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Smart Ideas 09/04

Asian-inspired children's clothing, fine art marketing materials and more
September 1, 2004
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/72270

What: A designer of Asian-inspired children's clothing
Who: Leslie Karen Potter and Lynn Potter Wells of Meili & Me
Where: Longview, Texas
When: Started in March 2003

When Leslie Karen Potter adopted her daughter from China in 2000, she fell in love not only with her new little one, but also with the Chinese culture. She wanted her daughter, Meili, now 4 years old, to grow up knowing about and being proud of her cultural heritage. So Potter, 49, decided to combine her passion for Chinese-inspired clothing with her background as a professional shopper and stylist to create a line of clothes for her daughter and other children, too.

Potter recruited her sister, Lynn Potter Wells, who had a background in graphic design, to partner in the venture. Though the sisters live in different states (Potter in Colorado and Wells in Texas), they're able to divide their duties easily via telephone and the Internet. Potter handles the manufacturing, while Wells takes care of the marketing and design work.

At startup, the pair was able to locate an Asian-American seamstress to help design and create pieces with just the right flair. And being part of the Asian-American adoption community has helped Potter and Wells get the word out about their products. "The reaction has been really great," says Wells, 51. "We went to an Asian adoption festival for three hours and sold $2,700 worth of clothing." The buzz is so positive, in fact, that the entrepreneurs have even received requests for little boys' clothes as well. Full of ideas for the future-including a line of children's d├ęcor and diaper bags with Asian-inspired prints-the founders of Meili & Me expect sales to hit $30,000 within a year.

Good Sports

What: Penalty flags that sports fans can throw at home
Who: Deirdre and Phil Barrows, and Faith and Rob Schroeder of Call Your Own!
Where: Port Washington, Wisconsin
When: Started in December 2003

Frustrated with the football games he'd watch at home, Phil Barrows, 45, used to throw anything in arm's reach at the TV when officials made a bad call. It prompted his wife, Deirdre, 35, to suggest that they make their own penalty flags to be thrown in place of other things. Phil's childhood friend Rob Schroeder, 45, and his wife, Faith, 35, were also big football fans. They saw the potential of the Call Your Own! penalty flags, and the cadre of entrepreneurs joined forces. "We've gone from being armchair quarterbacks to armchair quarterbacks and referees," says Phil.

The partners started researching different fabrics and ball inserts that would give the flags the right texture and enough weight to fall, but not cause damage to furniture or injure bystanders. When they found theright combination, the entrepreneurs started selling them to small local retailers. People in their community, most of them big football fans, jumped at the product, priced between $4 and $7, says Phil. Now, with retailers from Canada to Florida to Texas clamoring for more, the entrepreneurs are ready for their second big football season.

Still doing the business part time, the team expects to gross about $40,000 in their first full year of business. Phil also notes that he and his partners plan to grow the penalty flag concept into other arenas as well-from corporate meetings to a silly anger-relief tool, and even as a marketing tool for other companies. Says Phil, "People really get a kick out of it."

Image Is Everything

What: Marketing materials incorporating fine art
Who: Sandy Myers of Artable
Where: Minneapolis
When: Started in October 2002

To promote their products and services, businesses often hand out uninspiring coffee mugs, pens and other merchandise featuring their logos. "[But] how often have you gone to a garage sale and seen logo merchandise?" asks entrepreneur Sandy Myers, 53.

By securing fine art prints and putting them on everything from luggage tags and postcards to mouse pads and coffee mugs, she's come up with a more artistic option for businesses. So instead of the standard mug printed with a logo, her clients can have their company names and information printed on an array of items featuring beautiful art images.

Myers also runs Visual Promotions, a company that creates point-of-purchase and trade show displays and banners. She founded Artable- which should gross about $200,000 in sales for 2004-to add yet another layer of services to the business community.

On a Shoestring

What: A document storage company
Who: Rick Kushel and Ed Vogelsong of Archive Systems
Where: Fairfield, New Jersey
When: Started in 1991
How much: $5,000

A "do whatever it takes" mentality helped Rick Kushel, 39, and Ed Vogelsong, 41, build their document storage company in 1991. The two met while working at telecom company MCI in the late '80s. But when Vogelsong left his job in 1990, they were struck with the idea of starting a company. The partners settled on a document storage company with a special focus on customer service, because they didn't see much industry competition in their area, and because Vogelsong had family in a similar business. With just $5,000 in startup capital, they had to call on their creativity to succeed.

Their first money-saving tactic was to create a different model for document storage. Instead of renting a huge space and filling it with clients, says Kushel, "We'd rent a minimal amount of space, fill it, and take more as we needed it."

To help pay the bills, Vogelsong drove limos at night, while Kushel kept his sales job. They met whenever Vogelsong wasn't working to do every part of the business-from creating a storage system to picking up and delivering documents. According to Vogelsong, the partners didn't take a salary for at least three years into the venture. Kushel was even making deliveries in his car in the early days-no fancy delivery trucks like they have today. But their biggest key to success was financial wisdom. Says Kushel: "Budget properly, and spend wisely. Live within your means."

With their storage system encompassing hard copies and electronic computer copies, today Archive Systems boasts more than 400,000 square feet of storage space. With sales set to hit $16 million for 2004, it seems the main thing they're storing now is profits.