Stephen Brooks was a great men's clothing salesperson. In fact, he was so good, he was soon managing several upscale clothing stores in and around San Francisco a few short years after getting into that line of work. But clothes were never Brooks' passion; novelty antiques like vintage Coca-Cola machines and Wurlitzer Jukeboxes were. Brooks had amassed quite a collection of these cool items and dreamed of one day turning them into a full-time business (he had sold items on the side since 1973). Finally, fed up with the corporate life, he decided to start a business in a spare bedroom, selling his unique items via mail order.
He soon found that there was indeed a market for his antiques. But he also learned that he didn't make enough money solely selling them by mail order. So he was forced to start a second profit center--a shop, which was also an almost immediate success.
Soon Brooks discovered that a third profit center for his wares was also possible. After selling some items at an antique show, he began to devote more time to that division of his business. Today he sells at more than 40 shows per year. Still in business after 15 years, and still being operated mainly from his home, now in Sacramento, California, Brooks Novelty Antiques & Records and its three profit centers gross between $25,000 and $35,000 per month.
Most businesses do the same thing. Billionaire Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin Group, says that he had the multiple business model in mind from the day he began building what would become an empire. That's why he eventually named his business the Virgin Group. Virgin Music was soon joined by Virgin-Atlantic Airlines and Virgin Cola, among others. Don't think that Branson is so unlike you; he began the Virgin Group with a single record store above a shoe shop in London, and he bartered his rent. Amazon.com began in Jeff Bezos' garage. Now, besides books, Amazon has its hands in an online pharmacy, a pet store and innumerable other profit centers.
I'm not saying that starting a second business will be easy. What it is, however, is important. The risk of putting all your eggs in one basket is simply too great to ignore.
Steve Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. He also writes a weekly column for USA Today.