From the February 1999 issue of Startups

Valerie Edwards, 33, and her husband, Adrian, 30, weren't happy campers upon graduating from California State University, San Bernardino--she with a degree in social sciences and he with a degree in business. Like many new grads, the couple soon found themselves in jobs they both hated.

"We were working a lot of hours and not really going very far," recalls Valerie, who was a store manager at a major toy retailer at the time, while Adrian spent long days on the road in sales for an automotive solvent business. "We were hitting a dead end and weren't challenged in the way we thought we could be."

Searching for a change, the couple researched franchise opportunities at their local library. Since both enjoyed amateur photography, they narrowed their choice to video production companies and, in 1993, opened a Video Data Services franchise in San Bernardino. A year later, however, sales hadn't taken off as anticipated, so the Edwardses decided to roll the dice and move their franchise to Las Vegas.

The move to Vegas gave the couple the challenge they'd been seeking--and then some. "The first year, [we ate] a lot of macaroni and cheese," Valerie admits. It was tough being new in town, with no established customer base. "We had to make a lot of cold calls, talk to a lot of people and introduce ourselves," she remembers. "You really can't be shy."

Since then, the Edwardses have enjoyed a steady stream of videotaping jobs--ranging from weddings to legal proceedings--that brought 1998 sales to more than $100,000. The rewards are more than financial, notes Valerie: "I like being self-employed and the balance [it allows] between business and family. We have a 3-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. If there's something going on [with the business] and both Adrian and I don't have to be there, [one of us] can be with our children."

Video Data Services Inc. is seeking franchisees nationwide and in Canada. Start-up costs begin at $22,500; for information, call (800) 836-9461 or visit http://www.vdsvideo.com.

Just Desserts

Lesley Degenhart, 31, finding the right recipe for success meant overcoming some setbacks along the way. When her marriage dissolved in 1996, Degenhart's husband bought out her share of the graphic design business the two had co-owned. Seeking to "regroup," she found an accounting job; that worked fine . . . for a few months. Soon, however, the former entrepreneur felt the urge to break out of the routine. "[The job] was very difficult because it was not my style--working 8 to 5, shutting it off when I got home, people telling me what was and was not my job."

When Degenhart's mother sent her father a cookie bouquet from Cookies by Design, a franchise company that sells custom cookies for special occasions, something sparked. Impressed by the product quality, Degenhart discovered there was a market for the product and decided to purchase a franchise.

Getting the start-up cash took persistence: Degenhart was turned down by the three banks she approached for a loan. But buoyed by encouragement from friends and family and a personal belief that "one bank's philosophy might not be another's," she kept trying, and the fourth bank she approached finally offered her the funding she required.

Degenhart's Indianapolis store, which opened last March, grossed approximately $260,000 in 1998 sales; a second Indianapolis location should be open by year-end.

Average start-up costs for a Cookies by Design franchise begin at $90,000; the company is accepting franchise applications nationwide. For information, contact (800) 945-2665 or visit http://www.cookiesbydesign.com.

Smoothie Operator

By Brian Ng

And you thought your credit card bills were bad. Dave Duffin, 32, maxed out 10 credit cards to get the $70,000 needed to start his Salt Lake City-based company, Zuka Juice Inc. "I closed my eyes and took a leap," says Duffin of his risky start. But it's a risk that's squeezed out millions in sales.

Duffin and his brother Rob, 28, opened their first juice bar and smoothie shop in Provo, Utah, in 1995. Their first full year in business saw almost $1 million in sales. Now the brothers have more than 100 locations (75 of which are franchised) and 1998 systemwide sales that topped $30 million. (Needless to say, that initial credit card debt is long gone.)

Duffin got the idea for his business while living in Jamaica and enjoying the delicious island juices and smoothies. After coming back to the United States and working in sales and marketing for several years, he knew it was time to take a calculated risk and start his own island-inspired company--a juice bar retailer "committed to creating the finest juice experience throughout the world." With a tribal motif and a focus on premium ingredients and premium people, he was ready to go.

"My dream ever since I was a little kid was to conjure up the guts to take the risk and start my own company," says Duffin.

Zuka Juice is seeking franchisees nationwide; total start-up costs begin at $150,000. For more information, call (888) GET-ZUKA or visit http://www.zukajuice.com.

Tag You're It!

By Lori Francisco

Playground tag has come a long way. Today it's all about high-tech lasers, arenas and flashing vests. Ultrazone, a laser-game franchise based in Las Vegas, caters to individuals and groups in search of fun. Participants are taught the game, equipped and separated into teams that compete to guard areas in a multilevel arena typically 4,000 to 5,000 square feet large.

Company president Sam Eigen started Ultrazone six years ago after seeing the concept at a trade show; he began franchising in 1993. The company has 32 franchises and is seeking more nationwide. Start-up costs begin at $400,000. For information, call (800) 628-2829 or visit http://www.ultrazone.com.