Junior Chefs

Small enterprise at a glance.
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7 min read

This story appears in the April 1997 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Someone's in the kitchen . . . and it's not who you think. Though some adults may shudder at the notion of anything more advanced than a microwave dinner, that isn't stopping one business from serving up entrepreneurial success by catering to the culinary aspirations of kids. Consider it the hot menu item of the month: kits to help kids cook.

"It's a great way to get kids involved in the kitchen," says Nancy Reynolds, 36, who launched Kids Cooking Club with partner Deborah Schneider, 40, in 1995. "Kids love it."

Boasting a national membership of several hundred kids, Kids Cooking Club sends out monthly projects that come complete with recipes, ingredients and directions to get kids (and their parents) cooking up a storm. Pasta, pizza and tortillas are but a few of the dishes Kids Cooking Club members have prepared.

"I think it ties in with family values and getting back to basics," says Reynolds, reflecting on the positive response to not only her membership business but also the Kids Cooking Kits she and Schneider have placed in specialty gift stores throughout the country. "People are so busy, they want to make whatever time they can spend with their kids [memorable]."

Making Hay

Achoo! Runny noses, red-rimmed eyes, pounding heads and strained breathing patterns are becoming so common these days, we may all don surgical masks before too long. And a certain household invader, despite its invisibility to the naked eye, is fast on its way to becoming public enemy number one. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the dust mite.

Say what you will, this nasty creature has some explaining to do. Thanks to its pesky prevalence, the dust mite has contributed mightily to an industry that's hitting the mainstream in a big way with
allergy-busting merchandise such as air purifiers, antibacterial and antimicrobial bedding materials and so forth.

Such sophisticated measures are being taken by an ever-vexed populace whose numbers are nothing to sneeze at: An estimated one in five Americans suffer from allergies. What's more, statistics provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reveal self-reported cases of asthma grew from 10.4 million to more than 14 million between 1990 and 1994.

Not all this misery can be laid at the spindly feet of the dust mite, of course--but that isn't curtailing the rise in anti-mite mania. After all, aside from "ER" heartthrob George Clooney, who looks good in a surgical mask?

A Taste Of Honey

The gift industry is abuzz over the popularity of bees on products ranging from greeting cards and gift wrap to decorative accessories. Says Carrie Chesloff, managing editor of Gift & Stationery Business magazine, "It's pretty widespread across stationery and decor [categories]."

As to what's triggering this bee-for-all, Chesloff points to the continued affinity among consumers for nature themes. "[Bees are] an element of nature we haven't really exploited up until now in the industry," she says. "So it's fresh."

Speaking of fresh, don't expect to see merely garden-variety depictions of the little honeys. Renaissance Greeting Cards, for example, feature characters that look like a morphing of teddy bears and bees. Now, that's a combination that packs a powerful sting.

Show Stoppers

It's out with the old and in with the . . . old? Well, not quite. But at the 124th California Gift Show in Los Angeles recently, there seemed to be far less new under the sun than you might expect. Indeed, regular readers of this column wouldn't have been surprised to see merchandise adorned with the likes of Winnie the Pooh and Curious George, as well as an invasion of alien products. Perhaps for us earthlings, nothing works so well as the tried and true. A roundup of what's out there:

  • The spirit still moves us: As we move ever closer to the millennium, our fascination with all things spiritual continues. An Eastern influence, in particular, was seen in the prevalence of such New Age perennials as the yin/yang symbol.

  • What do you know? With so many educational toys designed to boost kids' musical, scientific and analytical thinking skills, it's clear retailers are riding the crest of a major learning curve.

  • A picture is worth a thousand frames: Although it's been developing for some time now, the trend toward artistic picture frames in varied shapes, colors and materials remains strong.

  • Happy days are here again . . . and again . . . and again: Every time we think we've seen the last of that little yellow smiley face, it crops up again--on accessories, jewelry and other products. If this gift show is any indication, the happy face will continue to beam its way into stores for the foreseeable future.

Yellow Fever

Here comes the sun, indeed. As the nation basks in the warmer temperatures of spring, retailers in the housewares industry are basking in a golden glow brought on by a renewed interest in the color yellow.

"It's a color that drives a lot of excitement for our retailers," says Richard Ahern, products design manager for Wooster, Ohio-based Rubbermaid Inc. "And it helps drive consumer excitement, too."

That excitement is propelling Rubbermaid into releasing a variety of housewares in a soft yellow shade the company is dubbing "Sunrise." According to Ahern, yellow will brighten items as diverse as storage containers, dish drainers, wastebaskets and laundry baskets.

Although some see the move into yellow housewares products by major manufacturers like Rubbermaid as a nostalgic nod to the 1970s, Ahern disputes this. "We're not doing this because it's retro," he says. To the contrary, he explains, yellow's presence in fabric and bedcovers has simply generated more consumer acceptance for the color. And, of course, spring is a great time to get consumers to brighten up their homes.

All Shook Up

Get ready for more Elvis sightings this year--and no, we don't mean of the paranormal variety. In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the King's death, expect to see retail stores stocking more Elvis paraphernalia than usual. Of particular interest, almost certainly, will be the 20th anniversary tie-in merchandise planned by Memphis-based licensor Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc., which is set to include hats, T-shirts, magnets, watches, glassware and more.

Needless to say, fans throughout the world still possess a hunk-a hunk-a burnin' love for Elvis. Anything from postcards to pillows to lamps bearing his likeness strikes a chord with a wide range of folks--many of them too young to have witnessed firsthand the hysteria generated by one sideburned, hip-swaggering singer.

Silver Bells

Not so long ago, we told you about the trend toward metal in office furniture and store fixtures. Perhaps, then, it only makes sense that we're now noticing an awful lot of silver in products for the .

"A clean design coupled with a shiny, smooth surface--I think that's what draws people to [silver] products," says Steve Kohn, whose Hillsborough, North Carolina-based Homefront company sells a flourishing line of stainless-steel home accessories that includes canister sets, bowls, cups, glasses and containers.

And truly, the masses seem to have taken a shine to products like Kohn's. According to the entrepreneur, Homefront's stainless-steel merchandise, which is sold in specialty stores nationwide, is expected to generate sales growth of 50 percent to 60 percent this year for his business.

When will the supply of silver dollars run out? Considering silver has been a hit in so many different arenas, don't hold your breath waiting for it to lose its luster.

Contact Sources

Gift & Stationery Business, 1 Penn Plaza, 10th Fl., New York, NY 10119, (212) 615-2343;

Homefront, 437 Dimmocks Mill Rd., Hillsborough, NC 27278, (919) 732-1681;

Kids Club, (800) 718-1855, (619) 270-1548, (http://www.kidscook.com);

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bldg. 31, Rm. 7A50, Bethesda, MD 20892, (301) 496-5717;

Rubbermaid Inc., 1147 Akron Rd., Wooster, OH 44691-6000.


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