12 Hot Business Ideas

Niche Gyms

Pump some iron and pump up profits with a specialized gym.

When Jane Silber decided to get help for her 9-year-old daughter's weight problem, she found that lots of gyms didn't allow children to come in and work out--and the ones that did welcome children didn't have the right size equipment for them. Mindful of Centers for Disease Control findings that the percentage of overweight children has tripled since 1980, Silber, 41, recognized a hot business opportunity. In August, she opened Generation Now Fitness for tweens and teens in Chatsworth, California, equipping it with kid-size, fun-to-operate exercise equipment, a smoothie bar, a study room and other amenities. "I wish something like this was around when I was a kid," says Silber, a former restaurateur who projects $1 million in first-year sales for her gym.

The kid gym concept is a hot one right now--in Entrepreneur's "Biz 101" column, we've been covering the exciting buildup to Karen Jashinsky's Los Angeles-based O2 MAX Fitness club for teens, featuring workouts as well as an internet cafe and tutoring--but other niche gyms are sizzling, too. "[The] business model focuses not on the general consumer, but on one demographic, and then builds the club and all its services around that profile," says Kathleen Rollauer, senior manager of research for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association in Boston. "The prime example is Curves, which came on the scene because [it] recognized the barriers to women in a typical health club." Nifty After Fifty in Whittier, California, is based on another niche, offering people over age 50 physical and mental exercise routines, a driving-skills program, physical therapy and social activities.

If you're thinking about starting a niche gym, get ready to break a sweat--and incorporate these startup tips into your routine.

Know your niche. Patrick Ferrell, 50, who started Overtime Fitness for teens in Mountain View, California, is the father of three teenagers, so he already knows their issues well. But if you're thinking of starting a gym for kids and don't have any of your own-- you want some extra insight--you might volunteer as a sports coach, as Ferrell does.

Do your research. "You really can't do enough of it," says Ferrell, who expects sales to reach $750,000 in 2007. "You have to home in on the key characteristics of your target demographic." His best sources of information have been the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, as well as fitness equipment vendors and fitness attorneys.

Offer amenities. In addition to fitness equipment, many niche gyms offer a number of amenities and ancillary services specially targeted to their dem-ographic. For instance, Overtime Fitness offers its teens classes on stress management, job interviewing, test taking and SAT prep, and it even has a hot sound and video system to make teens' favorite tunes reverberate from rock wall to rock wall.

Fnd the right location. Silber hopes to expand her gym for tweens and teens to more locations and recommends doing lots of dem-ographic research for your location. For instance, she's focusing on areas that have a high concentration of kids as well as high levels of childhood obesity.

Tink of special promotions and partnerships geared toward your niche. Silber offers a Saturday "date night" to parents, encouraging them to drop off their kids for a few hours and go out to dinner, and has partnered with area restaurants to offer discounts to parents.

Gyms:

Children's Cooking
With little feet coming in, the kitchen is getting crowded.

Americans' interest in cooking has finally trickled down to the nation's kids. From cooking classes and kits to full-fledged cooking parties for youngsters, this still-hot category is even seeing kids' cookbooks as part of the recipe for success. "The awareness has risen," confirms Julia V. Jordan, president and founder of Spoons Across America, a New York City nonprofit organization that provides food and cooking education programs to schools and community organizations across the country. "There's much more interest [in] having children learn the skill of cooking."

And entrepreneurs like Barbara Beery, founder of Batter Up Kids Culinary Center, are stepping up to teach them. Batter Up Kids started out offer-ing cooking classes, but today the Austin, Texas, business also does birthday parties and year-round camps, and it retails both cooking kits and cookbooks authored by Beery--cooking up annual sales of about $465,000. The interest has been so strong, in fact, that Beery, 52, started franchising her concept last year. According to Beery, "[Cooking] is a life skill, and if we didn't present it in a fun format, kids wouldn't want to keep coming back."

Whether a kids' cooking business takes a recrea-tional or a more serious bent, like teaching children about health and food preparation, the key to success, say experts, is keeping it fun and age-appropriate. Even kids as young as 2 can participate with simple foods, and as they get older, you can introduce more extensive fare. Tweens are a great entry point into the market, as is starting with simple cooking parties. Jordan suggests looking to regional food trends for what's hot among the kids in your area.

Before you whip up your own kids' cooking business, consider the following ingredients for success.

Play it safe. Be 1,000 percent sure of your safety procedures. Ensure all cooking classes cater to the students' ages--for instance, keep 5-year-olds away from flames and knives. And as children get older, you should incorporate kitchen safety training, says Beery. Also, make sure your kitchen is compliant with all local and state sanitation requirements before you get started. Insurance is another consideration: Beery met with her insurance agent to discuss her needs as well as the kinds of cooking tasks the kids would be involved in at every age. The number of children in the classes was also a factor in the type and amount of insurance needed. Says Beery, "Typically, our type of business needs [the kind of] insurance which is used for private, academic and vocational schools."

Add peripherals. Selling related products can add to your bottom line. Beery, for example, writes children's cookbooks and sells take-home cooking kits.

Check out the competition. The children's cooking market is definitely a hot one, so see what your local competitors are offering. "You might find out that you're in a little more crowded place than you thought," says Jordan. Determine how you can differentiate your company's services.

Offer more than just cooking. Many parents love a full-service party for their kids--where the vendor provides not only the cooking materi-als, but also the location and cleanup services. Market themed cooking parties with all the trimmings to stressed-out parents who, like Beery's clients, are relieved to hand over those duties and willing to pay a premium for peace of mind.

Test the recipe. Check out local community organizations, suggests Jordan; they might give you an opportunity to organize a trial class. "It's a win-win for that group," she says, "and you're doing it for some test marketing." Just think, a local Boys & Girls Club, Girl Scout troop or other after-school program might be looking for a fun new activity for its young charges.

Children's Cooking:

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This article was originally published in the February 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: 12 Hot Ideas.

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