The Home Zone

Sign Of The Times

"I like to work hard and play hard," says Chris Miller, 28. "I've always dreamed of being able to work 20 hours a week and [still make a good] income." After earning a degree in marketing management in 1992, Miller worked for a coupon-mailer franchise, then dabbled in various indoor-billboard ventures. His experiences in the real world taught him much more than he'd learned in college, and he admits he was both enlightened and intrigued the first time he saw a truck with a scrolling billboard drive past him.

"The movement was key," says Miller. "When you see a huge ad change before your eyes, it gets your attention." Anxious to sign on the dotted line and become a licensee, last year he contacted Pompano Beach, Florida-based Advertising on the Move, a company that offers even more sophisticated technology than he'd witnessed on the street.

Since he couldn't afford to purchase an Advertising on the Move truck, Miller turned his attention instead to the company's other licensed product: a stationary billboard with scrolling, continuous display posters.

Made of high-grade, reusable vinyl (picture miniblinds turned on their side, in which multiple panels bearing separate ads are rolled up into a conveyor belt), the backlit sign-in-a-box contains 15 display ads that change every six seconds.

Thanks to his indoor-billboard marketing experience, Miller had developed a relationship with Richmond International Airport in Virginia. Airport management wanted advertising from local businesses on its premises to greet air travelers--but faced a shortage of available billboard space. Miller bought a demonstration billboard from Advertising on the Move and won the bid to supply the airport with scrolling billboards. He now plans to target hotels, shopping malls and movie theaters.

Miller, who signed on with Advertising on the Move last April, is phasing out his indoor-billboard business to work full time on the moving billboards. The business has already grown so rapidly, he recently moved the opportunity out of his home and into an office in Richmond.

Miller's six-month financial plan includes buying that Advertising on the Move truck. Anxious to market it as an event vehicle, he vows, "I'll work 12 to 15 hours a day while I don't have a family. I can work harder while I'm young and energetic. I can build something that'll [always] be there for me." And, he hopes, realize his dream of working just 20 hours a week by the time he hits his 40s.

Before you buy a licensing opportunity, consider the following:

  • If you're buying equipment, ask other licensees if it's reliable. Check with an accountant to see when you'll earn your initial investment back and begin making a profit.
  • Ask for a copy of the license agreement, and consult an attorney to make sure you understand it.
  • Trademarks, copyrights, patents or other proprietary rights might be granted with the license. Are you authorized to sell the product using the company name, or do you have to create your own name? Will the company provide you with marketing materials, or do you have to make your own?
  • Before you buy, make sure there's a market for the product or service. Gather brochures and test-market the product. Ask people what they would pay for the product or service.

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This article was originally published in the September 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Home Zone.

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