From the July 1999 issue of Startups

It's not exactly a magazine--and it's not exactly a mail order catalog, either. Rather, what publishing veteran Amy Crain has created with the bimonthly ROOM is a little bit of both. "A lot of people use the term `magalog,' " offers Crain, 31. "That's pretty descriptive."

Descriptive, yes--and intriguing. Drawing upon her experience as an editor at House & Garden magazine, Crain crafts a home decor showcase in ROOM. Text blends with stylish photography; editorial sensibility merges into shopping functionality. Though everything in the publication is for sale, selling isn't its only service. Observes Crain, "It has the feel of a magazine."

So what gave the New York City entrepreneur the idea to turn this particular page in the first place? "It was the realization that people look to magazines not only for cues as to what's happening in design and what the trends are, but also to literally shop," says Crain. "My thinking was, `Why not combine the two?' "

The 28-page ROOM, which made its debut last fall, tailors its look of "relaxed elegance" to suit urban, affluent baby-boomer subscribers. The $3 price per issue is refundable upon product purchase. If early sales of $500,000 (for the few months of operation last year) are any indication, ROOM is clearly living up to its buzz.

As is its founder. Yet if you think it's glamorous to helm a home decor magalog, better double-check your facts. Sure, you get to see--and preview for others--some beautiful furnishings. Yes, your business takes you to showrooms in exotic locales like Paris. But Crain takes her work too seriously to lose sight of the big picture. "It's exhausting," she says of the appointment-packed time spent abroad. "But I'm not complaining--it's still a chance to travel."


Debra Phillips is a former staff writer for Business Start-Ups.

Pedal Pushers

Wheeling and dealing in the bicycle rental market isn't new for entrepreneurs Josh Squire and Yuval Degani, both 30. As proprietors of bicycle rental company LeisureTec Inc. in Chicago, the partners of this $500,000 firm are four locations and six years into pushing pedals to 30,000 customers annually. Despite their success, however--or maybe because of it--the duo aren't content merely to coast. Indeed, the next leg of their entrepreneurial journey looks to be the most exciting yet.

Already, the wheels are in motion for Bike Station, a fully automated bicycle rental machine dreamt up by Squire and Degani. "The way it works is, you insert a credit card--just like you would with an ATM or a gas pump--and the bicycle is released," Squire says. "Once the customer returns the bicycle, he or she is charged for the rental."

Sound simple? That's the point. This summer, Bike Station aims to provide tourists--and, to a lesser extent, commuters--with 24-hour-a-day bicycling convenience. Concentrating first on weather-friendly states such as California and Florida, the partners are also exploring the lucrative European market. "In Europe," Squire points out, "[bicycle commuting] is already a vibrant market."

Not that U.S. commuters are being factored out of the equation. "Commuting is growing here, and cities are improving their bike lanes," says Squire, who relishes the opportunity to contribute to reducing air pollution. "The fact is, everybody rides a bike as a kid, and that positive association [remains]. The only problem is making [bicycles] available."

Which is where Bike Station comes in. Projected to bring in sales of a whopping $5 million in its first year of operation, the automated machine surely benefits from the widespread consumer acceptance of ATM-type technology. "Hey, my grandmother is 80, and she uses a gas station [pay-at-the-pump] machine," Squire observes. "So I figure anybody can rent a bike [this way]."

The two hope to attract more investors and make Bike Stations as omnipresent as, well, bikes themselves. Let the wheeling and dealing continue.

Contact Sources

LeisureTec Inc., (888) BIKE-WAY, http://www.hotelbike.com

ROOM, (888) 420-ROOM, fax: (212) 631-0153