expert

Natasha Pearl, chief executive officer and founder of Aston Pearl, calls her company "the private bank for everything except money."

It offers 260 different services, ranging from art collecting to finding the right summer camp for children. Before founding her five-employee company in 2001, Pearl worked at Sotheby's, the auction house in New York, and was motivated to start her own business after finding a large number of clients looking for objective opinions about all things luxe.

Pearl charges an hourly rate of $300 to $500, depending on the complexity or challenge of the assignment.

The Affluent Consumer: Marketing and Selling the Luxury Lifestyle

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How To Sell A Burger That Has 312,000 Options

"I started the restaurant out of a desire to do something that was different from what anybody had ever done before," says Jeff Weinstein, proprietor of the Los Angeles-based burger joint, The Counter.

And he has. At The Counter, customers can order ultra-customized burgers for about $6 to $12 apiece, starting with a choice of beef, chicken, turkey, veggie, salmon or ahi tuna. Then they can choose from 10 cheeses, 26 toppings, 17 sauces and eight types of buns.

That all adds up to an astounding 312,000 options, not to mention the several kinds of beer available.

Indeed, this unique concept has proven so appealing that it's grown from a stand-alone shop to a soon-to-be national franchise in the space of just a few years.

Thanks to a fast-growing following, the Counter broke even and began posting a profit just three months after opening in Santa Monica in December 2003.

"We believe we're the first to do the premium burger, and we're the best at it," said Weinstein, the 31-year-old founder.

In July 2005, GQ magazine ranked The Counter at No. 15 in its list of "20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die." But things didn't explode until Oprah Winfrey's best friend, Gayle King, sampled every all-beef patty on GQ's list for an episode of the "Oprah Winfrey" show.

After the show aired this past February, sales soared to $245,000 a month, up from the $44,000 a month it grossed when it opened in 2003.

Soon Weinstein's success attracted the attention of Lou Gurnick, who had worked on the initial development of franchises like Midas Muffler, Domino's Pizza and Orange Julius.

"I was so focused on getting The Counter successful that I wasn't thinking about duplicating it," said Weinstein. "It wasn't until after I saw the response that it was evident I could expand."

Gurnick helped pave the way for Weinstein's partnership with Flavor Firm, a Los Angeles-based franchiser, earlier this year.

With a modern industrial setting and contemporary tunes, "the concept lends itself to be ever evolving," Weinstein said. "Some other concepts, like Fuddruckers, are stuck in the 50s era and they don't ever evolve."

Weinstein, who is a graduate of the Johnson & Wales University College of Culinary Arts, didn't know much about what it takes to take a business nationally, so he was eager to partner up with a more experienced team. "It made sense for me to piggyback on their structure."

Since launching The Counter's franchising program, the development rights have been sold to 60 restaurants, which are scheduled to open throughout California over the next three years.

Four to five restaurants are expected to open in 2006, followed by 12 to 15 in 2007 and between 20 and 25 locations in 2008.

Long-range projections call for 400 to 600 restaurants across the country.

Weinstein is also contemplating opening another spot himself in Las Vegas.

"When I started The Counter, I just had thoughts of making enough money to support my wife and me," Weinstein said. But now, "watching the growth is the best part - seeing people who believe in it and are willing to back it."

The Wizard of Ads: Turning Words into Magic and Dreamers into Millionaires

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

How To Make $15 Million From Five REALLY RICH Clients.

2006 revenue: between $10 million and $15 million

Raven Kauffman specializes in glamour —bringing it to her clients in the form of luxury gifts, fashion, and event planning, among other services.

Kauffman has been assisting celebrities and other wealthy individuals with their luxe needs since around 2001, but officially incorporated her two-employee business in 2006.

"Wardrobe acquisition" is Kauffman's specialty, but her job requires much more than just a trip to the department store. "I have close relationships with designers all over the world, and I often acquire one-of-a-kind pieces for my clients," says Kauffman.

Her company makes about $10 million to $15 million a year in revenue and serves only five or six clients a year.

Mischief Marketing: How the Rich, Famous, & Successful Really Got Their Careers and Businesses Going

Housing: Boom, Bubble, or Bust?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Making A Living Selling Skateboarding Ramps

Illinois-native Jim Bell moved to San Diego with big dreams of working in the skateboard industry. After a string of sales jobs with several skate companies, Bell struck out on his own to put his own ideas for a business in motion. In 2004, Bell started Jim Bell Skateboard Ramps with nothing but the money in his pocket. Two years later, his custom-built skateboard ramp business is bringing in a quarter-million dollars in sales.

Bell began building skateboard ramps in his dad's garden when he was 14; now he's using his skills to build custom ramps in other people's backyards. Bell's built hundreds of ramps ranging in size from 4' x 8' wide mini-ramps to 40-foot half pipes and wooden bowls. His first store-friendly product, the U-Build-It Skateboard Ramp, nearly doubled his sales in 2006.

How to Build Skateboard Ramps, Halfpipes, Boxes, Bowls and More

Masters of their Domains

Saturday, January 20, 2007

How To Make $700,000 Selling Leg Lamps

Brian Jones Story:

Business: Red Rider Leg Lamps, based in San Diego

Off-the-Wall Factor: The business sells lamps with a base that’s the shape of a woman’s stocking-clad leg--modeled to look just like the lamp that Ralphie’s father receives in the 1983 Christmas classic, A Christmas Story.

Not-So-Off-the-Wall Revenue: The company has generated sales of close to $700,000 since it launched back in 2003.

How to Succeed as a Small Business Owner ... and Still Have a Life

Friday, January 19, 2007

Marketing After Dark

Australian Passout Marketing is using nightclub hand stamps for advertising.

Inked on the hands and wrists of nightclub patrons, passout stamps are used as proof that someone has paid admission, is of legal drinking age, or can gain re-entrance to a club. Passout Marketing deemed this space too good to go unbranded, and has started working with venue owners and advertisers to stamp marketing messages on club hoppers. As they put it, Passout Marketing allows companies to "get their brand name right onto the skin of their target market".

Passout Marketing owns the rights to use the pass-out stamps of a majority of Australian nightspots, giving them exposure to thousands of men and women aged 18-32 every week. They currently cover over 2,500,00 people each year, and venues are given a cut of ad revenues.

The idea is spreading: The Cool Hunter recently featured stamp advertising in India, which was limited to a (very sensible) 'don't drink and drive' campaign.

Opportunities? This one's easy to set up. Start-up costs are minimal, and entrepreneurs that have connections to both nightspots and advertisers should be able to get up and running in no time. Sounds like a nice sideline for young ad agency employees ;-)

Guerrilla Marketing for Free: Dozens of No-Cost Tactics to Promote Your Business and Energize Your Profits

Why Fear Is So Expensive By Robert Kiyosaki

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Colored Bubbles As A Great Invention

You may think you've seen these before, but you haven't. Although traditional clear soap bubbles give you a rainbow effect in the right light, Zubbles are the first truly colored bubbles—nearly opaque, with a single vibrant hue.

The problem, which took Minnesota toy inventor Tim Kehoe more than 10 years to solve, was to create a dye that could not only tint the thin wall of a soap bubble but that wouldn't leave a stain when the bubble broke.

His solution: invent an entirely new dye that simply disappears. Agitation (rubbing your hands together) or exposure to the air transforms the dye's molecular structure from brightly colored to colorless in minutes or hours, depending on the surface the bubbles break on.

Zubbles will hit shelves early next year, but the temporary washable color may soon show up in other products, including a bathroom wipe that leaves a momentary trail of color to show you where you've cleaned, and a toothpaste that turns kids' mouths bright pink until they've brushed for 30 seconds.

Kehoe even imagines biomedical and industrial applications. Who knew what bubbles could do?

The Inventor's Bible: How to Market and License Your Brilliant Ideas

Man Turns Everest Trash Into Treasure

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Moms Wanted

Allison Karl O'Kelly's corporate career started at KPMG Peat Marwick and led her to an executive role at Toys “R” Us, where she launched the company's Babies “R” Us Web site and oversaw an $11 million Toys “R” Us store. When O'Kelly had her own child, her part-time schedule wasn't flexible enough for her family responsibilities.

So, in 2005, she founded Mom Corps, a matchmaker that pairs experienced women looking for work with companies seeking seasoned talent. "I didn't mind working full-time, which I do [now], but I needed the flexibility to take my children to the doctor or go to school activities without difficulties. I started Mom Corps to meet my own needs for flexibility and provide that luxury to other moms at the same time," says O'Kelly.

Hence, in July 2005, O'Kelly branded Mom Corps to serve as a matchmaking service between employers looking to recruit top talent and former full-time professionals turned stay-at-home mothers. Resumes for highly qualified and educated women - CPAs, attorneys, IT specialists among them - are maintained in Mom Corps' database of 1,500 applicants.

"Employers mostly call us for small, short-term project work, but also for longer-term stints, filling in for someone on leave," O'Kelly explains. "We also do a lot of permanent part-time placement. We make sure employers are getting exactly what they need, and we've received positive feedback about every singe person we've placed."

Placements meet moms' needs as well. "For women with younger kids, we find work they can do from home; women with older kids can't do full-time work during the summer," she says.

Although Mom Corps has been active for just over a year, "word is spreading very quickly," according to O'Kelly, and she believes the company is "opening employers' eyes" about flexible work arrangements.

And the numbers prove the story. Her company had $1.3 million in 2006 revenue.

The Stay-at-Home Mom's Guide to Making Money from Home

What Happens To The Ring When The Wedding Is Called Off?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

How Zappos.Com Became Leading Online Shoe Seller

After San Francisco Web designer Jon Adams searched unsuccessfully for a pair of dress shoes and some sneakers, a friend recommended shopping online at

Adams ordered two pairs of shoes from the site. When one didn't fit, he exchanged them for another size and style. Then he purchased a third pair.

"It's super easy to order, and super, super easy to return stuff," says Adams, who spent about $215. "It's just such a hassle to go around to stores."

Not long ago, the idea of selling something as tactile and personal as shoes over the Internet seemed one of those dotcom-fever dreams. After all, you never saw the trendsetters on Sex and the City hunched over their laptops surfing for Manolos.

Today, though, online footwear is a $3 billion business, and Zappos holds a full fifth of the market. With 4 million customers, the Las Vegas company has doubled its sales every year since 1999 and is on track to hit $600 million in revenue this year.

So how did Zappos best such shoe sellers as J.C. Penney, the No. 2 online footwear retailer? With customer-pleasing policies like this: If the shoe fits, wear it. If not, ship it back - at no cost to you - because a huge inventory almost guarantees you'll find something else you like.

Zappos, of course, is not the first dotcom to build a business on the back of free shipping (Amazon has done quite nicely, thank you very much), but CEO Tony Hsieh's big idea was to also make the return process a competitive advantage. Customers are given a link to print out a prepaid return shipping label. Eventually, Hsieh says, "we want to be selling everything and anything with overnight shipping."

While customers love the fast turnaround and free returns, the shipping policy will cost Zappos about $100 million in 2006. In fact, only this year did the company turn profitable, earning a few million dollars.

Still, the policy "is a long-term customer-retention strategy," says Patti Freeman Evans, a senior analyst at JupiterResearch. On any given day, 65 percent of Zappos shoppers are repeat customers, according to the company.

The idea of hassle-free online shoe shopping was in Zappos's DNA from its founding in 1999 by Nick Swinmurn, a San Francisco marketer. Zappos (the name is loosely derived from zapatos, the Spanish word for "shoes") brought in Hsieh, then running a venture capital firm called Venture Frogs, as CEO in 2000, and he hired Venture Frogs co-founder Alfred Lin to be the shoe retailer's CFO.

Venture Frogs poured $1 million into Zappos. More recently, Zappos scored two rounds of funding, totaling $35 million, from Sequoia Capital in 2004 and 2005.

Of course, free shipping works only if you have a lot of merchandise to ship. Zappos's Shepherdsville, Ky., warehouse boasts an inventory of almost 3.2 million items, mainly shoes, representing more than 950 brands. Features like 24-hour customer service and a 365-day return policy have further ensured that Zappos shoppers - about 40 percent male, incidentally - walk away happy.

With rivals like, the second-largest Internet-only footwear retailer, and the recent launch of Gap's Piperlime online shoe store, Zappos needs to stay on its toes.

But Heather Dougherty, an analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings, says the online shoe industry is growing so fast that there's room for several players: "It's not a zero-sum game."

Starting an Online Business For Dummies

Declan Dunn On Web Copy (X10 Seminar)

Monday, January 15, 2007

How To Turn Art Into Business

With the holidays coming, artists at Your Memory Lane are gearing up for a busy season of making individualized works of art for gift giving. The company, run by two brothers, makes one-of-a-kind art prints depicting a street scene interwoven with symbols of a person's milestones, memories and life history.

The personalized gifts business got its start several years ago when Bob McLean and his brother Don designed and printed a city building reflecting different aspects of a friend's life and gave it to him "as a goofy gift." The print was an immediate hit and people who saw it wanted one for their friends.

"Within a few months we were getting daily calls," said McLean, of Atlanta.

Just a year later, in 2004, the brothers, one a graphic designer and the other an artists' representative, decided to see if they could turn their sideline into a business, and they ventured into their first retail enterprise.

The Web was a natural for their business, McLean said, because customers could see the prints, read about the process and make their orders in one step.

McLean started by securing the domain name and then taught himself FrontPage and built the site himself. He says it took him about a month to get the site looking and working the way he wanted it.

To get Your Memory Lane included in search engines he programmed the meta-tags and hired someone to help with the rest of the process. McLean also researched shopping sites where he could list the Web site. Because of the nature of the business, which is more service-related as opposed to selling an inventory of products, he needed to list with shopping sites that would link back to the site.

Shopping Sites Help Stuff Stockings
The brothers listed the site with several gift-shopping channels, including, Present Picker, The, and The Web shop owners are happy with the traffic they get from these sites, which makes up about 40 percent of their sales. Still, most of their business comes from word-of-mouth, McLean said.

Your Memory Lane has become popular for all sorts of celebrations: birthdays, anniversaries, retirements, and of course, Christmas. When they started out, the company was selling about five prints a month. This year, they're up to about 30 a month, and during the holiday rush they typically see about a 30-percent increase in sales, McLean said.

"What separates us is the uniqueness of the gift," he said. "It's obvious that someone really thought about the gift, and it reflects that work."

Each print features between three and eight buildings on a street. Customers tell the brothers the story of the person they want to honor and they incorporate those memories in signs on the buildings, in the objects on the street and in other details.

"We try to make them as personal as possible," McLean said. He loves talking to customers about their piece because he loves the stories they tell. "We could fill a book with the life stories we've heard," he said.

The brothers take those life stories and define them down to their simplest terms — a golf bag leaning against a building, for example, speaks volumes to the person it's meant for, he says. Prints start at $345 and are guaranteed, as there is an approval process in which customers preview the prints. Customers are notified by e-mail when their proof is posted to the Web site for review. Attached to the proof announcement e-mail is a "proof corrections" form that is completed and returned.

For those who want to discuss the review process, there is a toll-free number prominently listed to ensure that there is no confusion about the policy. Likewise, the company is up-front about the time it takes to create unique prints, and explains clearly at its site that it may take up to 20 days from the order-date to receive the artwork, though a "Rush" delivery is available for an extra fee.

It seems, though, that for gift-givers who want to send a present that is more intimate than most, that timing isn't always the top priority. This year there is an increase of gift requests for and by people serving in the military in Iraq, Mclean said, and they've even had a request from Somalia (they changed the structures in the print to look more like buildings you'd see in that East African country).

"When people are so far from each other," McLean said, "they really want to do something special for the person they're missing."

How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist, 5th ed.: Selling Yourself Without Selling Your Soul

Pet Burial Is A Thriving Business

Sunday, January 14, 2007

How To Make Money Selling Designer Barcodes
Japanese Design Barcode turns standard barcodes into appealing and engaging brand elements.

Following laundry services, supermarkets and coffins in our recurring 'everything can be reinvented' theme, come the humble stripes and digits that shape the ubiquitous barcode, as reinvented by Design Barcode.

Fifteen companies are currently using the agency's novel barcodes as part of their packaging design. The designs are clever and whimsical, from bars being picked up by chopsticks for a ramen noodles package, to a zebra carrying the black and white stripes on its back.

Some designs were commissioned by clients, while others are part of the agency's initial range of 200 designs created to display the format's potential. Exclusive rights to the latter can be bought for USD 4,000 plus a USD 400 annual license fee. The agency prides itself on zero instances of false reading by barcode readers (machine readability is key), and all barcodes are put through a battery of tests before being released for production.

Although Design Barcode has been reworking barcodes since 2004, the idea hadn't yet caught on outside Japan. That's likely to change after the four-man agency won major industry recognition in Cannes last week, in the shape of a Titanium Lion award.

Everything that is packaged reaches customers' hands with a barcode attached. Turning that mandatory element into something unexpected and playful is certain to make many customers smile. Surely that's worth USD 4,000 to most brands. ;-) Design Barcodes is working with Pacarc to bring the concept to the United States, but other markets still seem wide open. One for regional (boutique) design firms and advertising agencies?

Keyword Research: How To Have Your Competitors Do All The Hard Keyword Work

Saturday, January 13, 2007

How To Create Your Own Multimillion Martial Arts Empire

Startup costs: $15,000 in 1995

Last year sales: $2.5 million for the four studios

In 1984, Dawn Barnes enrolled herself and her two young sons in a karate class with no idea of the adventures that awaited. By signing up, this former ballerina and stuntwoman started down the path to becoming a third-degree black belt, successful entrepreneur and well-known leader in the martial arts industry. Fascinated by the physical/spiritual balance of martial arts, Barnes trained diligently and, about 10 years later, opened the doors to her own school.

Described by some as the "Four Seasons of karate," Barnes' four schools are lavishly equipped with leather seating, wall murals, Olympic judo mats and colorful equipment. But the schools' true beauty can be found in the life skills emphasized during each class. Focusing on respect, patience, kindness and honesty, all 1,200 students, ages 4 to 14, finish each class with a single thought: "Every day, do something to make your mind strong, your body strong, your spirit strong."

Barnes's next step is to take the phrase she coined--"positive dialogue response," meaning motivating children with praise rather than fear--worldwide. She has written instructors manuals and produced DVDs used by teachers worldwide, she spreads her teachings by speaking at national conventions, and she has written a new children's book series--soon to be turned into a feature film--titled The Black Belt Club. Says Barnes, "If one seed of self-esteem can be planted in one child, that child is going to grow up and make a difference for other people."

The Truth About the Martial Arts Business

Dan Kennedy How To Sell Information Products

Friday, January 12, 2007

How To Make A Living, Answerting Quesions With Text Messaging

The service allows users to text absolutely any question to 82275 (82ASK). Costing just £1, an impressive 85% of questions are answered within five minutes.

82ASK is the offspring of Oxbridge graduates Sarah McVittie and Thomas Roberts. Both were working as financial analysts for investment bank UBS Warlberg when they struck on the idea.

“We were being paid to analyse data but we spent most of our time locating it,” says McVittie. Frustrated at not being able to source fast, accurate data, they began researching the information market. A commissioned survey showed demand for a service offering fast, reliable answers to users’ queries.

“We decided to just go for it,” says McVittie, “We were young enough [25] that we didn’t have much to lose. We both had partners but neither of us were married.”

The company was founded in June 2003 from their living rooms. Using just their savings and a basic IT system cobbled together by friends, six months later they launched a basic free email version today’s text service.

“Thomas and I did everything ourselves and were ringing around to find the answers. We thought, rather than automate, let’s understand how the customer will use this.”

The need to make money soon arrived though. Settling on the £1 (and £3 for a weekly subscription) pricing model as well as SMS as the preferred platform, came from surveying the 2,000 people who had used the service for free.

First year turnover of £500,000 was a positive start but the direct competition, in the form of Issuebits soon arrived. McVittie admits to being “slightly ruffled”, but reacted proactively by urging journalists to write up comparisons, confident they’d come out favourably.

Further growth has been helped by angel investment of £1m, funding new technology to streamline the service and deliver superior levels of automation.

“When a question is asked, the system learns to recognise and categorise based on previous questions and answers. If the question can’t be dealt with automatically it is passed on to our ‘texperts’.”

82ASK is now based in Cambridge, has six full-time employees and 150 trained ‘texperts’. With contracts from Guinness World Records and the Association of Football Statisticians on board, a book of the most interest questions, which sold 5,000 copies in its week, and a £2m turnover forecast for 2007, the future looks bright.

And McVittie plans to roll out into other English-speaking countries, no doubt curing the insomnia of millions of others pondering why you never see baby pigeons…

Do Sheep Shrink in the Rain?: The 500 Most Outrageous Questions Ever Asked and Their Answers

Is Web 2.0 A Bubble? A Very Intersting Debate

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rent A Garden

Dutch Rent-a-Garden has come up with the perfect solution for garden owners in need of a quick garden fix, whether for their own pleasure, or to make a house sell more easily. The company offers a wide range of potted plants and outdoor sculpture. After discussing a client's needs and wishes, Rent-a-Garden draws up a plan and takes care of all details and installation. Pricing ranges from EUR 300 for a makeover lasting 3 months, including upkeep.

Akin to changing a home's outdoor wardrobe, customers can switch their garden, patio or roof-terrace's look with every season. Sounds like the perfect solution for transumers – those consumers who have moved beyond the fixed and move from one temporary experience to the other, doing away with the hassle of ownership and maintenance.

When it comes down to selling their house, non-transumers will no doubt be interested, too. A transformed, upgraded garden attracts more buyers, who have the option of buying the plants and sculpture from Rent-a-Garden. A similar concept in Australia, operating under the same name, provides instant gardens for home sales, weddings and events.

SPROUT!: Everything I Need to Know About Sales I Learned from My Garden

Is Your Ego Hurting Your Business?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Militarized Coffee

As chief of 55 coffee cafes located on U.S. military bases overseas, Jason Araghi has faced his share of obstacles, from learning to brew Espresso Chai Lattes with sketchy water and electrical supplies, to outmaneuvering Iraqi insurgents who use his mobile shops for target practice.

But one of the greatest tests yet for Mr. Araghi comes Tuesday when he opens his newest cafe -- in sunny California U.S.A. It will be the first leg of a domestic push for Green Beans Coffee Co., a name familiar to thousands of U.S. soldiers stationed in countries including Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait -- but unknown to most stateside consumers. Unlike its overseas ventures, the U.S. Green Beans cafes won't have the luxury of banking on a captive audience of servicemen and women. Instead the company seeks to wrest a piece of the $34.5 billion U.S. coffee market from bigger well-known players such as Starbucks Corp., Dunkin' Brands Inc.'s Dunkin' Donuts chain and Peet's Coffee & Tea Inc.

As such, the Green Beans domestic launch presents a curious marketing hurdle: how much to highlight Green Beans heritage as a "military" coffee shop at a time when the war is increasingly unpopular among many consumers here at home.

"We don't want to be a company associated with just the military," says Mr. Araghi. Yet, he notes: "The military is our heritage. That's where we got our legs."

His predicament highlights a broader challenge many entrepreneurs face: how to grow a business beyond its original concept, without losing sight of what made money in the first place. The answer for Green Beans? Acknowledge their heritage -- just not too much.

In some ways, the military connection makes tiny Larkspur, Calif.-based Green Beans stand out. There are some 13,000 coffee cafes across the U.S., according to, and Green Beans' $15 million in revenue last year is dwarfed by Starbucks' $7.79 billion for fiscal 2006. To that end, Green Beans will be opening most U.S. stores near or on military bases -- close to its established core -- offering soldiers 10% discounts and giving veterans of the most recent Iraq or Afghanistan wars the opportunity to buy and operate U.S. Green Beans franchises with a 10% discount on franchising fees.

What's more, most civilians, even those opposed to the war, typically warm to "supporting the troops," and Green Beans will allow customers to buy gift cards for soldiers. Stores also will have literature touting that Green Beans gives back a percentage of gross sales (up to 2%) to charities that support families of troops. That message will also be printed on cups.

Still, the company also wants its java in the hands of average Joes not necessarily attracted by the red-white-and-blue connection. So Green Beans is working to present itself more as a global, organically friendly chain. It recently changed its brand to Green Beans Coffee WorldCafe, and logos now boast an eagle like the one found on covers of U.S. passports as well as stamp-like images with names of other countries. The company is also highlighting the "Green" part of its name by using recycled materials for paint, wall and floor coverings as well as all organic coffee beans and tea leaves.

The good news for Green Beans is that gourmet coffee shops are one of the bright spots of the U.S. restaurant industry, says Harry Balzer, a vice president of market-research firm NPD Group Inc. based in Port Washington, N.Y. "There is lots of room in that area," says Mr. Balzer. "The question won't be getting people try them. It will be, once I've tried it, what will drive me to them every day?"

It won't be low prices. A Green Beans Cafe Latte with a double shot of espresso runs about $3.25 while a Mocha Frappe with four shots tallies about $5. "The cost of the products they sell are acceptable but can put a pretty good dent in a military member's wallet if they drink it a lot," writes Scott Whitley who is stationed in Camp Bucca, Iraq. Still, Mr. Whitley says he tries to go to Green Beans every day, and is a "big fan" of the Vanilla Chai Latte. "The locations to get a good cup of coffee are very limited," he writes. "You can make your own in your room or work location, but it is not good."

It's that loyalty Mr. Araghi of Green Beans hopes to capitalize on back in the U.S. When he and his brother, Jon Araghi, opened their first cafe in 1996 near a military base in Saudi Arabia, there wasn't a big war involving American troops. The original concept was simply to provide a hip coffee place for the expatriate community; Green Beans roasting facilities are in San Francisco and all product is shipped from there. Word spread about the cafe, which catered to Western palates, and Army officials soon asked the brothers to open a cafe on a nearby base. More cafes on other U.S. bases followed.

But it was after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and subsequent military actions, that Green Beans unexpectedly got its biggest business boost; today the company serves some 15,000 customers daily in Iraq and Kuwait alone working via the U.S. military exchange service.

To be sure, being at war has presented operational difficulties: In Iraq, insurgents often fire at the cafes in transport to bases; and inventory control is tricky due to sudden troop movements, which can instantly deplete the customer base. Still, "because of the war, we got a large amount of exposure that we wouldn't have" otherwise, says Jason Araghi, the company's 42-year-old president. Now, he says, timing is right for expansion in the U.S. because of Green Beans' brand recognition.

The company is opening its first two U.S. stores near Travis Air Force base in California. It plans to expand through franchising into Texas, the Carolinas, Washington, D.C., and Colorado Springs this year -- both on military bases and off. It will soon begin selling its coffees, teas and gift cards online at

"Every soldier in a [recent] war has gone through our shops," Mr. Araghi says, noting that the changing political climate might lead to troop withdrawals. "We want to be there when they come home [or] they will drink somewhere else."

How to Open a Financially Successful Coffee, Espresso & Tea Shop

Free Seth Godin "All Marketers are Liars" Presentation

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Wedding Webcasts As A Business broadcasts weddings to a couple's friends and family unable to come over from (or to) far flung places. Customers need a video camera, laptop, and high speed online access. The company then charges USD 395 for setting up a live stream of the event, support for up to 25 simultaneous viewers (who are sent a url and password), and an on-demand archive of the wedding for 10 days. More streams and an annual archive account can be had for an extra fee.

Business is thriving, thanks to a powerful mix of tech and social developments: everyone is online; the infrastructure is in place (the web is finally about broadband and video: thank you, youtube!); more and more couples choose to get married in exotic locations far from most of their friends and family; globe-spanning immigration means family members literally live everywhere; while jet setting couples have friends in every major city in the world. Not to mention Generation MySpace, who, when they eventually choose to get married, will have virtual friends in every country with an online connection.

This is one of those simple, timely ideas that are ripe to be copied to virtually every country in the world. Perfect for minipreneurs, too. Make it ‘virtual’ like, or go for the premium product, providing a fully equipped online video crew for couples who want the full deal. A match made in online heaven?

The Best of Wedding Photojournalism: Techniques and Images from the Pros

Warren Buffett Speaks At University Of Florida

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Creating a family-friendly fitness class

Lisa Druxman Story

2006 Sales: $2 million

After the birth of her son in 2001, Druxman's decision not to return to her position as general manager for a high-end health club brought about a new quandary: how to work part time, spend time with her newborn and stay fit. The former fitness instructor started a small, neighborhood group-exercise class targeting moms with infants. Through word-of-mouth and local TV publicity, 40 people came to the kickoff class of her second location, in San Diego. Says Druxman, "That's when I knew I had touched on something big."

Stroller Strides are hour-long classes taught by certified instructors who combine fast-paced walking with several body-toning stops. The classes take place in parks, near lakes or even inside malls, depending on the location. While working out is the focus, Druxman maintains children are the number-one priority. Songs and activities are weaved into the class to entertain kids, and mothers of fussy babies are credited a class if they need to leave.

When, a year into the business, one instructor had to move, she convinced Druxman to let her test-market the concept in her new city. Its transplanted success made Druxman realize she had a very special and real opportunity. "There aren't very many careers out there supportive of motherhood," says Druxman. First offering licenses in a few markets, Stroller Strides now has over 100 franchisees nationwide, with 300 U.S. locations and one in Canada. International expansion is underway. New classes are in the works, and products like a Stroller Strides stroller are already available in stores and through online retailers. Druxman is also penning a book on fit and healthy motherhood.
The Best Of Mom's Business Magazine

Is Web 2.0 A Bubble? A Very Intersting Debate

Former Adult Webmaster Spills His Guts On Best Internet Marketing Strategies

Saturday, January 06, 2007

How To Make 65 Bucks And Hour Teaching Others To Play Video Games

Tom Taylor never expected to be a player in the business world; he just wanted to play video games. But as he got better and better, his passion for competitive gaming--and his desire to share his expertise with others--grew. Last year, Taylor, a top-five rated player in the pro-gaming circuit, started a video game coaching business to help others who wanted to improve their games.

"I wanted to offer them a shortcut so they didn't have to go through what I did to learn," says Taylor, who started playing video games at age 7.

Running his business, Gaming-Lessons, out of his Jupiter, Fla., home, Taylor draws dozens of clients from middle-school kids to middle-aged parents and from college students to celebrities. Some dream of going professional. Others simply want bragging rights over friends and family who play. Whatever their reasons for signing up, they all have one thing in common: "These are people who hate losing," Taylor says.

Taylor and his staff, most of whom are in their late teens or early 20s, charge between $25 and $65, depending on the instructor's skill level and availability, for one-hour tutoring sessions in Microsoft's "Halo 2" or Nintendo Co.'s "Super Smash Brothers Melee." Students can purchase lessons online, choose instructors from bios listing their specialties and book sessions on the site's virtual calendar. Taylor even has an 8-year-old gamer on hand to work with grade-schoolers.

"Each instructor focuses on different things," Taylor says. "I like to teach the mental aspects of the game."

Instructors conduct Halo 2 classes over Xbox Live, Microsoft's online game service, where users can play against each other. Communicating through a headset with an Internet phone line, teachers help students hone their jumping, shooting and grenade-throwing skills and develop battle tactics and strategies. The idea for the business started as a favor. Taylor was helping Richard Jefferson--a New Jersey Nets basketball player whom he met at a competition--ramp up his "Halo 2" skills and saw a market for his services.

Once he set up his Web site, Taylor received more inquires than he could handle. He recruited other top players to help him and raised his fees to attract more serious students. His toughest decision was firing a few instructors––who were good friends––when they couldn't handle the workload.

"My friends always tell me, 'I wish I had your life.' And I wouldn't have it any other way," he says. "I love playing video games, but most of all, I love doing it for a living."

The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon--The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World

Free Perry Marshall AdWords Seminar

Friday, January 05, 2007

Turning a profit with glass animals

If he hadn't discovered glass blowing during his last semester at the University of Kansas, John Burchetta would have been a business major. Instead, he became a business founder.

Today Burchetta owns a studio and gallery in Carmel, N.Y., where he creates, displays, and sells his works, which range from Christmas ornaments to decadent chandeliers. For 2006 he projects more than $250,000 in revenues, up 7 percent from the year before.

Over the past 21 years Burchetta, 46, has handcrafted more than 1,500 glassworks for everyone from individual customers to large companies, including Disney, which contracted the studio to design sculptures for one of its Disney World restaurants.

Among his most popular offerings: a line of 14 farm-animal-inspired nightlights, which retail for $110 each. The lights can also be customized; earlier this year, Burchetta whipped up a hot-dog-shaped version for a local restaurant.

"I love creating something from nothing," Burchetta says. "That's the core of the entrepreneurial spirit."

Collectible Glassware from the 40S, 50S, and 60s

A Condom Story Unlike Any Other

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Making Dough With Customized Bobbleheads

Ralph Trumbo is neither an athlete nor a celebrity. Nevertheless, he has a bobblehead likeness of himself sitting on his mantel.

Bobbleheads, those shaky-headed 3-D caricatures, have jiggled free of their mass-produced roots of an earlier generation. Once merely featureless figures decked out in team colors and handed out on game day, they now depict just about anyone who wants one.

Even Trumbo, a Des Moines letter carrier.

''It's really cool,'' he said. ''I take it to work and they say 'It's you.' It looks just like me.''

Trumbo's bobblehead was sculpted by Bryan Guise, who creates the toys in the cramped basement of his home.

Guise, 29, has made bobbleheads for Iowa's governor, police officers, a woman with a deformed face, even a rush job for a dying man. Typically, he takes orders over the Internet and relies on photos of his subjects.

''It's assuming what I'm dealing with rather than knowing for sure, but there's that universal language in a face,'' he said.

Guise, who graduated from the University of Iowa with a fine arts degree in 2002, has been drawing caricatures since he was a child. He turned that interest into a job making bobbleheads after graduation.

He won't say how many he makes beyond ''quite a few.'' Prices range from $150 to $200.

At least two other companies, in California and Illinois, also sell individual, custom-made bobbleheads.

Mass-produced bobbleheads also have seen an upswing in business, said Rob Bishop, owner of the Hamilton, Ontario, Canada-based Binkley Toys Inc.

Bishop would not disclose sale numbers but said orders for bobbleheads doubled in 2006. His company requires a minimum order of 250 bobbleheads for about $2,500.

Bishop said the rise in interest is evident not only in sales but in their appearance in television shows and marketing campaigns.

Bobbleheads have appeared on TV shows such as ''The Office,'' which featured one made by Guise, he said. He also pointed to a Jeep TV ad that shows bobbleheads driving.

Jack Horst, a retail strategist at New York-based consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates, said the popularity of personal bobbleheads ties in perfectly with the merchandising theme of customization, which has grown in the past decade.

It's an especially effective theme for bobbleheads, a nostalgic product for many baby boomers like the 47-year-old Horst.

''I'm a huge bobblehead guy. My first was Frank Howard of the Washington Senators in 1969 - I still have that,'' he said. ''There are a few things in life that just make you smile when you see them. My Frank Howard bobblehead is one of them.''

For Trumbo, it's a kick to own a miniature version of himself, sitting there for all to see.

From his postal uniform to his glasses and wedding ring, it's a perfect match.

''It's one of a kind,'' he said.

Australian Bank Issues Credit Card To Cat

Naughty Girls' Night In: Start Your Own Sex-Toy Party Business

How To Make Millions With Online Law School

One is a cop. One is a cookbook author and mother of two. And another spent the past 33 years on tour with the Rolling Stones. But every week, these three are also one homework assignment closer to becoming lawyers.

Their alma-mater-to-be is Abraham Lincoln University, a small California player trying to carve a niche in the growing business called distance education. This academic model, which makes heavy use of the Internet and doesn't require class attendance, is gaining traction among those looking to make midlife career changes or enhance workplace skills without attending school full time.

Many traditional nonprofit schools now offer some course work online, and by year's end, some 915,000 students will be enrolled in fully online programs that represent a market of $5.1 billion, according to Eduventures Inc., a Boston-based educational research firm. That's a 30% jump in students from last year.

But ALU is unusual in that it is a for-profit model offering online tutorial as well as in-person classroom instruction, making it something of a hybrid in this field. For-profit higher education institutions account for only about 5% of students at schools with a bricks-and-mortar classroom presence, according to the Sloan Consortium, an educational research group in Needham, Mass.

ALU is housed in a handful of classrooms in West Los Angeles. It has no formal library -- the leather-bound books that line the walls are mostly for show, an administrator says. There's no student center, no bookstore, no dorms, and amenities are limited to a few couches and a free cup of coffee. The average student age is 45.

The school's four-year law degree program is a part-time, one-class-at-a-time affair, and each three-hour lecture is delivered five times a week by the school's 14 full-time and part-time teachers. The lectures also are available live on the Web, and course videos and handouts are archived online. A hybrid schedule of mixing face time at school with online classes, live Internet chats with professors, and e-mail is used by 80% of ALU's students. The other 20% of ALU's students learn solely via the Internet; one student is a U.S. soldier in Kosovo.

The university's founder is 58-year-old Hyung Joo Park. His middle school was a six-mile walk from his family's rice and barley farm in rural southern Korea; a severe case of tuberculosis delayed his high-school studies. But he went on to earn an economics degree from Seoul's Sogang University, an M.B.A. on scholarship at the University of Minnesota, and later graduated from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. By the time he was through with his studies he was married and had three kids.

After his own accomplishments, Mr. Park was deeply affected by a Korean friend's failure to finish law school because work and family didn't leave time for class. Shortly after hearing that his friend might drop out, Mr. Park saw an ad for a correspondence law school in an in-flight magazine. "What they were doing was crazy...all [through the] mail system. I thought, is there any way to do it better? Maybe they study at home, we give them a schedule, they come to our place once a week."

Mr. Park started his school in 1996 with $200,000 from savings and investments acquired during his days as an accountant and lawyer; he doesn't draw a salary at ALU and says the school is profitable with about $2 million in revenue last year. While many of his students eventually sit for the California bar, others simply want the education to enhance their existing careers. At $6,000 a year, ALU's tuition is far less than the $17,000 in-state students pay to attend UCLA's law school.

In many ways, incorporating online learning into academia is smart business because the traditional college and university market is saturated. Paul Saffo, a director at Institute for the Future, a Silicon Valley think tank, says the number of students a fixed facility can handle is limited by physical factors such as classrooms or available professors. Online classes can always accommodate more students; extra homework graders can be hired to take the burden off professors.

But because Mr. Park insists on offering as much flexibility for students as possible by having a physical location where students can attend class in person if they choose, he may miss out on some of the cost-saving advantages held by his largest competitor, Concord University Law School, owned by the Kaplan Inc. unit of the Washington Post Co., which operates totally online. Concord was founded in 1998 and now enrolls more than 1,700 students nationwide for its four-year J.D. program.

"We can't explode like a prepackaged program that doesn't offer face time," says Steven Carter, dean of admissions at ALU. "It costs us much more to expand increment by increment."

There are limitations to what an ALU degree can offer. Even though about a third of American Bar Association-accredited schools offer part-time programs, Abraham Lincoln -- like Concord -- doesn't meet ABA standards that regulate library size, classroom time and number of credits that can be satisfied with distance-learning courses. Without ABA accreditation, ALU graduates can only sit for the bar in California, a state with liberal bar eligibility standards.

About 42% of the school's graduates have passed the California bar exam so far, including first-time and repeat applicants; the overall pass rate for the state's February 2004 sitting of the general bar exam was 35%.

Mr. Park lays out an ambitious growth plan for ALU, moving over the next decade to serve 10,000 students and relocating to a new campus. He also hopes to start sending professors to San Francisco, and later to New York and cities in India, China, Korea and Japan, to meet regularly with distance students face to face.

Planet Law School II: What You Need to Know (Before You Go), But Didn't Know to Ask... and No One Else Will Tell You, Second Edition

How To Make Money With Small Online Clubs

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

How To Make 3000% Profit, Selling Pearls

Jeremy Shepherd didn't expect to discover a multimillion-dollar business while working the skies as a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines.

But on a layover in Beijing, he bought a set of freshwater pearl jewelry at a local market -- earrings, a bracelet, and a necklace -- for $20. He gave the pearls to his girlfriend in the U.S. for Christmas, and she had them appraised: the value, $600, or 30 times what he had paid.

Mr. Shepherd was in business.

Now, about nine years later, he presides over, an online purveyor of the lustrous objects -- offering a wide line of jewelry from the popular akoya pearls to the more exotic Tahitian and South Sea varieties. The Santa Monica, Calif., company logged $5 million in sales last year, supplying the jewelry to 13 other Web sites that sell pearls around the globe.

Building a luxury business online isn't easy, especially when you're asking people to spend big dollars for something they can't even touch. It can be especially tough for a small company, which doesn't have a brand name that people will instinctively trust. But by courting both customers and suppliers, Mr. Shepherd found a formula that has worked.

"Building that trust can be difficult and all new sites have to break that barrier when they start," the 31-year-old Mr. Shepherd says. "That's the most difficult thing to overcome because so much of it is based on reputation and your name. Referrals and repeat business are a huge percentage of our customers."

So how did he do it? For one thing, blanketing the Web site with educational materials on how pearls are produced and on the different varietals helped put customers at ease, he says, as did prominently displaying the company's membership with organizations like the Better Business Bureau and the Safe Shopping Network.

Providing customers with assurances about selections helps, too. All pieces are accompanied by a 90-day money-back guarantee, and an appraisal, while high-resolution pictures serve as a substitute for being able to actually touch the real thing. Nearly all pieces also come with a second-appraisal guarantee: If a customer has the jewelry appraised on their own, the company assures them that it will be valued for at least five times the price the customer paid PealParadise.

And, when customers do call or email, their questions are handled by knowledgeable staff, all of whom received pearl certificates from the Gemological Institute of America, a trade and industry group based in Carlsbad, Calif.

But the biggest boost to credibility comes from the satisfied customers. "Word of mouth is a very strong tool," Mr. Shepherd says. "Having a happy customer has been the core of this business. They do tell people. It gets to a point where you reach a critical mass and you really start to expand, and that's why so much of our business has been referral and repeat business."

To keep his customers talking, Mr. Shepherd plans events that appeal to them directly. Twice a year -- before Mother's Day and Christmas -- he invites clients to a special Web page built just for them, featuring items practically at his cost. Last Christmas's event -- one of the items included strands of exotic Tahitian pearls -- yielded $100,000 in sales.

"People tend to buy more than those special pieces," Mr. Shepherd says. "The sales on those days are just astronomical."

In his latest marketing pitch, he hopes to strengthen his business's credibility further by sending past and new customers a documentary on pearling, which he narrates and which was shot at one of his suppliers' pearl farms in China.

Pounds of Pearls

Mr. Shepherd travels to Asia each month -- making stops in Japan, Hong Kong, and the Guangdong Province in China -- carrying back two sacks of pearls that together weigh more than he does. After extensive research -- and facing increased competition online -- he decided to find and deal with the pearl farmers directly, cutting out the middleman and enabling him to sell the pearls at a lower price than his competitors.

His proclivity for languages also helped: Already fluent in Japanese, he zipped through Berlitz's Mandarin course, spending the last few months on the art of negotiation using pearls as a discussion point; now, he talks with his suppliers in their native language, enabling him to forge closer relationships.

Oscar Baskets

Mr. Shepherd's depth of knowledge also has won him fans in Hollywood, yet another facet of his marketing strategy. After donating sets of black freshwater pearls for about 110 gift baskets for the 2004 Oscar nominees, this year he provided gift certificates instead. That required celebrity recipients to make an appointment to pick up their strands of baroque Tahitians at a showroom the company maintains at its Santa Monica headquarters.

"A lot of them have come back, and a lot have sent their friends," he says. "People buy from our Web site specifically because we gave [pearls] away at the Oscars." Inclusion in the bag also won PearlParadise snippets on television news shows, and next year Mr. Shepherd wants to have celebrities actually wearing their baubles down the red carpet.

PearlParadise's most visible marketers, however, have been its Web site resellers, which now account for about half of its annual sales. In 1997, PealParadise's online sales and sales to Internet resellers were about $8,000; they jumped to $250,000 in 2002, more than $3 million in 2003, and $5 million last year.

PearlParadise has three other major Internet resellers in the U.S., with the remainder in Europe and Canada. Each of the sites -- which operate much like franchises but with different names -- have somewhat different offerings, from special diamond clasps to cuff links, which Mr. Shepherd supplies to them exclusively.

"I try to give them as much control as possible because they all have their own marketing ideas and want to differentiate themselves," he says. "They all find their own little niche and exploit it."

PearlParadise is venturing into higher-end waters, as well, with pearls from French Polynesia and the South Sea. Mr. Shepherd has been selling several gem-quality Tahitian necklaces each week, ranging from $2,600 to $4,000. The largest sale booked so far was a $43,250 golden South Sea pearl necklace.

But the traditional, more affordable akoya strands remain his top sellers. "When we started, our motto was 'making the beauty of pearls available to everyone,' " he says. "And that is where our core customer still is -- the man who wants to buy a necklace for his wife, but knows it's $2,500 in a store but $350 on PearlParadise."

Pearls: A Natural History

Britney collapses in New Year stupor

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Incredible Story Of French Scooter Taxi

As a tourist in Thailand and the Dominican Republic, Cyril Masson hopped on unlicensed motorcycle taxis to get around. Back home, the 33-year-old Parisian and two friends hit on a business idea that some might consider just as crazy: running a two-wheel-taxi operation in one of the world's most genteel cities.

Motorcycle taxis are the developing world's limos. Scooters, mopeds and motorcycles offer a fast, cheap and risky way around snarled traffic and scarce mass transit. Mr. Masson, who ran sales to French Internet companies for Britain's Cable & Wireless PLC, had also faced clogged streets and a shortage of traditional taxis in Paris, and he realized it offered an opportunity for taxi-bikes, which can squeeze through jams.

What he didn't expect were hurdles faced by entrepreneurs world-wide: the complexity of executing a simple idea, and of translating a business concept from one culture to another. Many overseas franchisees of successful U.S. companies, for instance, have failed because they didn't adapt the American model to local habits.

High-End Challenge

Mr. Masson knew that positioning his high-end service would be tough: The motorcycle taxi could suffer from its association with the less-developed countries, poverty and reckless drivers. Lining up insurance and finding qualified drivers proved surprisingly difficult. Protecting passengers in natty business attire from rain and cold posed additional challenges, as did little details, like how to keep the passenger's helmet clean from one rider to the next.

In December 2002, Mr. Masson and two friends pulled together €165,000 ($200,244 at current exchange rates) of their own and from friends and family, quit their safe jobs and started planning their company, Citybird. "There were many people who thought we were crazy," Mr. Masson recalls.

Citybird works like any radio-taxi service -- except that instead of a black sedan arriving on call, a sporty motor scooter pulls up. The company today employs 11 people and expects revenue of around €420,000 for the year ending March 31, up from €175,000 in its latest fiscal year. Mr. Masson expects an operating profit this year, after Citybird's current fleet of nine scooters reaches 15, around midyear. Managers hope to increase the fleet to 25 in 2007 and eventually operate as many as 200 bikes.

Mr. Masson and his friends weren't the first to try taxi bikes in a developed nation. Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group whisks celebrities and executives around London on nine fat red Yamaha motorcycle taxis. At least one other company operates in Paris, where thousands of locals already zip around the city on their own motorcycles and Vespa-type scooters.

From the start, Citybird's target customers were an upscale crowd, like Mr. Masson and his co-founders, Guillaume Raif, then a banker at Sociйtй Gйnйrale, and Emmanuel Pery, who worked in advertising and communications. They believed taxi-bikes would appeal to harried executives who can't waste time stuck inside a limo. To hone their concept, the partners quizzed managers at Virgin Limo Bikes in London and studied other small motorcycle-taxi services. One tip they gleaned: They'd have to have a supply of disposable paper helmet liners.

A quick analysis also indicated that large motorcycles were too big to squeeze through traffic jams and too costly to operate. Instead, they selected top-of-the-line Piaggio and Suzuki motor scooters, which are cushier than the compact and classic Vespa. The models use about half the fuel of a large motorcycle and offer lots of storage space for bags. And the partners figured that for most trips, it wouldn't matter that scooters don't move as fast as motorcycles.

"Traffic is so dense that we don't need to go very fast to gain a lot of time" over a regular taxi, Mr. Masson says, sitting in Citybird's storefront office not far from the Eiffel Tower.

Citybird's founders also knew that to woo serious professionals as customers, they needed equally serious drivers. Lots of motorcyclists applied for the job, and they whittled the pool down to a handful of former police motorcycle instructors, Tour de France camera-crew drivers and similar specialists.

But obtaining insurance for their service created big headaches. French law doesn't mention two-wheeled taxis, so the founders faced a legal vacuum. Most underwriters rejected Citybird because they equated the service with motorcycle couriers, "who crash around 10 times a year," Mr. Masson recalls. Finally, the specialized insurer that covers Paris taxis consented, but at rates five times those of normal motorcycle insurance.

Both Mr. Masson and managers at Virgin Limo Bikes say they get calls from U.S. entrepreneurs who want to start similar services. But high U.S. insurance rates, extreme weather, and strict American traffic laws that forbid motorcycles from overtaking cars in slow traffic have thwarted many of those efforts, the Europeans say.

Foul-Weather Gear

Paris rarely faces blizzards or torrential downpours, but light rain is a frequent nuisance for two-wheelers. So Citybird managers spent a long time finding the best gear to protect passengers. Each scooter carries riding gloves, boots to cover nice shoes, a loose-fitting jacket that can slide comfortably over a business suit, and a waterproof leg wrap to protect against splashes.

The first bikes rolled in September 2003, promoted by targeted ads, brochures and direct mailings touting the service at flat rates of €20 for rides inside Paris and €45 to Charles de Gaulle Airport.

"It was difficult at first," recalls Mr. Masson. But by targeting people most likely to accept the concept, especially in less conservative media circles, word spread and early customers became regulars. The main appeal: guaranteed punctuality and significantly shorter trips. During rush hour, Citybird promises it can slash the travel time between central Paris and the airport from around 90 minutes to 30 minutes.

Within a year, business was picking up. One early customer was Patrick Malval, commercial manager in France for British Airways, who liked the service because of its speed and punctuality. After a tough audit of safety and service quality, Mr. Malval struck a deal in early 2004 for Citybird to carry the airline's passengers to and from the airport. "At first we thought it would be a niche service," Mr. Malval recalls. Today, he says, demand is taking off and those who try the service are hooked.

As business grew, Citybird moved to expand. Tapping a circle of successful Internet entrepreneurs whom Mr. Masson knew from his previous career, the founders in 2004 raised 300,000 euros to build their fleet. The company even landed a second insurer.

Today Citybird has around 2,500 clients and adds more than 150 each month, Mr. Masson says. Its bikes total around 70 trips each day.

Down the road, Mr. Masson figures Citybird and its growing field of smaller rivals could equal around 4% of the total Paris taxi market. He wants to maintain Citybird's 50% share of the taxi-bike market. "In a few years we could have 200 motor scooters," he predicts.

How to Start & Manage a Wheelchair Transportation Business

How To Make Money With Small Online Clubs

Inflating Executive Pay

Monday, January 01, 2007

How To Run A Multimillion Dollar Massage Franchise

David and Anne Glover, 48 and 46, respectively, recently opened their fourth Massage Envy establishment in Houston.

Beginnings: The Glovers met when they were both working at the accounting firm Arthur Andersen in the early 1980s. David and Anne fell in love, got married, had two children and assumed the traditional roles of married life. David eventually became part owner of a commercial real estate investment firm, while Anne was the primary caregiver for their children. She calls herself “the volunteer champion of the world--school, community, church, junior league. I enjoyed orchestrating high-level events. It was good practice for organizing multiple franchises.”

When David retired from his business in his 40s, he didn’t want to retire for good, so he and Anne looked into purchasing a franchise. “We could have gone into real estate, but the prices were so outrageous,” says David, “and we wanted to have a business that had cash flow right away--something that was a quick startup.”

Next Steps: “We went through business brokers,” says Anne, “and looked at a lot of franchises, some that were brand new and others that were kind of scary.” In their case, scary did not necessarily mean bad. Anne had been interested in a sandwich franchise, but once she saw all the food inventory and thought about having teenage employees, she changed her mind. The couple considered a gym franchise but figured it would be clobbered by bigger gym and fitness center franchises, and then they considered a tutoring center. “But we would have gone head-to-head with [competing] learning centers,” Anne points out. “I kept thinking, ‘Where is the niche?’”

They had similar feelings about a hair salon franchise they were considering. “It wasn’t a new business concept or model,” says David. “Basically, people are already getting their hair cut somewhere.”

Then they found out about Massage Envy, a massage clinic that operates similar to a gym--customers pay a monthly membership fee and make regular appointments or impromptu ones, usually getting massages the same day they request them, which is a rare occurrence in the industry.

Some risk-averse people would run, of course. It’s still a fairly new business, but the Glovers liked that aspect of it. “It was the only game in town,” says Anne.

And it has certainly worked out. Their three initial Massage Envy establishments alone bring in nearly $3.6 million a year.

Getting the Digits: The benefits of massages are not what the Glovers have to sell people on. The idea that the average person can afford to get massages routinely is. So, they were a little nervous about whether the numbers were there: Were there enough people clamoring for massages to make a full-fledged business out of it? “That was something we had to weigh carefully,” Anne says. “Do we want to get in on this young franchise? And we were jumping into the highest-rent district in Houston.”

But it’s in the high-rent districts that a massage franchise is likely to do well, and after a visit to the company headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona, where they looked at figures such as the number of customers and the number of massages given every month, Anne and David were convinced the numbers were there. Says Anne, “We thought, ‘This is almost too good to be true.’ So we went with the assumption tha if we build it, they will come.”

And they did.

Of course, there’s also something to be said for running a franchise where you can get your own massage whenever you please. It may be the most relaxing sort of business you could ever own.

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