From the May 1998 issue of Startups

From almonds to zebra-print sofas--you name it, someone in California grows or manufactures it. Ed Kurtz, 46, had been selling California agricultural products to distributors for many years when he heard about a store called "Made in Oregon." That sparked the idea for a California-only store, and Kurtz used his contacts to open CaliforniaMarketplace in Agoura Hills, where he once served as mayor.

All items sold in the store are grown or made in California. Wares include everything from vinegar produced in Napa Valley to T-shirts designed by a renowned Los Angeles artist.

The store has become popular with locals and tourists alike. "Many people who live here are transplanted from other states, so they have friends, relatives and business associates all over the country. They're ecstatic to be able to send them something from California," says Kurtz.

CaliforniaMarketplace published its first mail order catalog this year and projects sales of $100,000 next year. Kurtz is planning to open additional locations at California tourist spots and hotels.

Complaint Department

When their clients call to complain, Gary and Sandy Rattigan know they're doing something right. Their business, Complain To Us, serves as a middleman for customers seeking to resolve problems with other companies.

The Rattigans opened Complain To Us in Somerville, Massachusetts, last October, after reading about a similar business. Working from home, they handle complaints of all types and sizes, writing or calling companies as needed until problems are solved. Fees--which range from $25 for an "economy-sized" complaint to $200 for a "jumbo" complaint--are based on the amount of effort they deem necessary to resolve the problem.

Gary says Complain To Us bridges the gap between dissatisfied customers and unsympathetic customer service representatives. "So many companies have customer service lines that don't really serve anyone," he says. "We wanted to help break through that wall."

Business was slow at first, but after Complain To Us was written up in the Boston Herald and USA Today, the phones began ringing. Now the Rattigans have taken the business full time to handle the extra work . . . and forestall any complaints.

Safe At Home

What dangers lurk in the ordinary family home? As any parent knows, plenty. Stairs, cabinets and bathrooms all pose risks for infants unless a home is childproofed.

Penny Bowhall, an entrepreneur in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, learned firsthand about the need for childproofing when her 4-month-old son had an accident at a day-care center. The incident spurred Bowhall to find a way she could make a living and spend more time at home.

When she spotted a home childproofing business for sale in 1996, Bowhall and her husband, Buck, bought and began running Safe Baby.

Today, Safe Baby averages eight clients per month; about half are first-time parents. "[Parents] want to spend time with their children," Penny says. "They don't want to worry about them getting into things they shouldn't or touching things that could hurt them." The company charges about $500 to childproof a home.

Contact Sources

CaliforniaMarketplace, 5050 B Kanan Rd., Agoura Hills, CA 91301, (800) 834-9476

Complain To Us, (888) 479-9300, http://www.complaintous.com

Safe Baby, P.O. Box 391, Mt. Juliet, TN 37121, bowhall@mindspring.com