From the December 1998 issue of Startups

It's all about getting out of that box--escaping the routine of commuting, cubicles and corner office fantasies. Every homebased entrepreneur should be congratulated for having the courage and the chutzpah to make a reality of what, for many people, is just a dream. And to celebrate the nonbox thinking that's intrinsic to homebased business owners, Entrepreneur's HomeOffice teamed up with Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) in a contest designed to give our readers their just deserts.

In our premiere issue, we asked you to accept the Homebased Entrepreneur Challenge. From November of last year through March, our panel of experts chose two monthly finalists. Of those finalists, three creative problem solvers were chosen as the Grand Prize winner ($10,000 prize), First Place winner (IBM ThinkPad laptop computer), and Second Place winner (The Proven Edge Professional Edition Software program). Winners were chosen based on the originality and practicality of their business solutions, as well as clarity of expression and appropriateness to theme.

"The issues these businesses faced were not really different from the issues big businesses have," says Suzanne Becker, director of mass marketing at D&B and a contest judge. "But small businesses can use creativity to come up with solutions. [The winners] took it one step further, thinking out of the box." So for some divine inspiration from folks who have been there, done that and done it well, read on.

Cleaning Up

Grand Prize

The day Steve Engelhard agreed to have his commercial cleaning firm, Pro-Pride Inc., take care of the cleaning for 13 food areas of the Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta, he never would have guessed the job would earn him $6,000 more than his set fee.

Sound like a problem you'd like to have? The issue wasn't the money, but the incredible volume of work proposed by Host Marriott Services, a food and retail concessionaire located in travel and entertainment venues. "I didn't have any crews, but I had a large Yellow Pages ad, and they thought I was a lot bigger than I actually was," recalls Engelhard, 41, of the 1994 job. "I told them to go to the next person on their list, and they all shook their heads no. If I didn't do it, they would have to." Engelhard had planned to bid only for the experience of bidding until he realized he could set his price. Then he got serious, calling other cleaning companies and ultimately securing commitments from 15 companies for the weekend job.

"Up to that point, I was a hands-on type of owner. I pitched in with employees even on medium-sized jobs. This time it was different because I had to have 13 locations done over a two-night period, so I divided it up into three crews on two separate concourses," Engelhard says. "I [appointed] crew leaders and walked back and forth between the crews."

And he proved his knack for subcontracting wasn't a one-time deal: The Monday after the airport job, he submitted a bid on a large building complex and hired one of the subcontractors he had worked with on the airport cleanup to man the job. "I basically turned the job over to him. That's how easy it is if you can find good subcontractors," Engelhard says. "I did more and more subcontracting and was able to get out of a lot of the headaches you tend to have with employees." Subcontracting proved to be the ticket to success and rapid growth for Engelhard: This year, Buford, Georgia-based Pro-Pride expects to bring in $500,000 in sales.

Drive And Ambition

First Place

Seeking high-profile advertising on a low-profile budget is always a challenge. For Carlos Fortier, owner of Ponce, Puerto Rico-based GRAFOR Manufacturing Laboratories Inc., getting the name of his product known was a priority.

Fortier, who manufactures a nonprescription ointment for arthritis and muscle pain, was slowly making his way around Puerto Rico by personally visiting each drugstore. The business he started in 1994 was growing steadily, but Fortier ran into snags when larger drugstores refused to stock his product due to lack of advertising. With a modest $200, Fortier solved the problem. He purchased a small trailer, painted his product logo on both sides, and hitched it to the back of his truck when he made sales calls.

"I would greet customers in parking lots, so many people saw the billboard," says Fortier, 34. With a little creative effort, his company generated $180,000 in sales last year.

Taking Off

Second Place

Most businesspeople hate business travel. And while many begrudgingly accept airport hassles as a fact of life, Linda Ann Scura found a way to take control of her own business travel schedule--by flying the plane herself.

Traversing a four-state area wasn't easy for Scura, one of three partners in the Wayland, New York-based book publishing company, Indus Publishing Corp., they started in 1996. With the company's printer, distributor and one partner scattered from Michigan to New York, much of Scura's workdays were spent driving between airports and her rural home or waiting in airports for connecting flights.

Scura, 54, began taking flying lessons three years ago and earned her pilot's license eight months later. She invested in a plane with one of her partners, a fellow aviator. "My plane can take four passengers for an extended distance," Scura says. "It became invaluable as far as being able to have a small business and do it my way."

Contact Sources

GRAFOR Manufacturing Laboratories Inc., La Rambla Fourth St., #376, Ponce, PR 00731, (787) 842-1423

Indus Publishing Corp., fax: (716) 728-9756, http://www.induspublishing.com

Pro-Pride Inc., phone/fax: (770) 932-9458.