From the January 1998 issue of Startups

When hard at work hitting the textbooks and pounding the campus pavement, what is it most college students crave? A little pampering from home, no doubt.

James Kim and Ed Han remembered this from their years together as undergraduates at the University of Chicago. So after the pair graduated with degrees in public policy studies and economics, respectively, they started Chicago-based KarePak & Co., a themed care-package business, last September.

KarePak offers 12 unique care packages that cover a range of product themes--from gourmet foods and cleaning supplies to calling cards and healthy snacks.

For worried parents dealing with "separation anxiety," Kare-Pak offers the "Did you brush your teeth?" package, which provides grateful students with such hygiene essentials as mouthwash, dental floss, toothpaste and a toothbrush, and senders with the peace of mind that there's a better chance these items are being put to regular use.

"Nowadays, especially with a lot of mothers who work more than they did just a generation ago, I think there are a lot of parents out there who want to send a care package to their student but just don't have the time," says Kim. "This is a way for them to communicate they care without investing a lot of time."

To ensure that manners are being minded in the busy mix of social club meetings, football games and midterm exams, a stamped thank-you card is enclosed with each package so the recipient can easily thank the sender. Prices for the care packages range from $19.95 to $24.95, and the company has seen sales grow 50 percent to 60 percent since it started taking orders nationwide last fall from busy--but caring--parents, grandparents and other relatives.

Made In The Shade

Tom James, owner of Accent by Masters Inc., a window-film company in Phoenix, doesn't mind the desert heat. It's what keeps his business sizzling.

James' company specializes in tinting windows to reduce interior solar-heat levels and ultraviolet rays. Accent by Masters found a profitable niche in the competitive glass-tinting industry by specializing in "flat glass"--glass used in homes and commercial buildings.

"There are a lot of competitors, but fewer than 10 of the close to 150 window-film companies care to approach the residential/commercial industry," says James. By targeting its services to homes and businesses instead of cars and trucks, the company that finished its first year in business in 1979 with $29,000 in sales racked up more than $800,000 last year.

"We're in a hub of relocation in Phoenix," James says. "More than half our clients are new to the area, so for them it's a big deal to move to a desert environment with a 115-degree average summer temperature. They think, `Gosh, this is nothing like back home in Kansas!' "

Basket Cases

Why put only eggs in your baskets when there are so many other items available to spice them up? Written expressly for gift-basket companies, the deluxe Gift Basket Products Guide (Sweet Survival, $30, 973-279-2799), lists more than 400 companies that manufacture gift-basket products. The guide's five sections detail different types of baskets, alternative containers, fillers, foods and gifts that can help spark some refreshingly new product assembly ideas.

"Industry professionals around the country convinced me it was time to compile a source of information to make gift-basket product selection easier," says Shirley Frazier, president of Sweet Survival, who created a deluxe edition of the existing standard guide by adding more than 200 new companies to its list of manufacturers.

As a convenience for gift-basket companies that market to tourists, the guide's sixth chapter offers a listing of manufacturers by state, so gift-basket entrepreneurs who wish to can fill their baskets exclusively with products made in their home states.

Contact Sources

Accent by Masters, (602) 267-0706, fax: (602) 971-0801

KarePak & Co., 346 W. Armitage Ave., #3, Chicago, IL 60614, (888) YOU-KARE