From the August 1998 issue of Startups

Whether you're looking for a niche or trying to stay ahead of the competition, keeping an eye on trends makes a vital difference to your bottom line. "There's a certain progression that takes place," explains longtime trend watcher Art Siemering, publisher of Trend/Wire newsletter. "Trends often start in large metropolitan centers, then gravitate to markets in the heartland."

Siemering's advice for keeping your finger on the pulse of the buying public:

Who: What's going on with youth is extremely influential to many businesses, he says, but don't ignore baby boomers. "One [boomer] turns 50 every seven seconds," he says. "They're still going to have a big impact."

What: Scan print, broadcast and Internet sources on a regular basis. "Watch not only what's being written about," says Siemering, "but what's being advertised."

Where: "The best places [to study trends] are what I call `the glamour districts,' places where there's a lot of foot traffic and stylish stores or night life in a compact area," says Siemering.

How: Be open-minded. "Every consumer wants just a little `edge,' " Siemering says. Can you give it to them?

Why: To succeed. "You can't keep selling the same merchandise," he says. "You've got to stay ahead of the curve."

Say Uncle

Millions of dollars in financial resources go untapped each year because entrepreneurs don't know they're available. Get in the know with William Alarid's latest edition of Free Help From Uncle Sam to Start Your Own Business Or Expand the One You Have, filled with government resources and case histories where Uncle Sam's deep pockets made big differences for small businesses.

After a pep talk reminding us that, as taxpayers, it's our money we're applying for when we turn to Uncle Sam, Free Help provides quick tours through how to begin your quest for funding; where to find free, in-depth business counseling; and how to locate economic research tailored to your region.

Uncle Sam himself could become your best customer: Each year, the U.S. government buys a wide range of goods and services. Free Help shows you how to gain easy exposure for your product before a host of federal agencies.

The true entrepreneur is a bit of a gambler, writes Alarid, and knowledge is the ace in the hole. Free Help's bountiful information can give you the winning edge by revealing some of Uncle Sam's best-kept secrets.

Food For Thought

News, facts and figures to spark ideas for new and better businesses.

Big wallets on campus: They're young, hip and acquisitive. College students are spending more than ever, reports Baltimore-based communications firm Campus Concepts--$90 billion per year, to be exact. More than half of all full-time students own cars and computers, and two-thirds pack credit cards, according to the Student Monitor, a market study of college students.

Faster food: Say goodbye to gooey concoctions that take hours to prepare. Proving quick, easy and ethnic are today's cooking buzzwords, this year's Pillsbury Quick and Easy Bake-Off winner, "Salsa Couscous Chicken," hailed from the 30-Minute Main Course category.

Stairway to heaven: Sales of religious and inspirational products have climbed more than 40 percent in the past six years, creating a $4.6 billion industry. Projections for 1998 say books will lead sales (44 percent), followed by audio, video and software products (32 percent) and stationery and giftware (24 percent), according to market research firm FIND/SVP.

Show Off

Showcasing a new product before an audience of millions is every entrepreneur's dream. Now two major TV shopping networks offer easier ways you can do it.

  • QVC's "Big Time With Phyllis George," which airs every Friday night, debuts American-made products that offer fresh solutions. "We're primarily looking at `make life easier' type products," says QVC's Scott Ellis, "such as a better spatula or a better way to make sure your tire's inflated." Think your product fits the bill? Send photos and information (no samples, please) to "Big Time," QVC Vendor Relations, Studio Park, Westchester, PA 19380.
  • Not sure your product is ready for the airwaves? Bring it to a free product fair held by the Home Shopping Network's HSN Institute for evaluation by product specialists and a chance to appear on the air. Fairs are held nationwide every month. For details and a vendor kit, call (800) 436-1010.

Hog Wild

By Pamela Rohland

A pet project that began as a way to keep busy after retirement is paying off for Richard Brisky.

"I heard about hedgehogs, and that appealed to me," says the former sales and marketing professional. In 1993, Brisky, now 64, bought four of the prickly animals and let nature take its course. Before long, he had 60 breeders and a batch of baby hedgehogs, which he sold to local pet stores for about $35 each.

"After the first litter, I was hooked," says the Franklinville, New York, entrepreneur, who has added sugar gliders, monkeys, rats, mice, flying squirrels, chinchillas, ferrets and other exotic pets to his line.

Brisky also enlisted a pet-food company to help develop a line of 10 exotic pet foods, Accu-Feed, now sold in pet stores and via his Web site.

Brisky says exotic pet breeders can make $50,000 to $100,000 annually. Although he won't divulge specifics, sales at Brisky Pet Products are multiplying as fast as the "pocket pets" he sells.

Sign Here

By Laura Tiffany

Looking to make a lasting first impression on your customers? Try advertising your product or service with a hand-painted, wooden sign from New Bohemia Signs.

Recalling traditional craftsmanship that's sometimes forgotten in today's computer age, New Bo-hemia Signs designs hand-crafted custom signs for business owners. Each wooden sign is created to your specifications, including size, colors, design, materials and incorporation of the company logo. Popular types of signs the San Francisco-based company creates include menu boards, stand-up sidewalk displays and traditional store identification signs.

Prices vary depending on the specifications of the sign, including size, materials and complexity of design. A small sign with only two colors and a simple lettering style may cost as little as $100, while a large, two-sided sign made of special woods with gilded illustrations and a complex font can cost between $200 and $3,000.

For more information, call (415) 864-8057.

Contact Sources

Brisky Pet Products, (800) 462-2464, http://www.brisky.com

Trend/Wire, (913) 648-7492, fax: (913) 648-7492.