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Tooning In

November 1, 1997
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/14726

They may look cute and innocent, but the characters on the new Comedy Central animated series "South Park" are not to be mistaken for your standard, wholesome cartoon kids. Indeed, the show, which debuted in August, has drawn comparisons to the decidedly unwholesome "Beavis and Butt-head" series. Simply put, this is animated fare of the most offbeat variety.

Which may explain why "South Park" is generating such buzz--even among a crowded TV lineup. In an irreverent tone, the show follows third-graders Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny through misadventures as bizarre as being abducted by aliens to hunting with hand-grenade-toting relatives. And there's even an episode in which the boys try to genetically engineer an elephant that's the size of a pot-bellied pig.

Does all of this sound like the makings of a hit TV program--and, not incidentally, a lucrative licensing opportunity? It should. At press time, "South Park" was riding a wave of publicity surrounding its premiere. If this heightened level of anticipation is any indication, "South Park" could well become a hot property among Generation X viewers. Skeptical? Think of it this way: Who ever would've guessed a fledgling "Beavis and Butt-head" would achieve mainstream popularity?

Beetle Mania

The beetle is juiced up--and (almost) ready to go. As consumers continue to drive sales of retro products that trigger fond memories of days gone by, it's perhaps something of a masterstroke for Volkswagen to revive one of the most beloved automobiles to ever hit the road. Forget what you may have heard about there being no second acts in America: A new Volkswagen Beetle is on its way.

Although an exact launch date has yet to be confirmed, Volkswagen is planning to introduce its much-anticipated new Beetle before the year 2000. Is it a meet-the-new-Beetle, same-as-the-old-Beetle scenario? Well, yes . . . and no. Volkswagen is sticking with the classic rounded shape, but 1990s touches will include air bags.

There's more to this Beetlemania than meets the road, however. In the wake of the vehicle's comeback, we've noticed other products designed to play on folks' affection for Bugs--including candles in that familiar shape. Can a return to the big screen by Herbie ("The Love Bug") be far behind?

Returns Of The Jedi

Stop the presses! Even as media speculation and fan excitement heat up over the first installment in the brand-new "Star Wars" film series--set to hit theaters a mere two years from now--we have been fortunate enough to intercept a top-secret memo that appears to have been issued by none other than Darth Vader himself. (Yes, we know he appeared to have died in "Return Of The Jedi" but . . . details, details . . .) At the risk of being struck by a light saber, we henceforth divulge the Dark Knight's missive.

"To: Empire stormtroopers

Re: New `Star Wars' films

Based on the box office success enjoyed by the recent theatrical re-release of our original "Star Wars" movie trilogy, we're expecting tremendous worldwide enthusiasm for the next trilogy--currently in development. As you are aware, this next trilogy will focus on my pre-Vader years as Anakin Skywalker. My partner in Jedi, Ben ("Obi-Wan") Kenobi, is featured as well. Even that annoying mechanical pair, R2-D2 and C-3PO, is back in action.

Directed by George Lucas, this first installment in the new series will descend upon the galaxy in May 1999. Prepare for long theater lines. Prepare for media frenzy. Never doubt: The Force is with us."

Magnetic Power

How do athletes spell relief? M-A-G-N-E-T-S. Yes, it may seem a bit of a stretch, but the fact remains that biomagnetic therapy is all the rage among those seeking noninvasive treatment for aches and pains. It is, proponents contend, an attractive alternative to more conventional medicine.

But perhaps this magnetic pull is best understood as yet another example of how open-minded consumers are increasingly using New Age-type remedies. Although skeptics exist, magnet wearers are bolstered by the knowledge that they're reportedly following in the footsteps of historical figures such as Aristotle and Cleopatra. And, true believers argue, are magnets that much of a leap from many of the herbal concoctions available in today's marketplace?

Oakland Park, Florida-based DHB Sports Group Inc. is betting not. As the force behind BIOflex magnets, DHB Sports Group claims its concentric-circle technology is an industry breakthrough--and a far cry from traditional magnets. Medicinal magnets are generally thought to dilate blood vessels and thereby ease one's circulation.

But do they actually work? Again, it's debatable. But what we can tell you is that magnet use is no longer exclusive to open-minded consumers: At least one enterprising company has begun to sell biomagnetic collars for dogs.

Cuba Chic

Time to break out the Desi Arnaz records. Even as cigars continue to light up the marketplace--and serve as the accessory of choice among the hip and fashionable--consumers nationwide are rediscovering the culture of the country perhaps best known for its tobacco products. The smoke signals are clearly in the air: Cuba is hot.

For evidence of this Cuban cultural wave, one need only look to the cigar lounges popping up across the United States. These establishments serve as natural springboards for cigar connoisseurs eager to not only enjoy a smoke but also to listen to the strains of Cuban dance rhythms. Even more exotic: sampling Cuban fare such as empanadas.

As co-founder of the Whittier, California-based Havana House Cigars & Lounge, Richard Valenzuela is reaping the rewards of this keen interest in Cuba. "We're doing very well," says the 29-year-old entrepreneur, who expects his business to grow from $600,000 this year to $800,000 in 1998. Opened in 1996, Havana House complements its selection of more than 80 brands of non-Cuban cigars with an assortment of Cuban pastries and coffees.

Gaining Access

Are you overlooking a lucrative market? If you haven't considered marketing to the disabled, you might be limiting your customer base.

"As consumers, the disabled are the fastest-growing market segment in the nation," says Urban Miyares, president of the Disabled Businesspersons Association. "That's primarily because people are living longer and [engaging in more hazardous activities], such as hang-gliding and jet skiing and all those other things that are creating more disabilities at a younger age."

The Internet, in particular, is helping connect disabled persons with the marketplace. "The Internet is the buzzword in the disabled community," says Miyares.

But should you target this market, be prepared to tailor your approach. In addition to making product modifications, you'll need to reexamine your business's marketing efforts. "Our buying patterns tend to be a bit different than regular consumers'," says Miyares. "We tend to buy products based more on [personal] references than advertising hype. We're cautious buyers--but loyal consumers."

Remember, however, that loyalty must be earned. Doing something as simple as, say, making your company's Web page accessible for all (including the visually impaired) is a good way to start. "In the long run," surmises Miyares, "you'll find out the disabled may just become your most valuable customers."

Watch for our roundup of the hot trends for 1998 in next month's issue. We guarantee this will be one issue you won't want to miss.

Contact Sources

Comedy Central, 1775 Broadway, New York, NY 10019, (212)767-3952

DHB Sports Group Inc., 4031 N.E. 12th Terrace, Oakland Park, FL 33334, (800) 979-4343

Disabled Businesspersons Association, http://www.web-link.com/dba/dba.htm

Havana House Cigars & Lounge, 7020 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier, CA 90602, (562) 698-2245.