Coin Toss

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This story appears in the January 1998 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

By George, it's going to happen. Coin collectors everywhere are abuzz with the news that the flip side of the nation's quarter is about to undergo a redesign. "There's a great deal of excitement in the numismatic community," says Kenneth Bressett, immediate past president of the American Numismatic Association, "because coin collectors have felt that our nation's coinage was kind of stagnant--we haven't changed designs for many years."

Of course, coin collectors aren't the only ones expected to flip over the commemorative coins that will feature designs from each of the 50 states. Given the opportunity for states to highlight a point of civic pride--the Statue of Liberty, say, as a choice for New York--there's bound to be nationwide interest in the coins that are scheduled to be issued beginning in 1999. (The plan is to release five states' quarters every year until 2009.)

Spearheaded by Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE), the series of state commemorative coins was pending final congressional approval at press time--although all indications are the program will get the green light.

Even with guidelines in place, there's no reason why states cannot--or should not, for that matter--exercise creativity in their designs. Might this propel gift retailers to exercise a little creativity of their own in commemorating the facelift of the George Washington coin? Hey, we're just curious, George.

Better To Give

The holiday season is over, but the spirit of giving remains. In fact, as evidenced by media mogul Ted Turner's recent $1 billion pledge to the United Nations, philanthropy is decidedly de rigueur these days. And despite the fact that not many business owners (or countries, for that matter) can afford to match Turner's generosity, that doesn't mean charitable works are the exclusive domain of the rich and famous.

Not that monetary contributions are the only--or even the best--way for entrepreneurs to do good. On the contrary, philanthropy in the 1990s can be as simple (and financially painless) as stocking T-shirts promoting breast cancer awareness. Don't own a clothing store? Then why not grant your employees time off to volunteer at a local nonprofit organization?

Needless to say, the greatest return on such investments in societal improvement is the improvement itself--and the way it makes you feel. Nonetheless, at the risk of sounding crass, there's a business upside as well: Nearly 80 percent of consumers claim a willingness to change company allegiances according to perceived involvement in social causes. It's called making a difference . . . in more ways than one.

Aussie Fever

Consider this an early warning: Although the 2000 Summer Olympics are still two years away, it's not too soon to start planning for a tidal wave of interest in host country Australia.

What will this interest translate into, exactly? Well, clearly, one can expect the koala bear to re-endear itself to an American audience with a proven soft spot for creatures cute and cuddly. By this same criteria, the ever-recognizable kangaroo should hop back into favor as well. Less likely--but still possible--is an enthusiasm for platypuses (one of the chosen mascots for the 2000 Olympic Games).

Then, too, there is the cuisine of the Aussies. Meat, meat--and, yes, meat--heads the menu in the land Down Under. Not distinct enough? That quintessential Australian favorite, Vegemite, is certainly a strange enough concoction to generate a buzz during Olympic broadcasts.

Will a buzz also surround the rugged apparel associated with life in the Australian interior? Yes, we feel certain an interest in outback chic is bound to be sparked with so much attention being paid to the only country that is its own continent. (Imagine a Banana Republic-meets-L.L. Bean style.)

Finally, since there's no substitute for personal experience, look for adventurous Americans to make their own pilgrimages to Oz. As a matter of fact, one recent nationwide poll conducted by Louis Harris and Associates reveals that Australia is the place Americans would most like to visit--and that's before the Games have even begun. Better throw quite a few more shrimp on the barbie, mate.

Party Line

Your child is cordially invited to dress up as a movie star and attend a mock Academy Awards ceremony. There will be a cake in the shape of Oscar. There will be mini Oscar party favors. There will even be a red carpet on which to make an entrance.

An elaborate practical joke? Hardly. In fact, kids these days are being treated to lavish theme parties that seem to be the best thing to happen to childhood since peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. "In the old days, it used to be that girls had the pink parties and boys had the blue parties," observes Trisha Drain, editor in chief and associate publisher of the monthly trade publication Party & Paper Retailer. "It's way beyond that now."

So it is. Doting parents, spurred on by the example of other doting parents, are going so far as to rent old mansions and host "Clue" parties for their youngsters. It's memorable--and perhaps, in a way, even simple. "It's much easier for parents to accessorize [with theme parties]," says Drain, "and it makes it a lot more fun for the kids."

Of course, such demand for themes makes it all the more important for retailers to stock the right merchandise. "You have to carry accessories for a variety of themes," notes Drain, "and give customers ideas on what themes to have." Well, there's always that Academy Awards theme. . . .

Street Wise

It's cool not to be cool? Alternative reality is the genuine reality? If these observations confuse, confound or slightly alarm you, you're not hip to the young trendsetters of today. A possible literary remedy: Street Trends (HarperBusiness) by Janine Lopiano-Misdom and Joanne De Luca.

Founders of New York City-based market research firm Sputnik, Lopiano-Misdom and De Luca specialize in knowing what makes young people tick. Their approach--hitting the streets and speaking with kids on the cutting edge--has inspired the insights in Street Trends.

Not that there's one prevailing conclusion to be gleaned from Sputnik's analysis. Rather, Sputnik identifies a menagerie of youth cultures and mind-sets. The authors write of the "do-it-yourself" movement that's breeding individualistic kids who are expressing themselves creatively in zines and indie films and entering into unusual business alliances. Then, too, there are the "freestylers" who identify with underdogs and are turned off by marketing approaches that blatantly attempt to be cool.

Perhaps no other young generation is as tough to track as today's teens and twentysomethings--as confusing, confounding and alarming as that sounds. Given their collective buying power, however, the kids written up in Street Trends seem worth the extra effort.

Babes In TV Land

They look unlike anything you've ever seen. They live in a world all their own. They are, perhaps, going to enthrall American kids in much the same way they've already endeared themselves to British tykes. Meet the Teletubbies.

"It's a wonderful, creative show that gives children an opportunity to look at the world around them," says Kenn Viselman, whose New York City-based children's show producer The Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co. is bringing "Teletubbies" to U.S. public television this April.

"Teletubbies" targets children aged 1 year old and up. In the fantasy world of Teletubbyland, the four central characters (Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po) co-exist so happily with technology that their stomachs actually turn into tiny TV sets that transmit pictures of children. " `Teletubbies' is a celebration of play," explains Viselman. "It encourages children to use their imaginations."

Still to come, according to Viselman, are published works as well as toy products. (Entrepreneurs interested in pursuing licensing opportunities should contact The Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co.) What's more, "Teletubbies" should hit the airwaves in still more countries in 1998. Enthuses Viselman, "It's [already] an extraordinary success."

When It Rains...

Blame it on El Niño. For as much as amateur meteorologists have always existed among us, who could have predicted the degree to which the nation would be struck by a bolt of weather-watching mania? (Incidentally, we're hoping our California-based offices will not have drifted off into the ocean by the time you read this.)

At any rate, there's never been a better time to be a weather buff--or cater products and services to them. For starters, there are all kinds of weather-gauging equipment to purchase. There are also Internet sites--including one tracking the hype surrounding El Niño--to peruse. There are even travel tours especially designed for diehards wanting to spend their vacations literally chasing storms.

Will weather-watching mania survive past this latest El Niño--or wither on the, er, vane? That's about as predictable as the weather itself, we're afraid.

Contact Sources

American Numismatic Association, (719) 579-8217, fax: (719) 579-8012

The Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co., 156 Fifth Ave., #500, New York, NY 10010, fax: (212) 741-9493

Party & Paper Retailer, (800) 825-0900,


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