Red-Hot Blues

Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the January 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

We just can't stop singing the blues. Although it's never vanished completely from the American musical landscape, blues music is enjoying something of a resurgence of late. "We've seen a pretty dramatic rise [in interest] worldwide," affirms David Less, pointing to significant membership gains for his own Memphis-based The Blues Foundation.

What's making the blues so red-hot? Advertising, for starters. With such legendary bluesmen as John Lee Hooker and B.B. King making high-profile pitches for Pepsi and Northwest Airlines, respectively, the nation's mainstream audience is becoming better acquainted with this roots-style music--and they like what they hear.

"There's a genuineness to [the blues]," says Less. "You can't go into the studio with a drum machine and make a blues record--you've got to have a drummer. And if you don't, then no one's going to buy it as a blues record."

It is, in fact, this disenchantment with contemporary rock music that is propelling many--especially among the baby boom generation--back toward the blues, according to Cary Wolfson, publisher of Blues Access magazine. Specifically, Wolfson estimates at least 80 percent of Blues Access readers are over the age of 30. We've got a feeling, however, that anyone of any age knows what it's like to get the blues.

Driving Force

What's happening in the golf world these days is hardly par for the course. Of course, it's not exactly news that golf is experiencing a tremendous upswing. What is worth noting is that a new generation of swingers is turning what used to be a stodgy game into a hip, happening sport. Prepare yourself, America, for a fairway attraction like no other: Generation Xers are playing golf.

According to the most recent estimates from the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter, Florida, golfers aged 29 and under account for nearly one-third of the entire golfing population. Even more impressive, that same age group accounted for more than half (55.6 percent) of beginning golfers in 1996.

"It's a really cool sport," raves J.C. Wynkoop, 32, co-founder of Venice, California-based golf apparel manufacturer Planet Golf. "You don't have to be a great player--you can just go out and have fun."

And having fun is exactly the name of the game for the Xer audience that Planet Golf targets. Inspired by the golf-playing members of hot rock bands like Hootie and the Blowfish, Stone Temple Pilots and R.E.M.--not to mention professional golf's newest sensation, Tiger Woods--today's young golfers are linking youthful energy with a genuine appreciation for the sport. The rules may not have changed, but the attire certainly has.

"There are legions [of players] who are starved for golf apparel that suits their personal style," says Wynkoop, whose 5-year-old company incorporates bold graphics and humorous tag lines in its trendy apparel. Something must be working: Planet Golf's account base increased by 300 percent last year.

"The time is now," enthuses Wynkoop. "Golf is changing--and we're trying to head up the apparel end of that." Darn. We're really going to miss those plaid polyester pants.

Comic Relief

Heeere's Ziggy! The ultimate underdog of the comic-strip world appears to have quite a busy year ahead of him as he celebrates his 25th year of existence. Already a mainstay on many Hallmark products, the Tom Wilson-created character is either presently or soon to be found adorning limited-edition lithographs, books, mugs and women's apparel. Indeed, 1997 promises to be a veritable licensing bonanza of Ziggy products.

So what's behind this Ziggy zeal? "Ziggy is really philosophical," says Laurie Blumenfeld of United Media, the worldwide licensor for you-know-who. "In this fast-paced, high-tech world of the '90s, Ziggy gives you a sense of peace. We're sort of looking at him as a Zen character."

A Zen character with a huge audience, it turns out: More than 75 million readers are estimated to follow Ziggy's exploits in almost 600 newspapers around the globe. Not too shabby for a comic-strip underdog.

Making Waves

It may be the dead of winter, but jet ski retailers are already looking forward to the summer of 1997. And who can blame them? With waves of thrill-seeking consumers powering the market, it seems clear that personal watercraft are not about to lose forward momentum any time soon.

Dan Beaulac is one entrepreneur counting on just that. The 27-year-old co-founder of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Shuttle Craft International Inc. expects to chart sales in excess of $20 million this year for his fiberglass V-hull boat that turns a personal watercraft into a jet boat. "We definitely saw a need in the marketplace [for this]," says Beaulac.

As recently as 1993, sales of personal watercraft barely topped 100,000 units annually. That figure has approximately doubled in only a few years. "The personal watercraft industry has been in a growth phase for the last few years, mainly because of the product," asserts Beaulac, who launched Shuttle Craft four years ago with partners Wayne Washington, 28, and Trevor Hewison, 30. "It's a lot of fun and delivers a lot of thrills and excitement."

Get your motors running. . . .

Heavy Metal

Chrome sweet chrome. A lackluster office nowadays is one with nary a piece of metal in sight. From metal desks and chairs to steel file cabinets and paper trays, the industrialized look is decidedly in vogue.

"Steel, in general, just [offers a] basic look," says Nadir Safai, co-owner of Beverly Hills, California-based metal furniture restoration company Vintage Office. "It's not flashy--it's understated. And its beauty is in its simplicity."

Although he declines to give a percentage of growth, the 28-year-old Safai acknowledges that business is booming at Vintage Office. "That's why I'm doing [metal]," he says. "A lot of the offices are going this way."

Even mainstream retailers are riding the trend by doing such things as affixing stripes of stainless steel to awnings or using assorted metallic accents throughout their stores. Those who really want to go heavy on the metal can even substitute sheets of the stuff for wallpaper.

Not all that is metal need be austere, though. "[Steel] can be warmed up with fabrics," Safai points out, "or dressed down with concrete and wood." In other words, choose whatever look steels--er, steals--your fancy.

Contact Sources

Big Boy Restaurants Inc., 4199 Marcy, Warren, MI 48091, (810) 759-6000;

Blues Access, 1455 Chestnut Pl., Boulder, CO 80304, (303) 443-7245;

The Blues Foundation, 49 Union Ave., Memphis, TN 38103, (901) 527-2583;

National Golf Foundation, 1150 S. U.S. Hwy. 1, Jupiter, FL 33477;

Planet Golf, 1800 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Ste. D, Venice, CA 90291, (310) 823-5936;

Shuttle Craft International Inc., 2201 Speers Ave., Saskatoon, SK, CAN S7L 5X6, (306) 664-0660;

United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Fl., New York, NY 10016, (212) 293-8564;

Vintage Office, (310) 251-1441.

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