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Kitten Caboodle

Cat's meow, hot line, road show.
July 1, 1998
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/15968

For get-ahead gift retailers, it may be time to get catty. From wild and exotic to cute and cuddly, cats are making their paw prints on the gift industry. Gift & Stationery magazine's managing editor,Christopher Gigley, says pets are perennially popular themes. Now cats, arguably America's number-one pet, are getting their day in the sun, frolicking across everything from pillows and soap to stained glass.

Bonnie Sewell's Los Angeles gift design company, Bonnie Sewell Designs, has increased its focus on things feline over the past several years with a line of dolls that includes kittens dressed for the holidays (think Santa Paws) and cat-shaped door stops (below). "People can relate to cats no matter what kind of cats they are," says Sewell. As gifts go, cat lovers are among the easier customers to please because they're not as breed-specific.

"You've got grey cats, calico cats or tabbies," says Gigley. "Dogs are tougher because customers won't just buy a dog mug--they want the French Poodle mug or the Rottweiler mug. Pet owners are crazy about their pets, so you've got a solid market to build on."

In the gift industry, you're dealing with products people don't need, so there has to be an emotional draw. "With cats," says Gigley, "you can be sure you have that connection."

Hear Them Roar

Breaking the glass ceiling isn't the only reason women are starting businesses, according to Paths to Entrepreneurship: New Directions for Women in Business, a joint study conducted by three leading businesswomen's organizations. "Being inspired by an entrepreneurial idea" was the primary reason 44 percent of respondents cited for striking out on their own.

"There's a myth that women aren't risk-takers," says Jennifer Allyn at Catalyst, which conducted the study with The Committee of 200 and the National Foundation for Women Business Owners. But women are more willing to launch businesses totally unrelated to their previous jobs, says Allyn, whereas men tend to play it safer by building on prior work experience.

Fifty-one percent of women with experience working for someone else cited the desire for more flexibility in matters such as child care and personal health as their reasons for leaving the corporate environment.

Money talks for 24 percent of respondents, who said they'd return for the right amount of green. Color more than half (58 per-cent) of respondents satisfied, however; they said nothing could tempt them back into the corporate arena.

Learning Curve

Don't be fooled by the cover's whimsical caricature of the "suits" manning a lemonade stand. Tips & Traps for Entrepreneurs: Real-Life Ideas and Solutions for the Toughest Problems Facing Entrepreneurs (McGraw-Hill, $14.95, 800-338-3987) comes straight from the trenches, featuring the hard-won experience of Courtney Price and Kathleen Allen, veteran business owners and internationally recognized teachers of entrepreneurship.

Tips and Traps stimulates the right questions and sharpens your focus for the tasks ahead, whether you're starting a business from scratch or buying an existing business. Learn how to test your idea through a feasibility plan--the critical precursor to a business plan and, the authors note, the missing link in many an entrepreneur's failed dream.

Fighting a Napoleonic complex? See the chapter entitled "The Virtual Company--How to Look Big When You're Not." Ready to think outside the box? Get your creative juices flowing with a boost from "How to Recognize Opportunities" and its thoughtful list of Idea Sources.

Hot Wheels

Somewhere in the inland Northwest it's time for another car show, county fair, demolition derby or supermarket grand opening--and Larry Anderson's 32-foot Motorsports Connection display trailer is there, selling racetrack collectibles, hats, jackets, T-shirts and die-cast cars from NASCAR's main division, the Winston Cup.

An amateur racer, Anderson started his entrepreneurial engines in the winter of 1996 and found customer response so overwhelming that by the spring of 1997, he was able to quit his sales job to devote full attention to his new venture.

Anderson, who targets small towns, knew there was an unfilled niche: Race merchandise is normally available only at big events in large cities. "We pull into little towns with these big trailers and open the door, and [the racing fans] think it's quite cool," says Anderson, who expects to do a cool quarter-million dollars in sales this year.

Among others, Anderson is quick to credit his childhood buddy, Dave Beaudoin, who runs a similar business, with helping him launch Motorsports Connection.

From preschool days as next-door neighbors to successful entrepreneurs, Anderson and Beaudoin regularly tour their complementary businesses together and set up shop side by side. With his company in high gear, Anderson says his hobby-driven instincts put him in the right place at the right time. "The excitement was there from the first time we set up," he says. "People always say, `It's about time somebody did this!' "

For more "Smart Ideas"

Food For Thought

News, facts and figures to spark ideas for new and better businesses.

Swingers: It's not just your father's game anymore. The Trend Letter reports teens are teeing off in record numbers, sparking demand for hipper golf gear. Design heavyweights Tommy Hilfiger and Nike are hoping to see green; could you, too?

Habla EspaƱol? If not, it may be time to learn. According to TheKiplinger Washington Letter, the U.S. Latino population will double in size by 2025, multiplying opportunities in the Latino marketplace as well.

Sizing Up: Americans' passion for cars keeps getting bigger--as do the cars themselves. Ford plans to build the granddaddy of all sport utility vehicles; weighing in at 7,000 pounds, it'll beat even the Chevrolet Suburban in size.

Keep It Simple

Want to end the game of phone tag once and for all? Solopoint Inc.'s M-200 Mobile Phone Companion may be just the right call. No more giving out multiple phone numbers or forwarding (and then unforwarding) your calls all day long. With the M-200, when clients call your office or home, a remote or mobile phone of your choice rings, too--giving you single-number accessibility.

On the road and don't want to miss an important call? The M-200 lets you screen calls from your remote or cell phone location. Listen in, undetected, as your caller leaves a message; then either hang up and let the caller finish the message, or push a button on your phone to connect.

Setup is simple; just plug it in and follow voice prompts. The Mobile Phone Companion integrates with your existing voice mail or answering machine, so you can continue to use your current phone number, eliminating the costs of new stationery and business cards. Price: $199.95. For more information, call (888) SOLO-CALL.

Contact Sources

Bonnie Sewell Designs, (310) 515-0998

Motorsports Connection, (509) 922-3605.