From the May 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

Put this in your pipe and smoke it: Cigars aren't the only flame in town for tobacco enthusiasts. Perhaps as a way to sneak tweed back into fashion, folks are beginning to take a greater interest in pipes these days. Indeed, if the smoke signals are to be believed, pipes are downright trendy.

Not that it's all that easy to pinpoint the number of pipe smokers. According to 1994 figures--the most recent available--from the Pipe Tobacco Council, roughly 3 million smokers are in the pipeline. Pipe smokers tend to be married white males with some college background. And even though approximately half the pipe smokers are 46-plus years old, there's reason to suspect the current cachet of cigars could puff up the popularity of pipes among younger folks.

"As more young professionals go into tobacco shops to purchase cigars, they're being exposed to aromas of pipe tobacco," says the Pipe Tobacco Council's Norman Sharp.

One potential fire-stopper: Pipes aren't easy to smoke. "You have to break in the pipe," says Sharp. "You have to pack it. And then you have to light it a couple times before it takes."

Taking this into account, it's no surprise to learn pipe smokers are generally a methodical bunch. As for wearing tweed--well, that's entirely optional.

Dirty Work

In case you hadn't noticed, there's a war going on--a germ war, to be precise. On the offense: legions of nasty germs capable of triggering all sorts of nasty illnesses. On the defense: legions of anxious consumers looking to guard against the aforementioned germs and illnesses. With a peaceful resolution nowhere in sight, consumers are stockpiling as much ammunition as they can in the form of antibacterial products, disinfectants and the like.

"People are starting to be more and more afraid of germs," observes Susan Small-Weil, consumer behavior psychologist with The Seiden Group, a New York City advertising and marketing consulting firm. "Interest in antibacterial products is at an all-time high."

Pity the poor germs: With every Ebola virus scare, with every report of tuberculosis, and with every threat of flesh-eating bacteria, consumers are snapping up more antibacterial lotions, dishwashing liquid and sponges. Even some children's toys are now being outfitted with antibacterial protection. And for the unwashed masses (an estimated one-third of Americans don't wash their hands after using public restrooms!), there are even kits to teach us how to properly cleanse our hands.

But how long will businesses clean up on this germ hysteria? Surmises Small-Weil, "As long as media and advertising attention is [paid to germs], people will be concerned and use the [antibacterial] products."

Bugged!

Is the world going buggy? Although it was only last month that we wrote of the flight of the bumblebee in the gift industry, we're already picking up another winged creature on our radar screen. Bees are still the buzz, but keep your eyes peeled for ladybugs.

Fabled to be good luck, ladybugs seem a natural next step for gift retailers hoping to capitalize on a fascination with insects. Ladybugs are often depicted with a certain charm--sort of noncreepy crawlers, if you will. And we hate to say it, but it's true: Cuteness doesn't hurt when trying to appeal to bug-eyed consumers.

If floral and nature themes continue to bloom in the gift industry, don't be surprised to see other insects winging their way into the spotlight.

Habit Forming

God only knows what will next light the spiritual gifts market on fire, but we'd like to offer up a guess: nun-adorned products. It's not a wild guess, judging by the surprising success of one Los Angeles design and gift retailer.

"They've been so strong, I don't know if we can ever stop selling them now," exclaims Elizabeth Cashour of the nun candles and squeaky toys she and partner Steven Saden debuted at their Zipper store last Christmas. "We may have created a monster!"

According to Cashour, the hard-to-keep-in-stock nun gifts have evolved from curiosity items to must-haves among their clientele. "We've actually had people come in looking specifically for them," she says.

This could be a trend that's habit forming--or heaven sent.

All Bark

And now for a real shaggy dog story: As far as the gift industry is concerned, man's best friends are back in vogue. Sure, cats are cute--but dogs are the animal attraction of the moment.

Why? Anthony De Masi, editor in chief of the trade publication Giftware News, points to the increase in male gift buyers--men theoretically being the more dog-friendly gender--as a key factor propelling the sales of dog figurines, T-shirts and Christmas ornaments. Then, too, the nation's conservative political bent might also play a paw--er, part--in the trend toward dogs.

"Dogs are a conservative animal; cats are a liberal animal," claims De Masi. "It's amazing--but it's true. The fact that Clinton has a cat is no accident."

So it's out with Socks and in with Snoopy? You got it. But lest you bark up the wrong tree, remember that dog lovers tend to shop with specific breeds in mind--and puppies are especially welcomed. What's more, when laying out a welcome mat for dog-loving consumers, take heed of the growing demand for products and services that cater to the pampered pooch. Observes De Masi, "Dog owners aren't thinking twice about buying really good dinnerware for their dogs."

Full Circle

Is America ready for a redesigned bagel? That's what Boston-based SJR Foods Inc.'s Larry Baras is hoping as he works to widen distribution of his appropriately named UnHoley Bagels--holeless bagels with the cream cheese already inside them.

"It was not anything close to a stroke of genius--it was a stroke of being a complete klutz," says Baras, who dreamed up the idea for UnHoley Bagels after one too many messy attempts to apply cream cheese to bagels while driving. "I said, `There has to be a better way.' " That better way is now being sold through convenience stores and grocers primarily in the Eastern region of the country. "It's becoming the bagel of choice in the freezer section," says Baras, noting 1997 sales projections of $10 million.

Holeless bagels are not, however, the only delicacy overturning today's breakfast tables. Despite their image as sugar-laden, calorie-oozing, guilt-inducing menaces to society, donuts have reportedly snuck onto the menus of several tony restaurants of late. The twist? Through exotic ingredients and presentation, donuts are being transformed into upscale gourmet desserts.

Skeptical? We swear it's the truth--the hole truth.

The Good Life

There's nothing wrong with a taste for the finer things in life, and scores of consumers are proving it. As if to revolt against the temperance movement that attempted to turn all Americans into sprout-eating, early-to-bed/early-to-rise, never-fail-to-exercise fanatics, a renewed appreciation for luxury appears to be taking hold. Escargot is in. Cocktails are in. And caviar--that most pricey of delicacies--is back in as well.

"People are looking for excellence and luxury," says Mats Engstrom, whose San Francisco-based California Sunshine Fine Foods Inc. increased its caviar business by 70 percent last year. "You could eat hamburgers, but then you get into sirloin and filet mignon. And what do you do when you satisfy your need for filet mignon? You [choose] caviar and champagne."

To Engstrom's way of thinking, affluent boomers in particular are the ones realizing their champagne wishes and caviar dreams. And no, they're not opting for caviar simply for its taste. "I call caviar a way of life rather than a food," says Engstrom. "It's very special."

Contact Sources

California Sunshine Fine Foods Inc., 144 King St., San Francisco, CA 94107, (415) 543-3007;

Giftware News, 20 N. Wacker Dr., #3230, Chicago, IL 60606, (312) 849-2220;

SJR Foods Inc., 32 Emerson Pl., Boston, MA 02114, (617) 725-0570;

The Seiden Group, 445 Park Ave., New York, NY 10022, (212) 223-8700;

Zipper, 8316 W. Third St., Los Angeles, CA 90048, (213) 951-0620.