2001: A Business Odyssey

Is this the dawning of a new age for entrepreneurs?
Magazine Contributor
13 min read

This story appears in the December 1996 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

What's the hottest trend to hit this year and beyond? To figure it out, put yourself, for a moment, in the mind of the typical consumer:

The millennium is almost over, and you haven't accomplished a thing. You slave away 60 hours a week only to face downsizing. Your health is flagging, but your doctor seems oblivious. You suspect there is more to life than your mortgage and your car payment, but you can hardly find the brain power to contemplate dinner, let alone the major mysteries of the cosmos. You don't want a new attitude or a new perspective. You need the deluxe package.

You need a whole new age.

You and an estimated 44 million Americans like you. Sociologist Paul H. Ray, in a study co-sponsored by research firms the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the Sausalito, California-based Institute of Noetic Sciences, identified roughly 24 percent of the population as "cultural creatives"--folks who embrace globalism, alternative health care, spirituality, social consciousness and ecological sustainability.

While cultural creatives don't represent a majority of the population, they are a sizable market. Moreover, their values are rippling through society at large. Where New Age was once ridiculed as the refuge of pyramid-loving, crystal-worshipping kooks, it's now as mainstream as seeing an acupuncturist or buying a yoga video.

Have you read your horoscope lately? Tuned in to "The X-Files"? Gotten a whiff of aromatherapy? If so, you're not alone. As a culture, we may be a long way from enlightenment. But even if we don't achieve nirvana in 1997, it looks like our minds will continue the long, slow opening process--and unimagined markets will open along with them.

Age-Old Questions

The forces behind the growth of the New Age movement are no passing fancies. Some say we've got a heavy case of millennial fever. Not only are major astrological and psychic changes reputedly underway, but so is the kind of cultural soul-searching that usually occurs during millennial shifts.

"There's a perception that the institutions of the Industrial Age are no longer equipped to deal with reality," says Gerald Celente, director of The Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, and author of Trends 2000 (Warner). "People have lost faith in the political system, the legal system, the health-care system--and they're looking for answers, often outside the scope of reason."

Which is not to say people are being unreasonable. Rather, this is a time for innovation and spiritual introspection. "I think people are looking forward to great change" in virtually all facets of their lives, says Celente.

Demographically speaking, the time is right for renewal. "A lot of people don't get to a point of self-examination until they face a major life crisis," says Joan Duncan Oliver, editor of the bimonthly magazine New Age Journal. "The baby boomers have reached the age when they might be facing health problems, or questioning the value of their work, or even losing their jobs. These crises are often the initiation into a more examined life."

The confluence of millennial and demographic trends creates the right environment for change. New insights, new revelations, new approaches to old problems, revolutionary products and services--they couldn't be born at a better time.

Well, Well, Well

Cosmic thinking is great, but what's going to sell? No one has a crystal ball, of course, but several categories show promise. Under the general heading of New Age, Oliver reports Hinduism and Islam are in. Dwight Lucky, editor of Bellingham, Washington-based trade magazine New Age Retailer, says Buddhism is also continuing to experience a boom. And according to Candace Apple, owner of the Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore in Atlanta, "Feng Shui [the ancient Chinese art of environmental energy flow] is the hottest thing out there."

More generally, look for books, products and services that focus on wellness. Alternative medicines and self-care items will continue to thrive. "Health, fitness and nutrition are going to be key. People are going to be doing more to take care of themselves," says Celente. "But they're going to want more than the esoteric thought; they're going to want to bring these changes into practice."

Perhaps that bodes well for Lenox, Massachusetts, entrepreneur Gregory Dix, creator of the Get a Life store and catalog. Dix's product mix includes folding meditation benches, aromatherapy diffusers, ayurvedically balanced skin-care products, and books and videos that promote everything from yoga to artistic creativity. "The [store and catalog] are for people who are trying to figure out what's missing in life and who don't know what it is or how to find it," says Dix.

Is the mainstream ready for all this positive energy? Apple knows it is. One indicator: sales. Her Phoenix & Dragon bookstore recently expanded to 5,500 square feet, and Apple hopes to gross $1 million next year.

Anecdotal evidence is also compelling. "A lot of people used to come in feeling a little embarrassed about being in a New Age bookstore," Apple says. Today, however, there's no such stigma. In fact, Apple worries that the New Age is becoming old hat. "It's getting harder than ever to get well-known [New Age] authors to come in for book signings and events," she says. "They're all going to Barnes & Noble."

Sign Language

Concepts don't have to be new to make waves in the current market. Though it's thousands of years old--and its popular roots date back to the 1960s--astrology is enjoying another wave of interest. According to a poll by public opinion market research firm Roper Starch Worldwide Inc., belief in astrology rose by 7 percent between 1988 and 1994, when 25 percent of respondents claimed to believe in the ancient art.

That's not news to Del Norwood, owner of Access Abilities Inc., an astrological consulting firm in Chicago. Even without aggressive marketing, she says, "The phones are constantly ringing." Norwood teaches classes and holds in-person consultations, but more than half her business is conducted by phone. She interprets natal charts, advises clients on favorable dates to start businesses or get married, and uses astrology to provide insights on key decisions. At $125 for a typical 90-minute consultation, Norwood's services are not for the skeptic. But fortunately, believers abound.

It also seems that, under the right circumstances, even skeptics can be won over. Arch Crawford combines rigorous technical analysis with astrological cycles to predict financial markets. The results? His $250-a-year newsletter, Crawford Perspectives, is among the top performers nationwide. Maybe that's why 1,000 issues go out monthly--to plenty of Wall Street types who don't believe in astrology but do believe in results. Crawford also maintains two telephone hotlines, which draw between 100 and several hundred calls a day.

"To beat out the other guys on Wall Street, you don't need a huge statistical advantage, just a slight edge," says Crawford. "A lot of big traders [subscribe to] my letter because they're interested in information that is off the main line."

Robert W. Cooper of research organization American Federation of Astrologers Inc. in Tempe, Arizona, says Crawford is part of a larger industry trend. "Astrologers used to be general practitioners," says Cooper, "but now we're seeing successful astrologers specializing in fields like finance and medicine."

Situation Paranormal

The astrology boomlet is consistent with Celente's belief that our society is searching for guidance. "People are seeking out anybody they believe can help them see what's happening and explain it," Celente says. In their quest for understanding, some are exploring new territory--as in psychic phenomena, past life regression and other paranormal events.

Are we entering the age of gullibility? Just the opposite, says Celente. "[Scientists] recently found the Sphinx is 8,000 years older than previously thought. It predates the Sahara Desert," he says. "This is why people are looking at paranormal events today. They may not be paranormal at all: They may just be [inexplicable] by our current understanding."

Indeed, many think paranormality is a point of view. "The paranormal is a part of life," says Marilyn McGuire, president and executive director of the New Age Publishing and Retailing Alliance in Eastsound, Washington. "Some people may have gone off the deep end [with fraudulent commercial enterprises], but paranormal things--things we can't explain rationally--happen every day."

For Bettye Binder, president of The Association for Past-Life Research & Therapies Inc., it's just this commonality that makes psychic phenomena believable. "There are a lot of people who have had a closet interest in past lives or out-of-body experiences, but they've been afraid to talk about it," Binder says. Recent media attention is drawing that interest out into the open.

Assuming you're sincere, making a living in the psychic world often takes creativity. Rancho Palos Verdes, California, entrepreneur Shelley Lessin Stockwell is an author, publisher, speaker, hypnotherapist, psychic channeler, wedding minister and spiritual tour guide. Stockwell's enterprise is eclectic but successful. Her Creativity Unlimited Press, for example, sells 10 books and 14 audiocassettes through five national distributors.

According to Stockwell, exploring psychic territory is not "out there"; it's everywhere. "Everyone is interested," she says. "Sometimes when I go to parties, I deliberately avoid telling people what I do because then the entire evening is spent discussing psychic phenomena. People used to be afraid, but now [most aren't]."

Hits And Myths

Fear may, in fact, be a critical factor in understanding where this market has been--and where it's going. Fear--of the unknown, of the inexplicable, and of the weird--once sidelined this market. Now, fear seems to be giving way to curiosity, and the market is not only growing but lightening up.

Take, for example, the use of tarot cards to "read" the present, past and future. You could spend hours explaining their mystical workings. But Apple, who does tarot card readings, exclaims jokingly, "I don't know how it works!" She reports, however, that the cards frequently offer uncanny insights.

Is it scientific? Provable? It doesn't have to be. It's interesting. Maybe it's even magical--and, if nothing else, it's entertaining.

Just look at the multitude of upcoming entertainment choices that will take us back to our mythological past. Over the next year or so, we'll revisit Homer's Odyssey (via an NBC miniseries), Hercules (in both syndicated TV and Disney movie versions), and King Arthur's Camelot (in TV shows and an animated film).

Additionally, New Age Retailer's Lucky reports dawning interest in a "goddess movement." Also hot: Native American animal totems.

The common theme here might be escapism. Losing yourself in the contemplation of an ancient myth or mystical charm is a great way to forget about the daily commute, schoolyard bullies or income taxes.

Yet, as Apple points out, there may also be a spiritual component. "People are fascinated by the connectedness--that stories from other times still have meaning to us today," she says. "It's evidence that we may share a collective unconscious that unites us all."

New And Improved

As always, tapping into that collective spirit is the key challenge for entrepreneurs. The new age represents a vital opportunity for almost any business, whether directly (through book publishing or spiritual consulting) or indirectly, by adapting your business to principles of social conscience and spiritual balance.

Don't limit your thinking to traditional stereotypes about New Age. "You can't expect everyone in this market to be wearing Birkenstock sandals and hanging out at a health-food store," says Oliver.

Unconventional marriages of, say, New Age concepts with technology can work brilliantly. For example, New York City-based educational software publisher Enteractive Inc. launched two interactive CD-ROM titles: Enchanted Tarot and The Alchemist. Computerized tarot? "What we saw was a high correlation between this market and computer use," says Randy Hujar of Enteractive. "Here was a market that was untapped and available." Though Enteractive declines to release sales, they report being "pleased" with the numbers so far.

The lesson here: This is a market of affluent, knowledgeable consumers with plenty of unmet needs. A new millennium shimmers on the horizon. An entire segment of society is looking ahead to a new age--and looking around for the products and services they'll need to help them reach it. Could you be the one to fill that need?

For More Information

Need a road map for your journey into the new age? Here are some starting points:


  • New Age Journal, published bimonthly, covers everything that's new in the New Age movement from a consumer's (not a business's) perspective. Special half-price subscriptions ($12) for Entrepreneur readers. Call (800) 755-1178, or write to 42 Pleasant St., Watertown, MA 02172.


  • New Age Retailer magazine, published seven times a year, reviews books, music and sideline items and offers how-tos on running a New Age business. Call (800) 4NEW-AGE, or write to Continuity Publishing Inc., 1300 N. State St., #105, Bellingham, WA 98225.


  • The New Age Publishing and Retailing Alliance, the trade association for New Age publishers and bookstores, publishes its own journal and also sponsors a trade show. Call (360) 376-2702, or write to P.O. Box 9, Eastsound Sq., Eastsound, WA 98245-0009.


  • The Trends Journal and Trends Research Institute. Though not specifically geared toward the New Age market, The Trends Journal provides relevant insights for virtually all entrepreneurs looking toward the new millennium. Call (914) 876-6700, or write to P.O. Box 660, Rhinebeck, NY 12572.


  • American Federation of Astrologers. For referrals to educational programs or for information on certification, call (602) 838-1751, or write to P.O. Box 22040, Tempe, AZ 85285.


  • Association for Past-Life Research & Therapies Inc. is a professional organization for past-life therapists. It promotes research and industry standards and provides a communication network for members. Call (909) 784-1570, or write to P.O. Box 20151, Riverside, CA 92516.

Contact Sources

Access Abilities Inc., P.O. Box 30081, Chicago, IL 60630, (312) 725-8300;

The Association for Past-Life Research & Therapies Inc., (909) 784-1570, fax: (909) 784-8440;

Crawford Perspectives, 1382 Third Ave., #403, New York, NY 10021-0403, (212) 535-6202;

Creativity Unlimited Press, (310) 377-7908;

Enteractive Inc., (212) 221-6559, http://www.enteractive.com;

Get a Life, (800) 967-7279, getalife1@aol.com;

Institute of Noetic Sciences, 475 Gate Five Rd., #300, Sausalito, CA 94965, (415) 331-5650;

Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore, 5531 Roswell Rd., Atlanta, GA 30342, (404) 255-5207;

Roper Starch Worldwide Inc., (212) 599-0700.


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