Bev and chris Sanders (43 and 37, respectively) were snowboarders when snowboarding wasn't cool. But Avalanche Snowboards Inc., the snowboard manufacturing company the couple founded in 1982, quickly picked up speed and had sales of about $5 million last year.
"We started making snowboards for our own use," says Bev, a former ski instructor. "People would follow me back to the car and ask me about snowboards, and I'd end up selling one. At the time, we were the only people at the ski resorts who had them."
The Benicia, California-based company that grew around the production of one snowboard design has maneuvered well through the changes in the industry it helped create. Today, Avalanche has 27 board styles, including boards specially designed for children and women.
Dubbed "The Pioneer Woman of Snowboarding" by Transworld Snowboarding magazine, Bev couldn't be happier. "This industry changes all the time," she says. "I love that because I have a short attention span. If it's not exciting, I don't want to deal with it."
Matchmakers reunite loved ones.
Nick matzorkis, 34, learned how emotional reunions with loved ones can be at an early age. When Matzorkis was 9 years old, his father moved the family to Greece to track down family members they'd lost touch with during World War II.
"My father pulled us out of school for a year to find our roots," says Matzorkis. "It was an incredibly impactful time of my life."
So much so that, more than 20 years later, those memories were the impetus for the founding of Beverly Hills, California-based 1-800-U.S. Search Inc. In late 1994, Matzorkis began running classified ads urging people who were interested in finding long-lost family or friends to call him. He then searched databases to match the individuals with their loved ones.
It didn't take long for 1-800-U.S. Search to take off, especially after Matzorkis brought in former colleague Robert Rich, 27, to help with the business side of the company. The partners' first TV appearance, on the talk show "Leeza," garnered more than 20,000 calls. Subsequent talk-show appearances have the young company's phones ringing to the tune of $10 million a year in sales. --H.C.F.
Going gaga for kids' hair-care products.
As sales representatives for the country's top ethnic hair-care lines, Lamont Kennerly, 38, and Frank Conwell, 46, saw a niche that had yet to be filled: ethnic hair-care products for babies.
Business was slowing for the pair's sales brokerage firm in 1991 as more companies moved their sales staffs in-house. So Kennerly and Conwell rolled up their sleeves and got to work launching Anika Laboratories Inc., manufacturer of Soft & Precious hair and skin products specially formulated for black babies.
"We did it our way," says Kennerly, proud that they financed the company themselves from day one. "It gave us a little more flexibility."
The founders' backgrounds in the industry helped everything come together for Anika; a chemist they'd met at a former job was hired to help develop the shampoo.
"Once you talk to one person, they lead you to another one," says Kennerly. The bottle manufacturer referred them to the cap manufacturer, who recommended the label maker, and so on.
The baby products are on the shelves of such chains as Wal-Mart, Winn Dixie and Eckerd, with sales expected to reach $500,000 by year-end. --H.C.F.