Give 'Em the Sack
What: High-end gift bags for
Who: Debra Scott and Jane Ubell-Meyer of Buzz Bags LLC
Where: New York City
When: Started in March 2002
The goody bag is a staple at trendy events--from art show openings to Broadway premiere parties--and the who's who in attendance always leave with loads of great products. And if Debra Scott and Jane Ubell-Meyer have anything to do with it, their luxurious Buzz Bags will become the bag to get.
A former editor of Hamptons magazine, Scott and former PR exec Ubell-Meyer, 47, decided there was money to be made in getting advertisers to pay for product placement in goody bags given to trendsetters at star-studded events. Though it's a challenge to get advertisers to pay for something that was once free (getting into goody bags), the partners sell their service as an advertising expense rather than a PR expense. Says Scott, 50, "It's a specific group we target--affluent people between the ages of 25 and 40."
They sell their service to advertisers by telling them how much exposure previous products have received when included in one of the goody bags. Sales exploded for one company in particular the week after its product was featured in a Buzz Bag.
Although they currently focus on celebrity events such as the Grammys, the partners got their start by targeting Hampton Jitney, the luxury coach line service that takes vacationers to the Hamptons. Eventually, Scott and Ubell-Meyer would like to get their bags to average consumers as well. With sales expected to surpass a quarter of a million dollars this year, the partners are well on their way.
What: Tea room for young
Who: Tom and Jeanine Trikilis of Olivia's Doll House Tea Room
Where: Newhall, California
When: Started in 1990
Every little girl likes to play dress-up. And Tom and Jeanine Trikilis of Newhall, California, have created a place where young girls can do just that: Olivia's Doll House Tea Room.
Named after one of their daughters, the teahouse was created because the Trikilises wanted their children and their children's friends to have a fun experience at birthdays and other get-togethers. "We went to party places that offered nothing," says Tom, 53. "We wanted something fabulous."
That something fabulous is now a fun, interactive experience for young girls who get to play with dress-up clothes and makeup, sip lemonade and nibble on specially prepared snacks. The teahouses are filled with music boxes, pictures that move and talk, and one-of-a-kind Victorian toys partygoers can play with. Though the general theme is Victorian, the toys span all eras and genres. The staff, in turn, is trained to pin dresses and do makeup to really complete the fairy tale. Says Tom, "It's just incredible, all the cards and letters we get weekly telling us 'Thank you for the best party we've ever had.'"
The response has been so overwhelming that Tom and Jeanine have opened four locations in Southern California, with plans to open more (to be sold as turnkey operations--not franchises--to other entrepreneurs). With sales into the six figures and party waiting lists averaging six months, it's quite a fairy tale indeed.
A Perfect Match
What: An intern placement
Who: Jason Engen of Corporate Interns Inc.
Where: St. Paul, Minnesota
When: Started in 1998
When Jason Engen was an undergraduate student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, he and his friends knew the challenges students faced in finding worthwhile internships. So for one of his business classes, Engen wrote a business plan detailing a concept for an internship placement service--one that would interview and screen students and match them with local companies that needed interns. "We hit a nerve in terms of the marketplace and focused 100 percent of our efforts on students," says Engen, 27. "We started a week after we graduated, and it took off."
Still, it wasn't easy to peddle the service to local firms in the beginning. For one thing, it was a challenge to uncover how different companies structured their internship programs and how Engen and his partners could sell their service to these firms. "I don't think we were approaching companies the right way," says Engen. But as he began to spend more time learning about the companies' needs, he felt more confident in selling his service. "[It's] win-win," he explains. "The student gets the experience, and the company gets eager talent."
The real success came in carving out a niche--Corporate Interns Inc. specializes in placing interns only--so the company doesn't compete directly with large staffing firms. "Specialization is important," says Engen. "You have to stay focused on that niche." Especially when that specialization propels you to $2 million in yearly sales.
On a shoestring
What: A translation
Who: Elizabeth Elting and Phil Shawe of TransPerfect Translations Inc.
Where: New York City
When: Started in 1992
How much: $5,000
Right after receiving her MBA, Elizabeth Elting was ready to put it to use. With experience at a translation company, Elting saw a need for a one-stop translation service in the fragmented industry. After teaming up with fellow MBA student Phil Shawe, Elting started TransPerfect Translations with a $5,000 advance on her credit card. Shawe's college dorm room became TransPerfect Translations' office, and they bought a phone line, a fax machine and office supplies, and they rented a computer. Though the partners focused on marketing in the beginning, their material was minimal and inexpensive.
With no full-time employees for the first 18 months of business, Elting and Shawe handled all aspects of the company except for linguistics, for which they hired freelancers. Taking no real salary in the first year, the founders took only what was necessary to cover their rent, reaching sales of $250,000.
Now as one of the top five translation companies worldwide, TransPerfect Translations has evolved from Shawe's dorm room to 19 offices on three continents and now includes a network of 4,000 freelancers. The firm specializes in the finance, pharmaceutical and legal industries and is also the world's largest legal translation company.
With 2003 projected sales of $25 million, Elting, 37, and Shawe,
34, now have a small staff to help out with TransPerfect
Translations' daily operations, but they continue to run lean
in order to ensure profitability and reinvestment. "That's
the culture of our company," explains Elting. "We're
very much focused on making sure we have money before we spend it,
so we never have to lay off people." In any language, that
translates to success.