From the November 1998 issue of Startups

The "comfort" industry is soaring as premillennium consumer demand turns the spotlight on health, happiness and above all, less stress. Entrepreneurs promoting relaxation and a chance to escape the daily grind are benefiting.

"The baby boom generation is in the high-stress years, juggling careers and mortgages and raising kids who are going off to college," says Jon Berry, editorial director of market research firm Roper Starch Worldwide. "Particularly in that group, there's a real need for de-stressors."

For those who can't afford a lengthy spa stay or a Tahitian vacation, "affordable approximations"--things associated with getting away--are sporting high appeal, from day spas and bath and shower products to ergonomic furniture and state-of-the-art home entertainment centers.

Frenzied Los Angeles-area residents trade pent-up stress for peace of mind with a visit to Anger Behind Closed Doors. For less than $10 per session, clients spend 3 or 4 minutes in padded, soundproof "venting" rooms. No appointment is needed, says owner David Morgan, 52. Using a foam baton, patrons release their frustrations onto a life-sized dummy, then retire to a relaxation room to cool down to the strains of classical music. Morgan, who launched the company in June, passes the baton to roughly 50 customers a week.

Massage therapist Mark Juarez offers a kinder, gentler de-stressor with his Happy Massager, a small wooden massage tool. Since founding San Leandro, California-based Tender Loving Things Inc. in 1992 to market the invention, Juarez, 41, hasn't had to look far to find inspiration for new products, such as Scrubby Buddies and Happy Eye Pillows. "I realized we create products to reduce stress, yet a lot of people working for me were experiencing stress due to the fast growth of the company," explains Juarez. Expected to bring in more than $10 million in sales this year, the Happy Massager kneads tense muscles in the United States and 17 countries worldwide.

Lighting The Way

Michael Richards lives on the edge--and he wouldn't have it any other way. You'll see why when you read his Light One Candle: A Handbook for Bootstrapping Entrepreneurs (Innovation Press, $9.95, 319-354-7515). Richards surveys the unique path he and his wife, Lynette, took in 1993 when they founded Candleworks, a candle-manufacturing business, in the run-down New York City tenement building they called home.

How they grew the company into a $1 million concern with a 10,000-square-foot facility is the stuff this book is made of. "The essential tool of bootstrapping is immediate, decisive action," Richards writes. "Bootstrappers don't wait until they have enough money, enough time, enough talent or enough knowledge. They start exactly where they're at, with anything they've got."

Anxious to build a business that would also act as a catalyst for social benefit, Candleworks garnered state and federal recognition as a model for welfare-to-work programs when the Richardses began hiring homeless, disadvantaged and disabled workers. "We have a liberal attitude toward personal and social needs, and a conservative view toward creating a dynamic private business enterprise," Richards writes.

That strategy works. Today, Candleworks uses an innovative vegetable-based wax formula to create private-label candles for such environmentally conscious retailers as The Body Shop and Urban Outfitters. Speaking like someone who's been there, Richards advises entrepreneurs, "If you want the rainbow, you've gotta go through the rain." Candleworks' inspiring story will light the way for any start-up entrepreneur facing storm clouds.

The Winner Is...

"I love it when someone tells me I can't do something," says Larry Fuentes, Office Depot and Entrepreneur Magazine's 1998 Start-Up Small Business Owner of the Year, "because that makes me want to achieve even more." Such determination, coupled with a serious work ethic, paved the way for Fuentes, 34, to found Superior Interior Systems Inc., a Rochester, New York-based commercial drywall business, last year.

Having headed the specialty drywall division of a large commercial contractor for seven years, Fuentes was ready to strike out on his own--in part because he sensed the corporate glass ceiling above him would be impossible to break. "[My employer] offered me a huge incentive package to stay, but I turned it down," says Fuentes. "My mind was made up."

With $15,000 in personal savings and $15,000 from a friend, Fuentes got busy and did the incredible: more than $1.5 million in sales his first year. With big names like Xerox and Kodak (both have corporate headquarters in Rochester) signing on as early clients, plus the City of Rochester and the Rochester Institute for Technology, Fuentes' success quickly built on itself.

A focus on customer satisfaction and hiring the right people play major parts in the company's growth. But while he was no stranger to the construction industry, even Fuentes is amazed by the speed and scope of his success. "A lot of people thought I was crazy [to go it alone], and even I didn't dream of doing this well," says Fuentes. "[Then again,] I had that quiet self-confidence. You know--`Just go out and do it.'?

Food For Thought

Kings of the road: The 50-plus crowd surfs the Web 19 percent longer than all other "netizens" combined, according to a recent report from RelevantKnowledge Inc., a Web-usage measurement company.

Give 'em a break: Travel is poised to become the largest industry in the world, says monthly newsletter The Boomer Report. By 2020, world travelers will spend $2 trillion annually on getaways, up from $399 billion in 1995.

Men at play: When it comes to shopping, says the weekly bulletinYankelovich Monitor Minute, men require greater convenience (think call-ahead ordering and drive-thru pickup) and more data (think creative packaging that highlights product relevance) to enjoy the purchasing process as much as their female counterparts.

Virtual Knowledge

Ahh, the library??? that storehouse of facts and figures you can count on when it's time to research something--as long as it's open, that is. Now, thanks to LibrarySpot.com (http://www.libraryspot.com), visiting the reference desk just got easier. Launched late last year by StartSpot Mediaworks Inc., LibrarySpot.com is a virtual library open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

"Entrepreneurs probably have the greatest need for information, but [historically,] the fewest resources," says Lauren Drinkard, StartSpot's managing editor. LibrarySpot.com's abundant resources solve that problem: From down-loadable tax forms to links to all 50 state libraries, the site is especially helpful to small-business owners.

Offering user-friendly research on more than 100,000 companies, plus links to online text from top business magazines and more than 3,500 domestic and international newspapers, "LibrarySpot.com offers the best information in the least amount of time," says Drinkard. And like your library, this Web site offers most of its information for free.

Contact Sources

Anger Behind Closed Doors, 3700 Martin Luther King Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90008, (323) 292-8002

Roper Starch Worldwide, (212) 599-0700, http://www.roper.com

Superior Interior Systems Inc., 4 Holworthy St., Rochester, NY 14606, (716) 586-3380

Tender Loving Things Inc., (800) 4-TO-BUY-ME, http://www.happymassager.com