Smart Ideas 08/06
Success With a Catch
What: Inflatable chairs shaped like baseball gloves
Who: Lori Elder of Left Field Enterprises LLC
Where: San Francisco
When: Started in 2002
During the 2002 World Series in San Francisco, Lori Elder was watching her hometown Giants battle the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and was amazed at the number of people floating in the bay just outside AT&T Park. "I looked at my friend and said, 'The thing to sit on [would be] a big inflatable baseball glove,'" says Elder, 43.
Elder called Major League Baseball a few days after the series to see if she could find such a product with the Giants logo on it, but no such prod-uct existed. So with almost $50,000 that she gathered from friends and her own savings, Elder started searching for a manufacturer who could help her with a design. "I was basically sketching my own baseball glove," says Elder, who has a background in art. She also applied for a license from the League in hopes of offering an official product with team logos.
Eight months later, in 2003, she had the license along with her final proto-type. The result was an inflatable chair in the shape of a baseball glove, constructed of heavy PVC, with three separate air chambers and, of course, cup holders. The chairs come in two sizes and are suitable for indoor use as well as on water.
Manufacturing problems set her back a year, but Elder was finally able to begin offering her product in January 2005. The chairs are available on www.leftfieldenterprises.com and www.mlb.com, and with the recent addition of baseball-shaped chairs, Elder expects 2006 sales of $500,000.
-- James Park
What: Garbage bags that keep away animals and insects
Who: Terry Feinberg of Repellem Consumer Products Co.
Where: Long Island, New York
When: Started in 2004
Terry Feinberg was seeing red. "I can't [count] how many times I went outside and found my garbage ripped apart in the street," Feinberg says. He was tired of having pests and animals snooping around his garbage bags, so he decided to come up with a new type of bag that would discour-age them by both scent and color.
He says his Repellem Garbage Bags are "light red, almost pink"-a color that doesn't appeal to animals and pests' visual spectrums. "Typically, [manufacturers] make white and black kitchen garbage bags," says Feinberg, 44. "[But animals and pests] are attracted to white and black."
Feinberg, the owner of a health-care and beauty product distribution company, began researching his product three years ago. He asked a chemist friend to help him create a scent offensive to animals and insects but pleasant to humans. By taking out a home equity loan, he was able to get the $50,000 he needed for startup costs. The all-natural scent, which Feinberg describes as "peppermint-citrusy," is patent-pending and features a combination of botanical oils and other natural ingredients.
Feinberg is currently testing his Repellem Garbage Bags, which sell for about $13 to $15 per box, in more than 100 Petco stores and is negotiating to have his product appear on QVC. He predicts 2006 sales will be between $1 million and $2 million.
-- James Park
Riding the Wave
What: Internet marketing resource for real estate professionals
Who: Steve Weber and David Baird of Z57 Inc.
Where: San Diego
When: Started in December 1998
How much: $2,000
Steve Weber always wanted to be part of something big, but he repeatedly saw opportunities, like the fax and PC markets, pass him by. "I told myself, 'I'm going to get on the front end of one of these market waves,'" says Weber, 42. "When the internet came, I knew that was it. I didn't want to miss out on the biggest opportunity in the history of business."
In 1998, Weber left his job as director of sales at a website provider to start Z57.com. With $2,000, a desk and a computer, he and one of his former co-workers, David Baird, 30, launched the internet marketing company out of a small office. They roughed it in the beginning, sitting on metal folding chairs, using a dial-up internet connection and having college interns help with cold calling. "It was duct tape and Band-Aids for the first year," Weber says, "but I wasn't worried. It was clear every business would need some sort of web presence."
A year after launching, Z57 narrowed its marketing services to the real estate industry. That same year, the company had its first $50,000 month; sales have increased every quarter since. Even during the dotcom crash, Z57, which remained privately funded and owned, managed to thrived.
Today, Z57 has four offices, 225 employees and 2006 projected sales of $18 million. The company offers website design, e-mail marketing and personal coaching to real estate agents nationwide.
Though home sales have recently slowed, Weber sees no end in sight to Z57's potential growth. "We've reached less than 2 percent of the real estate market," he explains. "There's tremendous opportunity to move forward."
-- Lindsay Holloway