Hot Trends to Explore

Miscellaneous Businesses

Travel With a Purpose
For many consumers today, travel is more than just a change of scenery--it's a journey with a sense of purpose, whether it's eco-tourism, cultural immersion or adventure. Creating an experience for jet-setters can be your ticket to success in this $600 billion industry.

Baby boomers are the biggest market, with the highest volume of travel, says Cathy Keefe of the Travel Industry Association of America. They took a staggering 268.9 million trips in the U.S. in 2003, according to TIA's "2004 Domestic Travel Market Report." They not only have the time and disposable income to travel, but their sense of youth and yen for exploration is also spurring opportunity in the adventure-travel niche. While this segment can include extreme adventures like rappelling or white-water rafting, boomers typically seek out "soft" adventures like safaris, bird-watching and sailing. Keefe also notes a rise in luxury adventure tours, where days might be spent roughing it, but nights are spent in cozy quarters.

Other sizzling markets include women (think culinary tours and spa getaways) and adults who want to learn a new skill, sport or hobby--30.2 million adults, in fact, took an educational trip in the past three years, according to the same TIA report. Millennials (those born after 1982) hold tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurs as well. Millennials are an adventurous bunch and will go online to research and book trips. To learn more about offering travel services to any generation, Keefe suggests attending adventure and travel expos and industry conferences.

eBay Aftermarket
Few are unaware of the magic that is eBay. Since eBay's inception in 1995, an explosion of products, services and software has sprung forth to facilitate the millions of transactions that take place daily. The number of third-party applications to help users succeed on eBay has doubled over the past year, says Jim "Griff" Griffith, dean of eBay Education. It's not too late to jump in.

According to Griff, hot categories include management tools--software and services that help users launch and manage auctions, or track e-mails and contact information-as well as image hosting for the photos in listings. And with 724,000 businesses using eBay as a primary or secondary business channel, market analysis services are also in demand.

Millions of consumers who are reluctant or too busy to sell on eBay enlist the help of eBay drop-off stores, which handle everything from listings to shipping to customer service. In a new twist on the concept, San Francisco-based FoundValue has independent contractors make house calls to find eBay-appropriate merchandise to sell on their customers' behalf. Stella Kleiman launched FoundValue in 2003 after decluttering her apartment and selling the items on eBay. This year's sales are in the six-figure range, and Kleiman, 36, has impressed both customers and contractors with the ease of her service and low overhead.

With so many feeder business opportunities to explore, there's more than just a little nibbling going on. Consider this a feeding frenzy.

Patient Advocacy
Navigating the dizzying medical-care map can be both time-consuming and confusing. Add in long waits and runarounds, and you've got a lot of discouraged people aching for a solution. Though not a cure, patient advocacy services aim to facilitate the relationship between individuals and their health care--from locating the best doctors and specialists to researching treatment options and handling insurance claims.

Dr. Abbie Leibowitz launched one of the first patient advocacy businesses in 2001 with four other former Aetna U.S. Healthcare employees. Initially, they planned to offer their services as high-end perks for executives, but the business leaders they spoke to shared the same sentiment: All employees would benefit from such a service. "[It reinforced] the idea that this was a product for the masses," says Leibowitz, 58. Now expecting $8 million in 2005 sales, Health Advocate in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, counts both Fortune 1000 companies and small businesses as clients.

Of course, some entrepreneurs cater exclusively to affluent individuals and their families. But as Jack London, director of health-care consulting firm Apex Management Group's patient advocacy program, points out, opportunity is everywhere: "[Health] crises don't financially discriminate."

To get started, you'll need a thorough understanding of the health-care system--and a sense of compassion. "This field of medicine requires more than just a system," says London. "It needs a human touch."

Niche Exercise Accessories
Americans' desire to lose weight and get fit isn't slowing down. In fact, calorie-burners present a healthy opportunity for entrepreneurs. Whether they're hitting treadmills, health clubs or the local biking path, you can bet they want equipment, apparel, multimedia products and other aftermarket accessories to help them achieve a better workout.

The secret lies in finding the right niche. Yoga, Pilates and tai chi have all reached mainstream status--boasting nearly 23 million enthusiasts in the U.S. in 2004, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. Lance Camisasca, trade-show director for the Health & Fitness Business Expo and Conference, says opportunity abounds in creating and selling related products such as mats, resistance bands, instructional videos and clothing: "It takes very little space in retail stores, but is very profitable."

Targeting groups, such as aging boomers or pregnant women, is another way to carve your niche. Pregnant women, for instance, have found maternal bliss with PiYo, a fusion of Pilates and yoga--and smart businesses are responding to the special needs of this group. Bess Hilpert, felt uncomfortable pressure under her belly while staying active during her pregnancy, but found nothing on the market to offer comfort and support. After nearly four years of R&D, Hilpert, 50, who previously owned an exercise physiology business, created a support piece that's built directly into exercise apparel. Mothers in Motion Inc., her Round Rock, Texas, business, is seeing healthy returns today, with 2006 sales projected to exceed $2.5 million.--A.Y.P.

Trailer Chic
The phrase "trailer trash" is not only just a wee bit rude--it also doesn't truly reflect the trailers of today, which are far more fabulous than preconceived notions would allow you to imagine. Consider the Loftcube, a transportable, modular "personalized living unit" designed by Studio Aisslinger in Berlin. Those who can afford to pay about $107,000 for a 420- or 635-square-foot pod (hitting the States early next year) will enjoy a change of scenery with a little space-age design. With trailer park residents, too, wanting to transform their double-wides into happening cribs a la MTV's Trailer Fabulous, this style of urban living is becoming increasingly acceptable and upping the demand for space-conscious products and services. Think interior design consulting for limited spaces, inventive ways to prevent clutter, even smaller electronics and modular furnishings that are hip and convenient.--M.P.

 

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This article was originally published in the December 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Hot List.

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