From the September 1998 issue of Startups

Stressed out? Tensed up? Then head on down to your local car wash for a massage. That's right-if you're lucky, that's where you'll find one of the Robotic Vending Machine Massage Chairs distributed by Get Chaired USA.

Founder David Jacobson, 32, already owned a Los Angeles-based vitamin company when he stumbled across the coin-operated massage chairs at a trade show. By the time his five-minute massage was over, he was sold.

Jacobson arranged to lease a few chairs and placed the first chair at the Paramount Car Wash in Hollywood, California, in October 1997. "The great thing about this country is that people are open to new business ideas," says Jacobson, who runs Get Chaired with partners Billy McNamara, 30, and Gerard Gabaldon, 35.

Before long, Jacobson had placed the chairs in numerous Bally's and 24 Hour Fitness health clubs, airport business lounges and the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Recently, Get Chaired partnered with RJ Bradbury Vending, which services vending machines in more than 4,000 locations nationwide. Jacobson hopes the partnership eventually makes coin-operated massage chairs as commonplace as vending machines.

Dog Days

If your pet could speak, it would probably say that next to dinnertime, playtime is the best part of the day. But unfortunately, many pet owners can't always take the time to romp in the park with Rover. So Carolyn Nelson, 38, and Charles Tuma, 26, turned playtime into profits by becoming pets' playmates for hire. With their Kritter Kare of Portland pet-sitting company, they get paid to frolic with other people's pets.

"A lot of people don't realize putting their pets in a kennel isn't their only option [when they're out of town]," says Nelson. "We can provide the same level of care in the home, where we believe the pet is more comfortable." For $15 per visit, Kritter Kare comes to the customer's home once or twice a day to feed, walk, play with and give water to the pet.

Nelson learned the tricks of the trade when she worked for another pet-sitting company. In 1995, she and Tuma joined forces to start their own business. They got bonded and insured to protect themselves and their clients, advertised in the Yellow Pages and at veterinary clinics, and today have eight employees handling a client list of 400 pets. With annual sales of more than $70,000 in 1997, the partners are considering expanding outside Portland and franchising.

Get The Skinny

Everyone knows a low-fat diet helps people stay slim and healthy. But not everyone has time to cook nutritious, low-fat meals. This unserved niche caught the attention of Robert Rogers, who went after the market with a tempting menu of low-fat, no-fuss fare.

The 39-year-old fitness trainer was working at a San Francisco weight-loss clinic that specialized in liquid diets when he began putting some of the patients on a different diet: solid food prepared with "alternative ingredients" and without fats and oils. The meals were much more palatable than the liquid concoctions, but patients were even more impressed with their weight loss.

Soon other fitness trainers began suggesting Rogers' low-fat meals to their clients. He also discovered the food served another niche: HIV-positive people suffering from digestive problems found the meals easy on the system. Convinced of the need for his service, Rogers founded LoFats Foods of San Francisco Inc. in 1991.

At first, he simply cooked meals in his home and delivered them to clients. But word-of-mouth helped the home-meal replacement business grow so quickly that in 1993, he began selling to grocery stores and local gyms. Eventually, Rogers moved into a commercial kitchen to keep up with demand.

With this year's sales projected at more than $350,000, Rogers has a full plate-and plans to relocate to an even bigger location.

Contact Sources

Get Chaired, 2554 Lincoln Blvd., #121, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292, (310) 827-2849

Kritter Kare of Portland, P.O. Box 1846, Klackamas, OR 97015, (503) 252-0599