From the September 1998 issue of Startups

Snowboarding, winter's latest feel-good sport, isn't just for the young and the restless. According to Leisure Trends Group's 1996/97 National Skier/Snowboarder Opinion Survey, 43 percent of adult snowboarders are 35 or older. As baby boomers take to the powder alongside their children and grandchildren, snowboarding's expanding demographics bode well for winter-minded entrepreneurs. After the sport's Olympic debut last spring, entrepreneurs began pumping up for a winter of hot sales--from shops hawking high-tech outerwear and step-in bindings to snowboard training camps, avalanche preparedness courses and wilderness safety clinics.

Richard Mobley, owner of Ski/Surf Shop in Manhattan Beach, California, sees the trend mushrooming on the manufacturing level. "Quality ski companies are [no longer hesitant] to put their names on a snowboard," says Mobley. Even Nike is entering the competition, set to launch its first snowboard design next fall.

"When snowboarding started becoming mainstream, it attracted a lot of surfers and skateboarders," says Ali Zacaroli of SnowSports Industries America, a McLean, Virginia, trade association, "[but] it's no longer the domain of teenage males. Today, the snowboarder coming down the slope could very well be somebody's dad--or mom."

Changing Course

Rome wasn't built in a day--but if Elsie and Eli Marcus had overseen the project, perhaps it could have been. Helping people lead happier, healthier lives has turned into a healthy business for the New York City couple, who conceived and launched their seminar company in just three months.

The Marcuses' professional backgrounds (Eli's is in sales and marketing and Elsie's is in computer networking) have taken a back seat to pursuing their longtime avocation. "The Seminar Center arose from our tremendous interest in self-help," explains Eli, 40. "We started conceptualizing the business in October, and things spiraled very quickly." In January, the Seminar Center's spring catalog of seminar events was placed in some 2,000 locations throughout New York City.

The couple wisely hired a program director, enabling the Seminar Center to boast a wide variety of high-profile speakers, including Billy Baldwin and Ivana Trump. Courses on everything from "How to Run a Successful Business" to "The Near-Death Experience" brought in more than 1,000 participants in the Center's first six weeks.

With heart and soul firmly engaged, the Marcuses' business vision is matched only by their sense of purpose: "We're trying to make the world a better place," says Eli. "I know it sounds clichéd, but it's not about money for us."

Express Yourself

Check out the latest in relationship marketing: business greeting cards. Manners never go out of style, especially in the world of business--and now a bevy of companies offer this quick, easy way to stay in touch with your customers and contacts. You can find creative cards for every occasion, whether to follow up on a sales call, inform your clients of new products or gently prod for referrals.

Instead of saying it with flowers or time-consuming telephone conversations, business greeting cards do the talking in a memorable (and often humorous) way. Con-sider this genteel approach to collections, from Corporate Papers in Williamstown, Massachusetts: a delicately tinted photo of an antique shop, accompanied by the text: "Speaking of antiques, we found your `outstanding' invoice in our records." (For catalog information, call 413-458-2236.)

Other card companies worth a look: Introknocks Corp. (http://www.introknocks.com) and Conceptual Thinking Inc. (http://www.conceptualthinking.com), which let you order business greeting cards online.

Green Acres?

For city dwellers seeking refuge from smog, rush-hour traffic and long supermarket lines, it's a romantic fantasy: owning a quaint bed-and-breakfast inn or a charming general store in a sleepy town where everybody knows your name. If you're wondering where to sign up, read Lisa Shaw's Complete Country Business Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Become a Rural Entrepreneur (Williams Hill Publishing, $24.95, 800-639-1099), a look at the nuts and bolts of small-business ownership, "village" style.

Complete Country Business Guide highlights real-life case histories of former city folk who tell what it took to dig into country soil. Running the gamut from specialty food manufacturers and furniture makers to entrepreneurs with more unusual ventures such as cat kennels and llama farming, each profile offers start-up cost estimates, special considerations and resources for additional information.

While the kinder, gentler side of country living is undeniable, Shaw holds out no illusions that it's easy. "The ideal rural entrepreneur," she writes, "is an optimistic cynic--someone with a positive attitude toward the world who's not surprised when things go wrong." If you still have the gumption to tackle country living after reading this book, the solid advice Shaw offers should help ensure things go right.

Food For Thought

World (Wide Web) Travelers: Surf's up! Join the wave of travel-related companies staking their claims on the Internet. With just a few mouse clicks, one in four travelers last year made travel plans and reservations online--up from one in 10 in 1996, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.

They're, Like, Spending: One of consumerism's best-kept secrets? The mega-buying power of teenagers. Whether from baby-sitting or flipping burgers, the cash adds up--and teens are spending it. Measuring a massive $108 billion in 1996, teenage spending has increased every year since 1953, according to research firm FIND/SVP.

Dog's Best Friend: Pet lovers are always on the prowl for new ways to cater to their pets. According to the American Animal Hospital Association's Pet Facts '97-'98 survey, 33 percent of pet owners leave the radio or television on to entertain pets left home alone. Forty-one percent take pets on vacation, and 61 percent say pets join in their holiday celebrations. Despite these efforts, says the survey, most pet owners feel they could be doing even more.

Web Warning

Unsuspecting entrepreneurs are sometimes easy targets for bogus online business opportunities. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has stepped up its efforts to protect what it calls "Internet innocents" by offering a free consumer alert pamphlet, Net-Based Opportunities: Are Some Flop-portunities?

Recent cases the FTC has brought before the courts illustrate that while Americans are becoming more Internet-savvy, a little knowledge may not be enough. Under the guise of next-century technology, age-old pyramid and get-rich-quick scams are luring those eager to cash in on the Web's global reach.

The tip-off to a rip-off? Quite often, says FTC attorney Tracy Thorleifson, it's extravagant earnings claims. "If it sounds too good to be true," says Thorleifson, "then it probably is." To request Net-Based Opportunities and other FTC publications, visit http://www.ftc.gov

Contact Sources

Leisure Trends Group, (888) 732-7373, ext. 104, info@leisuretrends.com

The Seminar Center, (212) 655-0077, http://www.seminarcenter.com

Ski/Surf Shop, 1765 Artesia Blvd., Manhattan Beach, CA 90266, (310) 379-2312

SnowSports Industries America, (703) 556-9020, siamail@snowsports.org