The lyric goes "Everybody needs somebody sometime"--and it couldn't be truer if you consider the proliferation of peer-to-peer business support groups. Popping up all around the country, these groups bring together like-minded individuals to discuss current business challenges or help take businesses or careers to the next level. Groups exist for business owners, female executives, young businesspeople and people in specific business areas, such as marketing. They can be for-profit or nonprofit endeavors, independently run or a franchise. But one thing's certain: You'll need a clear vision to create a successful peer-to-peer support group.
Find your niche, and provide valuable services and guidance for that group. Ted Sun, an executive coach and organizational designer with Columbus, Ohio, business coaching firm Executive Balance , has facilitated and advised such peer support groups. He recommends that entrepreneurs hoping to start a for-profit group come in with a ton of research, expert speakers, hot topics, great facilitators and members-only benefits. "You can charge a bit more for that," he says. Membership can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars, usually paid annually or quarterly.
Key to the success of peer support groups is a hands-on approach--groups need a strong facilitator who is knowledgeable about group dynamics and a limited number of members so everyone gets the attention they need. Ray Silverstein, founder of the President's Resource Organization (PRO), a peer advisory board franchisor, caps group memberships at about 13 and assigns people to groups based on their companies' number of employees.
Author and marketing consultant Marcia Yudkin, 49, focuses on providing value to members with her online mentoring and support group, Marketing for More . Yudkin provides members-only weekly articles, a monthly teleclass with an expert guest, an online forum for questions and discussion, and even a conference call each week to discuss in real time each entrepreneur's marketing needs. "People have been very excited about the opportunity to get feedback when they need it," says Yudkin, who started the Goshen, Massachusetts-based company in September 2003. Through monthly membership fees, Yudkin has built her sales comfortably into the six figures.-N.L.T.
It's the nectar of the gods--and the nectar of Americans, too, apparently. The number of Americans who drank wine at least once a week increased from 19.2 million in 2000 to 25.4 million in 2003, according to the Wine Market Council. And it seems that American consumers have also developed a serious affection for all things wine-related.
While starting a winery is one way to get into the wine business, you'll wait at least seven years before producing your first bottle. Creating a business peripheral to wineries could provide a quicker path to success. From wine educators and wine game inventors to wine accessory manufacturers and builders wh0 design wine cellars, entrepreneurs are entering this market from all sides.
With a background in the restaurant industry, focusing on wine, Kyl Cabbage got into the peripheral side of the wine business by opening The Wine Experience in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1995. Cabbage wanted to create an environment that would draw everyone from knowledgeable wine enthusiasts to newbies. "We had to dispel the thought that wine is only for the rich," says Cabbage, 44. The Wine Experience provides a forum for wine tasting and wine education, while offering a selection of over 2,800 labels for sale-the company even coordinates wine-tasting trips to Napa Valley. With two locations in the Des Moines area, The Wine Experience is slated to gross $3 million this year.
Targeting baby boomers is a no-brainer in this industry, but wine consumption is also growing steadily among Millennials in their early 20s, says Vic Motto, chairman and CEO of Global Wine Partners , a global wine investment bank in St. Helena, California. He also notes that the market is starting to shift: An overabundance of grapes in the past few years had lowered the price of wine, but a smaller harvest in coming years will raise wine prices a bit in this cyclical industry. "It's a highly competitive industry," says Motto, but he notes there is still room for people to carve out a market niche.-N.L.T.
While the economy continues on its twisting path, one business is booming. Demand for temporary and permanent staffing services has risen as we continue to head out of the post-dotcom-boom recession. Barry Cohen, co-founder and chief planning and development officer of The Response Companies , a staffing business, has seen the tide shift over the 15 years he's been in business. "Our hottest areas right now are our temp staffing business, our financial services group, our marketing group--and our newest startup area is legal," he says of the New York City-based business with $45 million in estimated sales for 2004.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act--which forces companies to comply with strict accounting procedures--has been a major contributor to this industry's growth. Companies, particularly in financial and health-care fields, are turning to businesses like Cohen's to provide the personnel to help them comply. "There's a real increase in the need for qualified senior accounting and auditing professionals," says Glenn Walsh, vice president of interim staffing with The Response Companies. That demand is starting to cross into all business fields as the effects of Sarbanes-Oxley spread out.
Richard Wahlquist, president and CEO of the American Staffing Association , says the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 54 percent increase in the employment services industry over the next 10 years. That includes almost all areas of staffing. "You could almost close your eyes and throw a dart at the wall, and you'd be hard-pressed to miss out," he says.
Even so, getting your business off the ground won't be cheap. "The startup costs are higher than they've ever been because of the insurance costs," says Cohen, 48.
Wahlquist suggests getting a solid grounding in employment and labor law before entering the field. It's also important to invest upfront in quality hardware and software. Staffing is a competitive market where new entrepreneurs are well-advised to find a specialty to focus on. "If they're looking to go into this business, they should go into it on the permanent side and pick a niche that is hot in their specific geographic area," says Cohen. Maintaining a temp service may be more difficult than a permanent one where you just place someone once. Plan well, and you can take advantage of one of the fastest-growing industries in the country.-A.C.K.
Niche Health and Fitness
Where do you go when your dog is stressed out? Or your whole family needs some exercise? Or you're looking for a gym that isn't a meat market? If you can answer any of these questions, you've already had a glimpse into the world of niche health and fitness businesses. This is a hot niche in a country full of people increasingly looking to alternative medicine. A report by research firm Mintel International Group Ltd. says, "The U.S. health and fitness club industry is on a revival trend, with new club brands, club openings and new memberships increasing--similar to the mid-1980s--after a decade of flat growth."
In this business, the more specific you can be, the better. Just look at Curves, the fitness franchise catering to women with 30-minute workouts. It's exploded to more than 8,000 locations worldwide. Clubs aimed at kids and families are also showing up. A recent report from market research company American Sports Data Inc. says that more than 39 million Americans belong to health clubs and that Pilates, yoga and tai chi are all growing areas. Simplifying workouts and providing comfortable surroundings are big trends in the fitness industry.
Fitness is just one part of a growing overall health industry. Besides yoga, health practices like acupuncture and massage are going mainstream. In this area, you can't get more niche than Kathleen Prasad. Founder of the Animal Reiki Source in San Rafael, California, Prasad, 35, applies the techniques of the Japanese energy-healing art to animals. "It's just on the cusp of being understood and accepted," says Prasad. "I'm a pioneer in a new field, so I can really do anything I want to do with it." So far, Prasad has worked with everything from elephants to horses and expects a 200 percent increase in business in 2005.-A.C.K.