From the August 1998 issue of Startups

Many years ago, when Sandra Knowles White's great-grandfather worked in the West Virginia coal mines, her great-grandmother searched for ways to get black coal dust out of her husband's clothing. Fast-forward to the 1990s. Knowles White, 48, thought it might be fun to dye an old T-shirt with coal and see what happened. It came out a deep, matte black that everyone agreed looked unique.

But the dye faded to gray in the wash, so White found a local chemist, and together they prepared a formula to make the dye permanent. In 1996, Knowles White turned her basement into a factory, running T-shirts through an old wringer and turning them into a product line for Black Gold Creations Inc., sold for $21.95 each at local gift shops and via a Web site.

The T-shirts are packaged with a tag explaining the process and a small bag of Appalachian coal, and the company has expanded to include a line of custom-printed, coal-dyed T-shirts and sweatshirts popular with mining companies and other local businesses. Knowles White and her sister, Linda Wilson, plan to market the shirts in Pennsylvania and other "coal states."

Toy Story

Pamela Fritz, a Grand Haven, Michigan, mother of two, enjoyed buying her children toys, but the prices at toy stores were high enough to give anyone sticker shock.

While she dropped off a load of used clothing at a consignment store one day in 1991, it dawned on Fritz that she could apply the consignment concept to secondhand toys. When she suggested the idea to her husband, Dave, he offered her space in a commercial building he owned.

On a slim budget, Fritz scoured garage sales for used toys and got the word out about her business, Toys Are Used. Fritz's children were enlisted to help test, clean and repair the toys; as an unexpected plus, the kids also quickly learned such basic business skills as counting back change. "What better place to bring kids to work than a used toy store?" asks Fritz, 37.

Ads in local papers and sponsorship of a local tee-ball team helped bring in used toys--and customers. Soon the shelves were heaped with everything from little red wagons to the newest video game cartridges.

With sales of more than $30,000 last year, Toys Are Used is a hit with kids and adults alike, and no wonder--the prices are 60 percent below those of typical toy stores. Not one to keep a smart idea to herself, Fritz is writing a business plan to introduce the concept of used-toy consignment stores to other would-be entrepreneurs across the country.

College Try

Most students wait until graduation to seek their fortunes in the business world. But for Ian Leopold, 34, the hallowed halls of education offered their own opportunities for success.

As an undergraduate, Leopold, spent summers managing a restaurant. He became intrigued with the power of advertising after ad reps besieged him to buy ads for his business. Meanwhile, back on campus, he noted that many magazines targeting students didn't have much information relevant to students' daily lives. So in the fall of 1985, Leopold designed a student-friendly campus resource guide and, with a $48 budget, began knocking on doors of local businesses seeking ads. The Unofficial Student Guide turned a profit immediately, and Leopold kept turning them out once a year--even after completing graduate school and going to work for an insurance company.

In1990, Leopold left his job to make the Guide the centerpiece of an integrated communications company, Campus Concepts Inc., which targets college students. The Baltimore company now offers advertisers such as Nike and Pepsi an entrance to the lucrative college market through a mix of media, including campus billboards, sports sponsorships and a Web site. Leopold expects the company to earn more than $10 million this year.

Contact Sources

Black Gold Creations Inc., (304) 325-9379, fax: (304) 324-2397

Campus Concepts Inc., 312 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21201, (410) 625-0044

Toys Are Used, (616) 842-5200, dav7931@novagate.com