From the February 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

They came, they saw, they squeezed. Make all the jokes you want, but the accordion is scoring big these days with amateur and professional musicians alike. Indeed, popular musicians such as Sheryl Crow, Hootie & the Blowfish, Pearl Jam and the Counting Crows are helping to put the squeeze box back in the spotlight.

"We've noticed a national increase in interest," says Faithe Deffner, president of the American Accordionists' Association. "A lot of young people are picking it up."

And why not? According to Deffner, accordions are the ultimate in fun. "It's a very warm and casual instrument," she says. "It's something you hold close to you."

What's more, accordion music is listener-friendly as well. How else to explain why the recent release of a three-CD set commemorating the Chinese-invented instrument is squeezing the pockets of today's music buyers?

"I think this comeback--if you want to call it a comeback--will have great longevity," predicts Deffner, who points to the early 1970s as the last outbreak of accordion mania. "It will become a very highly accepted instrument."

Play it again, Sheryl.

Year Of The Dragon

Leapin' lizards! Even though this summer's "Jurassic Park" sequel promises to usher in a wave of dinosaur fever, we still advise trend watchers to keep their eyes peeled for legendary creatures of another sort--dragons. Long a favorite among kids, these mythical beasts look to benefit from a virtual firestorm of recent entertainment projects.

For instance: Fresh on the heels of last year's feature film "Dragonheart" comes word that an unrelated animated TV series starring dragons will hit the airwaves this fall. "Pocket Dragon Adventures," a property of Bohbot Entertainment & Media Inc. in New York City, breathes life into the figurines designed by artist Real Musgrave a quarter of a century ago. Hardly the stuff of nightmares, the cuddly Pocket Dragons are expected to adorn licensed products ranging from toys and CD-ROMS to apparel. (Those who doubt there's a market for this merchandise need only consider that the Pocket Dragons already boast their own fan clubs throughout the world.)

Not to be out-dragoned, the literary world is afire with the release of author Graeme Base's The Discovery of Dragons (Harry N. Abrams), a lavishly illustrated book that has captured the fancy of adults and children alike.

Dragons, dragons . . . everywhere, dragons. Wonder if a magical dragon by the name of Puff is ready for a comeback.

Homemade Advantage

Gourmets aren't as highbrow as you might think. Though they have an appetite for sophisticated fare such as ethnic soup mixes and flavored vinegars, today's specialty food shoppers are attracted to packaging so simple that, in many cases, it gives products the appearance of being homemade.

"Especially in the specialty foods industry, since [the products] are exotic and unusual, manufacturers try to make them as approachable as possible by using homemade-looking packages or `comfort' packaging," explains Carolyn Schwaar, editor of Fancy Food magazine. "This is in no way country crafts packaging, though--a lot of these [packages] are very sophisticated, yet simple. They're not as elaborate; they [don't feature] the sort of bells and whistles you used to find on gourmet packaging. [Nowadays] you want to make these products look as mainstream as possible."

Schwaar believes the popularity of brown corrugated packaging and food labels that appear handwritten results from an overall societal trend toward casual dining and dress. Then, too, the demand for products that seem to be natural and healthy is contributing to the simplicity of gourmet-food packaging. Simply put: Simplicity sells.

Ragin Cajun

Now here's an eating trend we can really sink our teeth into: the rising popularity of Cajun food throughout the country. With restaurant chains such as Pappadeaux, Joe's Crab Shack and Razzoo's Cajun Cafe leading the way, Cajun delicacies appear well- positioned to gain a greater following among mainstream Americans for whom traditional ethnic favorites like Chinese and Mexican cuisine no longer hold the same zest.

And if the numbers are any indication, Americans do indeed have a zest for the offerings of the bayou. In a recent survey by the National Restaurant Association, for example, 40 percent of respondents said they occasionally ate Cajun food. Not surprisingly, the unique flavor and spicy nature of Cajun dishes were cited as key ingredients to its overall appeal.

So pass the gumbo, please, and fix us another helping of jambalaya. Son of a gun, we'll have some fun sampling eats from the bayou.

Seeing Red

As colors go, red is clearly no shrinking violet. It's bold, it's eye-catching, and it's definitely on the rebound in the consumer marketplace. Coloring everything from clothing to linens, this most audacious of hues is--for lack of a better description--red-hot.

"There are sophisticated reds, there are deep wine reds, and then there are reds that come up a bit more pink," says Michelle Lamb, owner of Minneapolis-based color trend forecaster Marketing Directions Inc., explaining the wide range of reds cropping up in the consumer marketplace. "We're also seeing a lot of red-and-green combinations. At one time, if it weren't Christmas, you wouldn't do [that], but that's not the case now."

Speaking of holidays, you can undoubtedly expect an even bigger sea of red products this month in honor of Valentine's Day. Nothing new about that, right? Long after Cupid goes on hiatus, however, we expect the nation's love affair with red to continue--at least, for the foreseeable future. Despite the fact that blue reigns as most Americans' favorite color, red looks to be the color of money.

In Stitches

It's time to get down to the knitty-gritty: Thanks to a whole new generation of enthusiasts, knitting is back with a vengeance. Whether they're busily crafting sweaters, scarves or Afghans, young working professionals seem to be--pun phobics, beware--positively in stitches.

"Knitting is an absolutely sensational thing to do," raves Carol Wigginton, founder of the 10,000-member-strong Knitting Guild of America. "It's a big-time stress reliever."

And stress relief, undoubtedly, is the hook for many young knitters. "It's extremely relaxing," echoes Mary Colucci of the Craft Yarn Council of America, pointing out that knitting is one hobby that's easily done virtually anywhere and in whatever time increments you choose. Reportedly, even young celebrities the likes of Julia Roberts wind down from work with a spool of yarn in hand.

Knot--er, not--that stress reduction is knitting's only appeal, of course. Knitting circles and even knitting Web sites are turning the popular art form into a popular social activity as well. And, needless to say, hand-knitted items make for prized gifts.

"At first, I thought I was just imagining [the increase in interest], but now it's become much more apparent," says Wigginton. "We're just seeing the tip of the iceberg."

Contact Sources

American Accordionists' Association, P.O. Box 616, Mineola, NY 11501, (516) 746-3101;

Color Marketing Group, 5904 Richmond Hwy., #408, Alexandria, VA 22303, (703) 329-8500;

Craft Yarn Council of America, 2500 Lowell Rd., Gastonia, NC 28054, (704) 824-7838;

Fancy Food, 20 N. Wacker Dr., #3230, Chicago, IL 60606, (800) 229-1967;

Knitting Guild of America, P.O. Box 1606, Knoxville, TN 37901, (800) 274-6034, (423) 524-2401;

Marketing Directions Inc., 7805 Telegraph Rd., #215, Minneapolis, MN 55438, (612) 944-6805.