From the December 1998 issue of Startups

Since age 16, Eric Bennett has had a penchant for penguins. In 1985, the then-recent college grad was working at a collection agency, where, he jokes, "I sent myself threatening letters." He wanted to start his own business and, in pursuit of tuxedoed bird memorabilia, had run across many like-minded penguin lovers. But was there a market for an all-penguin specialty store?

There was just one way to find out. That same year, Bennett opened Next Stop . . . South Pole, a pushcart in New York's South Street Seaport. His $4,000 of start-up capital covered the cart, displays, two weeks' rent, and two weeks' inventory. The business was so successful that the following year, Bennett launched a mail order catalog, and within three years, he had opened retail stores in New York City and Baltimore. Though Bennett no longer has pushcarts, his retail stores, catalog and Web site help him move $350,000 in web-footed merchandise every year.

Bennett, now 39, credits his success to four factors. First, he chose a location in a tourist area with plenty of foot traffic and a steady influx of customers. He's also been careful to expand cautiously: In 13 years, he's never taken out a loan. Third, he avoids jumping on big trends, such as Beanie Babies or Hello Kitty, where competition from major chains "can crush you," he explains. Finally, Bennett hasn't diversified his stock with other marine animals, as that would eliminate what makes his store special and alienate his core bird-loving market.

For more smart ideas, see "Tale Of A Tub."

Share The Wealth

As a successful banker and entrepreneur for more than 20 years, Harold R. Lacy has lived and breathed the intricate ins and outs of small-business financing. Now he's passing along his insider tips in Financing Your Business Dreams With Other People's Money: How and Where to Find Money for Start-Up and Growing Businesses ($15.95, Sage Creek Press). Lacy makes it clear: Don't put all your financial eggs in one basket. "Most entrepreneurs make the mistake of focusing on only one source for their financing," he writes.

Forget about venture capital, at least in the early stages, Lacy advises. Instead, look to the plentiful "angel" sources surrounding every would-be entrepreneur--lenders who provide more than 85 percent of the funding for all start-up businesses. But finding them is only the first step; the right approach is also essential. In Chapter 1, Other People's Money explains the fine art of helping lenders understand what's in it for them--and the six most common reasons investors reject deals.

Chapter 2 covers government funding and includes a thorough list of its advantages and disadvantages. Prepare to court your local banker as you work your way through Chapter 3 and the revealing "5 Cs test" bankers use to analyze your loan request. Rounding out the detailed examination of traditional financing is a variety of alternative financing options such as factoring and lease financing.

Perhaps the place you'll shine most after your trek through Other People's Money is in the mother of all financing hassles: the business plan. Here, Lacy's practical and seasoned advice tempts entrepreneurs who've already written a business plan to craft a new, better one under his creative guidance.

Even The SCORE

For three decades, countless business start-ups have gotten a leg up from the expert resources offered by the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). Now, this business counseling arm of the SBA is redoubling its efforts to keep pace with the scores of women going into business for themselves.

Because women now account for nearly half those seeking counseling from SCORE, the organization has decided to increase its number of women counselors and aims to help even more women entrepreneurs, particularly via the Internet. "Women have [told us] they're very interested in networking, they're very interested in technology, and they're very interested in peer-to-peer mentoring," says SCORE's Christine Goodeno.

Toward that end, more than 60 SBA-affiliated Women's Business Centers recently collaborated to launch the Online Women's Business Center (http://www.onlinewbc.org), a free interactive training site for both new and established women business owners. Designed as a one-stop resource, the Web site offers abundant assistance, including a monthly newsletter, interactive mentoring, topical forums (in marketing, management, finance and procurement), and a state-by-state list of professional services for women-owned start-ups.

Full Force

Full force: America's labor force is changing, featuring more women and minorities than ever before. By 2020, one-third of those joining the working ranks will be minorities, and the male-female ratio will be 50-50, predicts the Kiplinger Washington Newsletter.

Help yourself: As home medical tests become more user-friendly and accurate--and traditional medical avenues more costly and less accessible--annual sales of do-it-yourself kits, including blood glucose monitors and pregnancy, ovulation, cholesterol and HIV tests, are expected to skyrocket to more than $2 billion by 2001, up from $1.4 billion in 1996, according to the newsletter Trend Letter.

Survey says: A recent survey by the Hobby Industry Association shows consumer spending on craft and hobby products is up 37 percent. The overall craft/hobby industry is flying high at an annual $10 billion for the third consecutive year.

Open-And-Shut Case

Now you see it. Now you don't. Sauder Woodworking Co.'s versatile new Monarch Computer Workcenter may be the space-saving virtual office you've been looking for. The Workcenter's two sets of doors open to reveal the makings of an entire home office--housed neatly in the shell of a well-designed armoire.

Not only fashionable but functional, too, the Workcenter's gentle overhead lighting graces your choice of four work-surface heights, while adjustable shelves hold an ample stash of books, tapes, files and disks. Thoughtful nods to practicality abound, from the built-in bulletin board to the hanging file storage unit, slide-out keyboard shelf and dedicated space for a tower CPU.

Ready to call it a day? Simply close the Workcenter's doors to reclaim precious living space. Available in a variety of styles and finishes, including country-style washed pine, rich cherry and a more contemporary version in warm, amber oak, the Monarch Computer Workcenter costs $500. Call (800) 4-SAUDER to order.

Contact Source

Next Stop . . . South Pole, (877) PENGWIN, penguin@bway.net