From the January 1997 issue of Startups

New products for small and homebased businesses.

Heres My Card

Say goodbye to overstock hassles from printing companies! MySoftware Co. eliminates the task of buying business cards in bulk. With My Professional Business Cards you can create your own professional-looking cards in just minutes, saving time, effort and money.

My Professional Business Cards allows you to create your own design or select from pre-designed layouts. It also comes with enough sample business-card stock to create 200 cards, so you have the flexibility to print small quantities.

Works with Windows 3.1 or greater, 4 MB RAM and approximately 6 MB of disk space. The Windows 95 version requires a CD-ROM drive, 8 MB of RAM and 8 MB of disk space. Both versions sell for $49.95, plus S&H.

From MySoftware Company, Palo Alto, CA. To order, call (800) 325-3508.

Party To Go

Thinking of ways to bolster your business and multiply your marketability? With the Drinkmobile, you can promote your business in a refreshing way and make money doing it!

Made of aircraft aluminum and coated with a black powder finish, the Drink-mobile is perfect for mobile caterers to use to sell or distribute snacks, cocktails or other beverages.

The cart contains a recessed holding section, ideal for large bottles, dispensers and supplies. Included in the standard Drinkmobile model are ice bins, insulated drink holders, and condiment holders. The acrylic panels can also be tailored with your company logo, for an additional fee.

The standard model costs $2,490 each. Standard dimensions for the Drinkmobile are 19 inches wide, 31 inches long, and 50 and 1/4 inches high, although custom sizing is available for bulk orders. Weight: about 140 pounds.

From JustHill Technologies, Las Vegas, NV. To order, call (888) 606-2020.

A Radiant Glow

Your customers don't have to fumble with hand-held flashlights anymore! With their free-standing design and wide lenses, HI-GAIN hands-free flashlights eliminate the tedious task of bungling with a tiny beam of light.

Available in two sizes, the HI-GAIN lights include a 360-degree rotating ratcheting handle, convenient for positioning the light on the ground or for hanging from various places. The HI-GAIN 250 model can be clipped onto a belt or purse. The HI-GAIN 500 has a lantern-sized beam and a spotlight-to-floodlight beam adjustment option.

HI-GAIN Wholesale prices: The 500 model--$14.74 each; $147.40/case of 10. The 250 model--$7.32 each; $73.20/case of 10. Minimum order: two cases. Suggested retail prices: $24.95 and $11.99 each, respectively. Truly an enlightening experience!

From Diamond Light Industries Inc., Costa Mesa, CA. To order, call (800) 804-4448.

Inoffensive Repellence

Are your customers concerned about using DEET-filled insect repellents on themselves and their children? Recent controversy surrounding DEET (short for diethyl-meta-toluamide--a chemical compound found in most insect repellents), has many people troubled over its side effects. Natrapel, however, an all-natural, plant-based insect repellent, is DEET-free.

Natrapel contains a formula made of 10 percent citronella--a lemon-grass derivative which works by confusing insects and stifling their appetites. The product comes in a 4-ounce pump spray, a 2-ounce lotion, and a 6-milliliter single-use pouch.

Wholesale prices: 4-ounce pump spray--$2.35 each; 2-ounce lotion--$1.91 each; 6-milliliter single-use pouch--32 cents each, plus S&H. Suggested retail prices: 4-ounce pump spray--$3.49 to $3.99; 2-ounce lotion--$2.99 to $3.49; 6 milliliter pouches--59 cents to 79 cents. Minimum order: one dozen units.

From Tender Corporation, Littleton, NH. To order, call (800) 258-4696.

Back In Style

By Donna Clapp

The American economy is on the upswing, according to The Wall Street Journal, making ordinary people feel rich again. Martinis, cigars and even caviar are the types of luxury goods that are becoming more popular in the second half of this decade. While cigar smoking has been all the rage for the last few years, caviar is just starting to crest on the wave of popularity. Eric Sobol, vice president of Caviarteria Inc., a New York City restaurant and retailer, says caviar sales have jumped 30 percent in the past year. In the meantime, the supply of Russian caviar from the Caspian Sea has been shrinking since the collapse of Soviet Communism. What is the upshot of all of this for burgeoning entrepreneurs? Business opportunities!

Small-business owners Mats and Dafne Engstrom are jumping into the picture to fill a need by farm-raising California sturgeons. The Engstroms have been in the caviar business for about 18 years, but their main business, until recently, was importing Russian caviar.

"Before the Soviet Union collapsed, it was more profitable to sell caviar produced in the wild," says Mats. "Now it is going to be more profitable to farm the fish. We feel that in the next five years, wild sturgeon will become extinct. We will then be one of the only providers of caviar in the world."

So far, the Engstroms have produced about 1,000 pounds of caviar from their home-grown sturgeons, and they're building a hatchery that about five years from now will produce 20,000 pounds a year.

Correct Communication

Would you go to work but leave your shoes at home? James A. Fisher, author of Talking Correctly for Success: A Practical Guide for Business, Professional and Social Success by Sounding "Right" (Avant Publishing Co., $10.95, 800-545-2005), likens a lack of good communication skills to the absence of a vital article of clothing. He notes that these skills are as crucial to your image as good grooming or appropriate clothing. Just a few words erroneously used can distract the listener, or even irrevocably alter his or her opinion of you.

Upon opening Talking Correctlyfor Success, you'll see what looks like a dictionary-style listing, consisting of more than 500 words often used in business. Divided into specific pronunciation and usage sections, it alerts you to common pronunciation and usage errors, then explains how to rectify them.

Fisher, your "instructor," guides you toward pronouncing and using such words as "fiche," "interface," and "innovate." He even translates business jargon, such as "futuring" (planning, to the layman), into proper English.

After the last page, "the end of class," you can take a self-administered test, which, instead of a grade, will give you feedback on your progress. Hopefully, you'll pass with flying colors and go on to impress business associates the moment you open your mouth. -Amy E. Lewis

Better Online Business

If you're a small-business owner who's new to marketing on the Internet, you may be interested to learn that you can now get the Better Business Bureau's seal of approval for your Web site. The Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) has created an online service designed to help consumers identify online marketers who have met Better Business Bureau (BBB) standards for customer service and marketplace ethics. What will this seal mean to those who access your site? When a consumer locates an online advertiser displaying the BBBOnLine CARE seal, he or she will be able to link to the BBBOnLine home page, which will show the high standards met by the advertiser; the consumer may then return directly to the company's Web site or obtain a BBB reliability report on the company. All of this adds up to more credibility for your business.

Companies using the seal will be required to:

Have no unanswered complaints at the BBB;

Exhibit no complaint patterns showing problems not corrected;

Have no significant ethical failures by management in this or any prior business;

Have been in business a minimum of six months;

Provide the Better Business Bureau with substantial information regarding company ownership and management and their prior business records; and

Agree to participate in the BBB's advertising self-regulation program, and to correct or withdraw advertising found by the BBB to be unsubstantiated.

Answers to your small-business questions

Q : I own and operate a wedding-craft business where I dry and arrange bridal bouquets into grapevine wreaths, hearts and arches. I would like to know where I can get silica gel, a drying machine for flowers, and grapevine materials. Also, do you know of any craft trade shows where I can find and use these resources?

Barbara Harrison

Syracuse, New York

A :Provided by F.S. "Joey" Gorai, president of the International Freeze-Dry Floral Association.

Flower drying has become very popular in the past few years. Many methods of drying are available, from air drying to freeze drying, including the use of microwave, dehydration and silica gel.

Silica gel, which is used by many home crafters to preserve a small amount of flowers, can usually be purchased from your local craft store. In most cases, home crafters do not have the facilities, equipment or expertise to properly pre- and post-treat their flowers. As a result, the end product is somewhat fragile and delicate.

Commercially, freeze drying is the most recent and most successful method of preserving most flowers. Consult your local Yellow Pages under "Flowers Preserved or Dried" to find your nearest professional freeze dryer. Currently, there are four manufacturers of floral freeze-drying equipment (such as Botanique Preservation Equipment in Scottsdale, Arizona, 602-998-8228) that support our association; all will be happy to answer any questions from the technical side of things.

For sources of grapevine materials, consult any of the various floral publications, such as Florist Review, P.O.Box 4368, Topeka, Kansas, 66604-9933. Many areas also have local gift shows and floral exhibitions-the Silk Show in Las Vegas and the Atlanta Gift Mart are also excellent places to outsource product. Call each city's chamber of commerce for a schedule of upcoming dates.

If you are interested in freeze drying, why not become a member of the International Freeze-Dry Floral Association (IFDFA)? The IFDFA is an association of the world's floral freeze dryers. Membership is open to freeze dryers, manufacturers, suppliers, and interested persons. Annual membership in the IFDFA ($125) gives you access to information on manufacturers and suppliers, technical information, a subscription to "The Freeze-Dry Quarterly," and the opportunity to attend our annual conference. Our next conference is slated for April 24 through 27, 1997, in Orlando, Florida.

For further information about the IFDFA, write to 88 Midridge Close SE, Calgary AB, T2X 1G1, Canada, or call (800) 767-4860.

Q : I'm a student enrolled in an entrepreneurship class at Wake Forest University. One of our assignments is to come up with a business opportunity and develop a business plan.

My idea is to develop a company that provides the service of reminding both individuals and businesses of important upcoming dates. How can I quantify the market for such a venture? Where can I look to find out about competitors, and for other key information?

Kevin Johnston

Wake Forest, North Carolina

A :Provided by Debbie Meriney, owner of Simply Sign It, a greeting-card reminder service in Pittsburgh.

Remembering dates is difficult for busy people. Sending greeting cards is one of the most common ways of acknowledging a birthday, anniversary or other special holiday. Simply Sign It (800-984-8559) was established as a greeting-card reminder service for busy people, or those unable to get to the card store.

When researching my idea, I spoke with friends, working couples, singles, and those with limited access to transportation. Then I consulted an entrepreneurial lawyer and searched the Internet for similar services. Using this research, I was able to define my target market and structure my company to meet a need in the marketplace.

To use Simply Sign It, customers choose cards from a catalog for all events they will send for the year and, for each, designate the name and date of the event. About one week before the date, the customer receives the card, with a stamp on the envelope and a reminder of the upcoming event; all they have to do is "simply sign it" and drop it in the mail.

When starting a new business, conducting market research is essential. Will you target individuals or businesses? What types of reminders will you send? What kinds of items will you include in your catalog? How much will you need to earn to break even? As you assess these variables, the most promising focus for your business will emerge. Good luck!

Correction

Our November 1996 feature, "New Franchises & Business Opportunities" (p. 34), erroneously listed that Home Instead Senior Care has 4 units. The correct number is 29.

Contact Us

Address your small-business questions to: Q&A,Business Start-Ups, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614, or e-mail them to 76711,1724@compuserve.com or BSUMag@AOL.COM. Due to limited space, time and resources, we can answer only those Q&A letters chosen for publication. Questions may be edited for clarity.