Thomas Andonian, founder of Los Angeles-based Gift Toppers, crafted his business idea by accident while trying to avoid one of his least favorite activities: "I always hated wrapping gifts," says Andonian, 34.
It was 1994 and time for a theme-based holiday gift exchange--a tradition among Andonian's friends. The theme was glamour, and Andonian had a brainstorm: Instead of a boring bow, why not affix a glamorous woman--a paper cutout version, of course--to add allure to his gifts?
A student artist helped bring his concept to life, and in 1996, Andonian launched an all-occasion line of stand-up magnetic gift decorations (for re-use on the refrigerator) with messages on the back. "I've always been daring, but I had no business background," says Andonian, who took an entrepreneurship course and attended a greeting card seminar.
Next, Andonian traveled to New York City for a gift industry trade show, where he gained attention from sales reps nationwide and flew back to Los Angeles with more than 40 orders in hand. With Gift Toppers' 1997 sales topping $150,000 and a 25 percent increase expected this year, the former waiter's formula for success--"Two Ps: patience and persistence"--is all wrapped up.