From the March 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

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Man of Steel

Holy competition, Batman! Even though this year's summer movie season is packed to the hilt with caped crusaders and dinosaurs and aliens, oh my! (the continued exploits of big-screen franchises "Batman," "Jurassic Park" and "Aliens")--Warner Bros. is betting there's still room left in theaters and theater-goers' hearts for towering basketball star Shaquille O'Neal (pictured above).

In his laBODY project, titled simply "Steel," O'Neal--no rookie to film--plays John Henry Irons, a metals specialist who moonlights as the armor-clad superhero "Steel." Not surprisingly, the live-action adventure calls upon Steel to put his superpowers to the BODY by outwitting a band of high-tech criminals. (It's always the same with those superheroes--work, work, work. . . . )

As bets go, "Steel" seems a pretty good one--especially considering the phenomenal popularity of basketball in general. By most accounts the favorite team sport in the nation, basketball is now estimated to be played by a hoop-staggering one-fifth of the U.S. population. Combine that with American superhero worship, and you've got the makings of a Hollywood hit. Take that, Batman!

A Movable Feast

Ask not for whom the dinner bell tolls; it tolls for thee--just not at home. Filled with renewed confidence in the economy, Americans are once more hungering for the taste of someone else's cooking. Restaurateurs rejoice: Dining out is in.

According to the Brea, California-based restaurant consulting firm Sandelman & Associates Inc., casual dining, family dining and quick-service segments are all benefiting from the restaurant rush.

And patrons aren't just dining out more often, as Sandelman & Associates' research shows. Meal ticket averages--particularly in the casual dining segment--are rising at an impressive clip. Specifically, the casual dining ticket average rose from just under $29 in May 1995 to almost $40 only one year later. By way of comparison, ticket averages among family restaurant patrons rose from some $25 in February 1995 to more than $27 by September 1996. And even in the fast-food arena, ticket averages rose from in excess of $9 in late 1995 to just over $10 in about a year.

What explains the increase? Conventional wisdom points to less financially strapped diners more inclined to order pricier menu items or additional items. Restaurateurs are cautioned, however, to think long and hard before raising prices: Their financial health notwithstanding, more than 85 percent of diners surveyed rated perceived value as "extremely" or "very" important.

Eager Beaver

Old TV shows never die . . . they just switch media. Now that the Brady Bunch has been given its big-screen due, another famous family from television's past is poised to take its own trip down memory lane. Believe it or not, that venerable classic "Leave It to Beaver" is reportedly set to hit movie screens soon.

As the Hollywood rumor mill has it, "Northern Exposure" star Janine Turner leads a film cast that includes Cameron Finley ("Perfect World") as the title character--the Beav. Considering the nation's new-found appreciation for beloved TV families, could a "Happy Days" revival be far behind?

Monster Flash

He's b-a-a-a-c-k--or, at least, he will be soon. Although studio sources are keeping mum, USA Today reports that a big-screen version of Godzilla is set for release in the summer of 1998. After their monster success with Independence Day, the movie's creators decided to tackle--well, depict--the mighty Godzilla in all his frightening glory. Stay tuned for further rumblings.

Just For Girls

Software companies are starting to get with the programs--girls' programs, that is. "Nobody was building anything for girls," says Doug Glen, president of the El Segundo, California-based Mattel Media Inc. "The girls' market was practically ignored by the industry."

Until now, it seems. Drawn by the huge potential of an undertapped consumer base, multimedia giants the likes of Mattel Media are making high-profile pushes into the girls' software market. "It's pretty clear that girls want to play on the computer," says Glen, "and there's been very little for them to choose from."

This year alone, says Glen, Mattel Media is planning to release some half a dozen titles for girls, with an emphasis on its Barbie tie-in programs--"Barbie Makeover Magic," "Barbie Ocean Adventure" and "Barbie Partymaker" among them.

Hitting this target market, however, might not be such an easy task. As Glen notes, boys and girls aren't generally getting (or seeking) the same things out of the games they play. "Boys tend to play competitively and aggressively," he says. "Girls tend to play much more cooperatively and creatively. They [also] communicate a whole lot more, which is why [many of their software programs] involve making up stories and acting out fantasies of what it's like to be a grownup."

Well . . . vive la différence.

Soup's On!

You might say the burgeoning soup craze is Seined, sealed and delivered. Thanks to its much-talked-about "Soup Nazi" episode, the hit TV show "Seinfeld" has helped to turn up the heat on one of the nation's best-loved--but often overlooked--foods.

Just as coffee fueled a specialty industry, trend watchers are wondering if another hot liquid might be ready to go full steam ahead. It certainly seems so, judging by the success of soup enterprises like San Antonio-based Souper Salad Inc. According to Souper Salad's Clint Shackelford, the privately held soup and salad chain has experienced approximately 25 percent growth in each of the past two years. As of this month, Souper Salad numbers 68 units in six states.

Not surprisingly, restaurants aren't the only places where consumers are getting bowled over. In a reader survey, Better Homes and Gardens magazine found one-third of respondents said they were serving and preparing more soups than they had two years earlier. Our cups runneth over.

Fashion Focus

Is there a revolution taking place in the world of fashion? As if in response to recent reports signaling the growing number of overweight Americans, the fashion industry is looking anew at the market for full-figured women's clothing. And even though waifish model Kate Moss will probably never lack for work, a brand-new fashion magazine is touting the allure of women who wear larger-sized clothing.

"Most women are size 12 and up," says Nancy Nadler LeWinter, who, along with partner Julie Lewit-Nirenberg, is launching Mode magazine this month. "We are talking to the majority of the population."

Not only that, Mode also seems to have perfect timing: Even designers as well-known as Versace and Armani have branched out into designs for bigger women. "If you talk to retailers," says Lewit-Nirenberg, "they'll tell you that this is the area in the store that's experiencing the largest growth."

Claiming to be the first fashion magazine for full-figured women, Mode is targeting professional women between the ages of 25 and 49 years old. And--how's this for experience?--Nadler LeWinter and Lewit-Nirenberg were publishers of Esquire and Mirabella, respectively.

"What we're doing is creating an achievable fantasy," enthuses Nadler LeWinter. "We are going to be the fashion bible for women sizes 12 to 24--that's our goal."

Keep your eyes glued to the runways.

Contact Sources

Mattel Media Inc., 333 Continental Blvd., El Segundo, CA 90245, (310) 252-2000;

Mode, 22 E. 49th St., 5th Fl., New York, NY 10017, (212) 328-0180;

Sandelman & Associates Inc., 1125 Stone Gate Dr., Irving, TX 75063, (972) 432-9543.