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Smart Ideas 11/05

Pizza on the fly, designer toast and more

What: Delivery pizza baked on the go
Who: Scott Matthew of Super Fast Pizza
Where: Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin
When: Started in 2004

Going to sleep on an empty stomach is usually a bad thing. But for Scott Matthew, 48, nothing but good things have come from a cold January night when he decided not to order delivery pizza because of the wait.

"I went to bed hungry, and I woke up thinking about vans with ovens in them where you cook the pizza on the way to people. By doing both these things at once, I thought you'd be able to deliver it in about 20 minutes," Matthew says.

Eight months later, Super Fast Pizza began delivering pizzas under this premise. Matthew, who retired in 2000 after selling his first company, Realty Electronics (known for creating the "talking house" concept), used $500,000, mostly from savings, to start the company. Thanks to locally customized software and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans converted into licensed mobile kitchens, customers are able to place orders via phone and e-mail while Matthew's eight employees receive them on the road. Matthew says that by cooking the pizzas in the van, not only are they delivered faster, but they're also of a higher quality because the gap between oven and customer is minimized.

The pre-made pizzas come in only one size--medium--and cost $8.99 for the first and $5.99 for each additional pizza. There are 10 basic kinds on the menu, as well as a revolving "pizza of the month."

With buzz on the street and two new vans planned for the near future, Matthew anticipates 2005 sales to reach $300,000. But he doesn't plan on stopping there: "We envision 20,000 vehicles nationwide over the next 10 years, and whatever it takes to make that happen, we'll do [it, with] both company-owned and franchise [locations]." -- Jeran Wittenstein

Toast With the Most
What: Toaster that imprints designs on toast
Who: Linda Carlish of LC Premiums Ltd.
Where: New York City
When: Started in 1993

When Linda Carlish heard last year that a grilled cheese sandwich said to bear an image of the Virgin Mary sold for $28,000 on eBay, she laughed. "I could do that [on toast] every day and be making lots of money," says Carlish, inventor of the Pop Art Toaster, which imprints fun images on bread as it toasts.

Carlish, 46, who previously worked for a costume jewelry company, created LC Premiums back in 1993. She set up shop in her studio apartment with a laptop, a fax machine and $2,000, and initially set out to develop premium jewelry and glassware.

But that focus changed in 2003 while Carlish was on a business trip visiting a Chinese factory. She spotted a "rickety" toaster, spent six inspired months redesigning its inner plate system, and then approached Target with a novel idea: How about a toaster that could imprint Target's bull's-eye logo onto toast? The company loved the pitch, but the idea really took off when Carlish won New Product of the Year at the January 2004 Promotional Products Association International trade show.

Her success with additional corporate clients like Fox TV and Trump Plaza inspired her to make the product available to consumers as well. After enlisting help from a factory to remodel the inside of the toaster to allow for interchangeable plates, the Pop Art Toaster was born. Now, fun images like smiley faces, a sunshine design, a Santa hat and more can be branded on toast.

Starting at $29.95, the toaster is sold at retailers such as QVC and Target.com. And sales are sizzling, with 2005 projections at $3.3 million. Says Carlish, "This has changed the entire face of a toaster." --Sharon Tang-Quan

Doing Your Bidding
What: eBay consignment store that serves businesses
Who: Mark Cohn and Chuck Welle of The Auction Stor
Where: Hopkins, Minnesota
When: Started in 2004

Mark Cohn and Chuck Welle are friends, neighbors and business partners, but they'd really like to be known as anti-liquidators. Cohn and Welle are founders of The Auction Stor, an eBay drop-off consignment store that caters to businesses in Hopkins, Minnesota. Cohn and Welle, both 48, help local businesses sell extra or unwanted inventory on eBay instead of having to sell at a loss to liquidators.

Customers come in to drop off their products, and The Auction Stor does the rest, from setting up a selling strategy and photographing the products to listing them on eBay and handling shipping--all for a 25 percent to 30 percent commission. "Hopefully, we become part of a strategy for many companies," says Welle. "There's not a company out there that doesn't have some kind of stagnant inventory from time to time."

When Cohn and Welle started out in spring 2004, they decided to research the business idea by traveling around the country, checking out other eBay consignment stores and developing a solid business plan. In September 2004, they invested nearly a quarter of a million dollars in a warehouse, equipment, staff and a location for their first store in Chaska, Minnesota. They quickly opened two more stores, one in Plymouth and one in Hopkins, with the intent to service both the consumer and corporate markets.

Says Cohn, "There was always going to be a parallel path to our strategy--a consumer path and a corporate path--and the question was, Which was going to outperform the other?" After seeing disappointing returns in the consumer market, Cohn and Welle narrowed their focus, closed two stores and now project 2005 sales to be in excess of seven figures. --James Park

Let There Be Light
What: Online retailer of LED products
Who:StreetTags.com's Jake and Jared Peters
Where: Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
When: Started in 2002
How much: $1,000

Brothers Jake and Jared Peters had years of entrepreneurial experience when they started their web-based retailer of LED products, StreetTags.com. But their budget meant they could start with only a few products, including LED name badges and license-plate frames, to save on manufacturing costs.

The brothers made sales through guerrilla marketing and word-of-mouth advertising. To minimize costs, Jake, 27, and Jared, 28, kept inventory low, using what Jake calls "just-in-time inventory tactics" to plan purchases.

In 2004, LED products lit up the club scene and proved popular with the young-adult crowd. Now customers worldwide purchase LED phones, caller IDs, clocks, toys and electronic signs from the website. The pair still saves money by using cost-effective pay-per-click affiliate programs, selling directly to dealers and manufacturing products overseas.

Extra cash might once have been hard to come by, but Jake and Jared look forward to six-figure sales in 2005. And success keeps coming: This year, they produced the Bling-Bling LED Belt Buckle for R&B group Pretty Ricky to sport in a music video. Is the future bright? Says Jake, "[LED fashion is] kind of a fad right now. We hope it lasts a long time." --Genevieve Jenkins

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This article was originally published in the November 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Smart Ideas 11/05.

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