Talking about filling a need you discovered on your own, Mark Rogers, 39, was an amateur photographer who was considering turning pro until he did a Google search for 13-by-19-inch frames and realized he'd stumbled on a niche waiting to be serviced.
It turns out most frame companies were not making it easy for photographers to buy frames in the sizes they needed. With the popularity of digital photography, Rogers says, "I was frustrated with the lack of [alternate] frame sizes from the usual suppliers." He also had difficulty finding standard-size frames that would help reduce fading and would not cause yellowing. Rather than continue to deal with the frustration, he decided to start manufacturing and selling gallery-style picture frames to fine-art photographers. In 2004, Rogers founded Dallas-based Frame Destination Inc., which markets specialized products such as acid-free, conservation-quality frames in wood or metal.
At first, Rogers juggled his new business with his day job as an electrical engineer and his photography hobby, but he quit photography when the long hours started taking their toll on him. "That got old. I was starting to get burned out," he says. "I mix business and pleasure quite a bit now. For instance, when I go to a photographer's gallery reception, I view the work, so-cialize and enjoy hors d'oeuvres, but I am working. Some of the attendees are people I do business with, and others are potential clients."
With an initial investment of $30,000, Rogers' framing business was cash-flow positive in about six months. Hiring one part-time contract employee has helped him meet the demands of his busy operation. It had been Rogers' longtime dream to be his own boss, and he had seriously contemplated opening a photography business until he realized that, although he would be the business owner, he would still have to perform manual activities. Instead, he wanted to build a company that would become an asset-one that would produce income even if he wasn't working and that would allow him to retire. Frame Destination was the picture-perfect opportunity.
Rogers started the business out of his home. Compared to other frame businesses, Rogers says, "Mine is a high-volume wholesale version, so it isn't an easy one to start at home, and it definitely can't last in a home. Regular custom picture-framing, however, is a common [homebased] business. You can get the distributors to do a lot of the frame and mat cutting so you don't need as much equipment, and you can just do the final assembly in your home." The advantage of homebased picture-framing businesses is the low overhead, which makes it easier for smaller companies like Rogers' to compete with big companies like Michaels. The advantage has paid off for Rogers, who moved operations out of his home in May 2005 to accomodate the company's growth. He projects 2006 sales to reach more than $500,000.
The internet has been an important resource for Rogers to build his customer base. He uses Google AdWords and a couple of banner ads on photography art show websites to attract customers, and enjoys helping photographers in online forums. "People post questions about where to get frames, and I help them," he says. "Now that photographers know me, they recommend my company to others."
Even though Brian Eddy, 31, worked 40 to 50 hours a week at a Minneapolis law firm, his day wasn't over when he left the office. This entrepreneur man-aged to practice law by day and run Q3 Innovationsin his free time. The company, which he co-founded with longtime friend Chad Ronnebaum, 31, is a product design, development and distribution company with an emphasis on the personal safety and monitoring devices market.
Since launching in 1999, Eddy and Ronnebaum have successfully marketed the Alcohawk ABI digital breath-alcohol screener and other Alcohawk products to big-time retailers like The Sharper Image and Target.com.
Eddy got the idea for his business while working for a drunk-driving defense attorney in Iowa City, Iowa, during law school. So many clients said they would not have driven had they known their blood alcohol content was so high. After Eddy discussed the potential of an affordable personal breathalyzer with Ronnebaum, the pair found a company online that manufactured a disposable alcohol tester.
Eddy and Ronnebaum didn't purchase any inventory for Independence, Iowa-based Q3 Innovations until it became a distributor of the disposable testers in December 1999. By January 2000, after they had purchased $1,000 in inventory, orders started rolling in, and the company became profitable within the first couple of months.
Initially, Eddy and Ronnebaum kept their day jobs and worked nights and weekends on Q3 Innovations. But since then, Eddy has left his firm and Ronnebaum has left his pharmaceutical job.
Although Eddy says a business degree provides a solid foundation on which to start and run a business, he also says a law degree doesn't hurt. He was just starting law school when the business took off. So why didn't he quit his day job early on? Eddy's law degree and the knowledge he gained working in the field of business law have been to be extremely useful as he and Ronnebaum as build a company that generates annual gross revenue between $2 million and $5 million.