From the November 1999 issue of Startups

Get the lowdown on news, trends, programs and more

Early midlife crisis alert: Certain oldies stations are playing Michael Jackson's "Rock With You." That means the Dynasty decade is as retro as learning family values from Diff'rent Strokes and exhibiting blind love for the President. But no tears, folks. Entrepreneurs Sean Francis and Carlo Terranova are letting the good times roll on with The Reagan Years.

Upon entering the strictly '80s video-game joint attached to Francis and Terranova's Fullerton, California, cafe The Hub, you start to wonder when Tootie and Natalie will swing by. But you end up playing Tapper aside a 25-year-old "kid" blasting away at Galaga.

Whether it's the posters of Oliver North, Duran Duran and that long-standing question "Where's the Beef?" or a Tron screening on one of four mounted TVs, twentysomethings and thirtysomethings are enticed into playing some 1,400 games per day. "[They] say 'Wow, I haven't seen that game for darn near 20 years,' " says Terranova. "They have a really good time, and also have more money to spend [than kids do]." If their wallets permit, customers can even purchase the games.

Started last year, The Reagan Years grosses about $250 daily. "If [we'd started] our arcade in 1981, and we were making this kind of money, I'd be buying a new house on the hill," says Francis. "We're not making a killing, but the minute we [double] our game [prices] to 50 cents, I think we'd have a revolt."

At least they'd have coffeehouse hangout/local-band venue The Hub, which the kindergarten pals started in 1994 with $40,000 in savings. Thought up at 19, a few years after the partners quit high school, The Hub has survived four fallen nearby competitors. The cafe hit a plateau by 1995, but a snowless mountain trip that ended with Francis and his girlfriend putting $10 in a Ms. Pac-Man tabletop provided revitalization.

Profits from a Ms. Pac-Man bought for $600 and five additional tabletop video games covered rent. Paired with a vacant space next to The Hub and $60,000 to start, the flashback fix was born.

The partnership, unofficially coined "Franterra" in childhood, has endured everything from buying and selling scooters to a failed sandwich shop. Now they plan to capitalize on the '60s: They're hoping a bar with the hippest interior around, dubbed The Continental, will draw 21-and-overs to Fullerton like it was Hollywood.

It's Easy Being Green

By Laura Tiffany

Are you neglecting your Mother Earth duties in the office? U.S. businesses use about 21 million tons of paper each year-an amount that could be dramatically lessened if we'd all just reduce, reuse and recycle.

David Goldbeck, co-author with Nikki Goldbeck of Choose to Reuse (Ceres Press, $15.95, 888-804-8848), says there are a lot of easy ways even busy entrepreneurs can help the environment (and your bank account). Like the following:

3 1/2-inch diskettes:

New: Maxell diskettes, $4.99 for 10.

Renewed: greendisk, $5.55 for 10. (the company erases diskettes collected from software companies.)

Hint: diskettes can be erased and reused up to 30,000 times.

Total savings: rewriting 10 diskettes/month = $60/year.

Printer And Copy Paper:

New: approximately $32 for 5,000 sheets.

Reuse: print on both sides of just half that (2,500) and you'll save $16.

Hint: place collection boxes near each printer, copier and fax machine for paper used on one side.

Total savings: using both sides of 2,500 sheets/month = $192/year.

Inkjet Cartridges:

New: cartridges cost between $17 and $39.

renewed: about $19. (companies collect, clean and refill used cartridges.)

Reuse: refill ink costs $29.95 for three to four refills.

Hint: cartridges can be refilled up to 10 times if they're periodically cleaned.

Total savings: refilling one cartridge/month = $120/year.

Coffee Cups:

New: styrofoam 12-ounce cups, $32 for 1,000.

Reuse: ceramic mugs from your local thrift store, approximately $.50 to $1.

Hint: buy the dorkiest cups you can find-you'll embarrass your employees into bringing their own Ceramic mugs from home.

Total savings: ceramic mugs for 10 employees = $62/year.

Who Are You?

By Rieva Lesonsky

This article first ran in my column in Entrepreneur magazine a few months ago. But I feel so strongly about some folks' misguided attempts to limit who you are and what you do that I'm sharing my sentiments with you. The future of American entrepreneurship lies squarely on your shoulders, and I urge you to resist attempts to make you less than what you are or can be.

Are you an entrepreneur? Of course you are; why else would you be reading this magazine? Why am I asking? Because lately I've been alternately amused and angered by those who claim to know you and your business.

I'm amused, because in their compulsion to slap a "cute" label on nearly every group in this country, people have come up with some pretty clever names for who they think you are. And their arguments in defending those labels seem sincere. The only problem is that by being cute, they've put you in a box-and a box, by its very definition, has boundaries.

And by its very definition, an entrepreneur does not. That's when I get angry. When people use terms like "solo," "free agent" or "SOHO," they obscure who you are today-and where your business will be tomorrow.

So let's get this straight once and for all. Entrepreneurs are the people who (no matter the size of their businesses today) have a plan to be bigger tomorrow-and the day after that . . . and the day after that. Entrepreneurs do not start businesses to replace employment income. And while money may not be the primary motivating factor, let's be real: Making money is important to any business owner.

Entrepreneurs don't start businesses to give themselves more time. Do you know any entrepreneurs who work fewer hours building their own businesses than they did when they had regular jobs? I sure don't.

Don't get me wrong. If you start a business to employ only yourself and you don't want to grow beyond that, fine. That makes you a small-business owner. Nothing wrong with that. My grandfathers and my dad were small-business owners. But they weren't entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs don't start businesses to slow down; you amp up. You dream without limits and then formulate a plan to make those dreams reality. Entrepreneurs don't take kindly to labels, and you definitely don't think small. So why are some people intent on minimizing your impact? Beats me.

-Rieva Lesonsky is editorial director of Entrepreneur Media Inc.

Knitty-Gritty

By Laura Tiffany

With fashion designers like Anna Sui displaying handmade knitwear on the runways and noted home-design companies like Ralph Lauren Home and Pottery Barn featuring what TheNew York Times calls "granny chic," knitting is headed back to a pair of idle hands near you-hands sans wrinkles, that is.

Today's knitters are a far cry from grandmotherly, with everyone from college students to busy professionals to kids in Montessori classrooms getting hooked. "Most of the people who come in our store are fairly young," says Jordana Merlis, 30, who with partner Julie Israel, 31, owns The Yarn Company, a knitting- and needlepoint-supply store in New York City. "I think it kind of skipped a generation. My mother didn't knit. [Julie's] mother didn't really knit. But our grandmothers did."

The attraction to knitting, says Barry Klein, president of The National Needlework Association, is a combination of penny-pinching, the hobby's portability and a desire for family heirlooms. It's a lot cheaper to knit a designer-look-alike sweater than to buy one in the store, and it gives knitters something to do anywhere-from long road-trips to lunch breaks.

"I can knit something for my nephews or my girlfriend and give it to them," says Klein, 37, who also owns Trendsetter Yarns, a wholesale knitting-yarn distributor in Van Nuys, California. "They get to wear it and enjoy it, and it's something they hold onto. [They don't give it] away because it was made with love by hand. And then it's passed down from generation to generation."

Just Bidding Around

By Laura Tiffany

Someone wants the junk in your garage. No, we mean someone really wants the junk in your garage. Elvis decanters, leftover Christmas inventory, Happy Meal toys-someone out there in cyberspace is ready to bid on it.

In case you haven't noticed, online auctions are hot. But you don't have to start the next eBay to make megabucks at this game. Just log on to sites like eBay or uBid, and say goodbye to domain-name wars, advertising budget woes and server-space crises. Best of all, customers have a tendency to just show up at your virtual doorstep.

"You have the whole worldwide market. You reach an entirely different clientele [than with a brick-and-mortar storefront]," says Robert Chesnut, who runs C'est Vogue, an antiques business, on eBay as well as in a storefront shop in Northampton, Massachusetts. The 28-year-old entrepreneur expects to do $500,000 in his first year of business. "I've been selling antiques since I was a kid, and you've [always] had to wait for the right person to come along and buy your item," says Chesnut, who launched C'est Vogue on eBay prior to opening his retail location, where he sells larger items. "Well, now [antiques buyers are] all checking their computers [for deals] just like they do their e-mail, and everything's selling."

Mark Maron, 41, is an eBay veteran. The owner of Animation Art Ltd. had been wholesaling animation art for more than 10 years when he first visited eBay soon after its launch four years ago. After discovering that auctioning art online was far more lucrative than wholesaling, Maron switched focus to sell his products solely on eBay. He currently sells about 9,000 items per year, and hopes to double that amount next year.

"One thing [you] must know is, whatever you're doing now, plan to work five to 10 times harder when you go on the Internet," advises the Buffalo Grove, Illinois, entrepreneur, who says he works 14 hours a day, seven days a week at his business. That's because online auctions require a lot of preparation and time: Instead of just putting your product on a shelf, you have to scan the item, write a description, answer e-mail questions from bidders (Maron gets about 175 inquiries each day) and monitor the auction. When the auction is over, you have to deal with payments and shipping-all while monitoring current auctions and preparing for future auctions.

So what's the secret to success? Antiques dealer Chesnut advises would-be online-auction entrepreneurs to know everything they can about the products they decide to sell-to protect both yourself and your customers from unintentional misrepresentation. But with the plethora of items up for sale online, it shouldn't be hard to find your area of expertise. In fact, it seems the odder your product, the more likely you'll find a niche of your very own.

Strange, But True

Think what you want to sell online is too obscure? Doubtful.Oddities seen on eBay:

  • Richard Simmons' Deal-A-Meal: $1
  • 38 pounds of Red Atomic Fireball jawbreakers: $5
  • Amish-made doily: $5
  • Hamburger yo-yo: $.99
  • '70s psychedelic purple onion candle: $3
  • Resuscitation Annie (electronic CPR doll): $10
  • "Love Is . . . " ceramic figurine (the two naked kids from the '70s): $6

Trading Places

Check out these Online auctions:

Sold!

Get the inside scoop on profiting from eBay with eBay the Smart Way: Selling, Buying and Profiting on the Web's #1 Auction Site by Joseph T. Sinclair (AMACOM, $17.95, 800-262-9699). You'll learn how to link your Web site to an auction page, establish credibility and provide responsive customer service to keep buyers coming back.

Contact Sources

Animation Art Ltd., (800) 650-2357, mark@animationart.com;

C'est Vogue, (800) 857-8416, cestvogue@aol.com;

The National Needlework Association, 16742 Stagg, #104, Van Nuys, CA 91406, trndstr@aol.com;

The Reagan Years, (714) 525-1984, (714) 801-9891;

The Yarn Company, 2274 Broadway, New York, NY 10024, (212) 787-7878.