Smart Ideas 06/06
What: Company that provides access to a variety of private golf clubs without having to be a member
Who: Jonathan Halpern, Dean Starker, David Kaufman, Gary Rosenberg and Ken Dichter of Tour GCX
Where: New York City
When: Started in April 2004
Beautiful scenery, well-manicured fairways and amenities galore--country clubs have a lot to offer. For golfers who enjoy the game but haven't had the chance to experience private play, Tour GCX has an answer. By offering a taste of this exclusive lifestyle, Tour GCX is making the formerly inaccessible accessible.
Ken Dichter, Jonathan Halpern, David Kaufman and Dean Starker, all 38, and Gary Rosenberg, 41, saw their own situations as an inspiration for the business idea.
"While we could afford to be country club members, it wasn't on the radar because we were living in the city or had [young] kids," Kaufman says. "But we wanted to play country club courses."
With startup costs in the seven figures, Tour GCX signed more than 20 private courses in the New York tri-state area. Members of Tour GCX purchase tee units, each good for one round of golf for the member and three guests. Tee times are booked through the company, so members and their guests can easily sample the various offerings of each club.
Kaufman says tee units are generally purchased in lots of 10 for $6,250. Corporate packages are also available, for a minimum of 20 tee units at $12,500.
Although the business is meant to appeal to avid golfers, Kaufman says that the founders marketed their business to private clubs as a new way for the clubs to draw in potential members. "We consider ourselves a brand builder for country clubs," Kaufman says. "Clubs today have to [use] more aggressive, unique [marketing tactics], and we are one of those." Projecting 2006 sales of $5 million, Tour GCX has plans to expand nationwide by the end of 2007.
In for a Treat
What: Short-term child-care provider and children's party facility
Who: Wendy Reed and Pam Weaver, co-owners of Sugar Buzz Playcare and Parties
Where: Broad Ripple, Indiana
When: Started in June 2005
Wendy Reed and Pam Weaver found the perfect way to spend quality time with their kids while running a full-time business. And their idea is creating quite a buzz. In 2005, the two moms launched Sugar Buzz Playcare and Parties, a unique brand of child care that gives parents the convenience of short-term child supervision without contracts or commitments.
Reed, 46, originally opened Sugar Buzz as a soda fountain and candy shop in 2001. After parents asked her to host themed birthday parties at the shop, Reed and her good friend Weaver, 44, realized the shop could not only be used to hold parties--it could serve as a day-care center, too. Thus, Sugar Buzz Playcare and Parties was born.
At Sugar Buzz, parents can drop their children off for as little as 30 min-utes or as long as 10 hours. Kids are encouraged to leave electronics at the door so they can participate in classic activities, such as face painting and dress-up, in a decidedly low-tech playroom reminiscent of the sort their parents enjoyed.
Children 18 months to 12 years old are welcome, and the cost ranges anywhere from $3.50 to $9 an hour. On the initial visit, parents fill out all the necessary forms and, for security purposes, digital photos are taken of both parents and children and stored for future reference.
Sugar Buzz even opens its doors to kids on Friday and Saturday evenings, allowing moms and dads enough time to catch dinner and a movie. And the kids aren't complaining, either. "We created an atmosphere here that is what kids want, as opposed to what adults think kids want," says Weaver.
And they're taking that atmosphere on the road. In addition to running Sugar Buzz Playcare and hosting parties, they also provide on-site day care at business conferences and weddings.
Sugar Buzz grossed about $100,000 in 2005. Reed and Weaver project a 30 percent increase in revenue in 2006, and they have plans to open a new location in Carmel, Indiana. Also in the works are possible franchise opportunities and Sugar Buzz retail items, including prepackaged arts and crafts
Making a Move
What: Moving crew that relocates clients and decorates their homes upon arrival
Who: Debra Mitchell of Smooth Moves by Designers
When: Started in 2002
From carefully wrapping Grandma's china to fluffing the last pillow, moving can be an exhausting process. For Debra Mitchell, it's where she excels. "I'm the only person in the world who likes to move," she says, adding that she moves up to four times a month. Mitchell isn't moving herself, however--packing, moving and decorating are services offered by her company, Smooth Moves by Designers.
With her five-person staff and a contracted van line, Mitchell organizes the entire stressful event, from the initial planning to the final hanging of art and accessories. Without even needing to see the new home beforehand, Mitchell arranges a moving crew and trucks and decorates the home on arrival. Smooth Moves takes care of every detail, including color-coding closets and stocking the fridge.
"It's like having a moving company that's orchestrated by a designer," says Mitchell, who has 10 years of experience as an interior designer and started Smooth Moves as an offshoot of her interior design company, Debra Mitchell Interiors. "I make people's things look the best they can in the new surroundings."
Mitchell, who projects 2006 sales of nearly $300,000, is trying to boost her clientele in the corporate employee market. "Companies are losing so much money on employees who can't feel settled [at their jobs] until their lives are settled," she says. "I don't think companies are aware of this."
Mitchell, 54, admits some people are hesitant to hand over complete control. "But if they just let go and let me do it all," she says, "they don't miss a beat."
Just Like Mom Used to Make
What: Gourmet hot chocolate mix
Who: Hilly Blondheim of Chef Hilly's Kitchen
How much: $300
Using the recipe for a hot chocolate mix he created in culinary school while trying to imitate his mom's recipe, chef Hilly Blondheim filled glass jars with his tasty concoction and went door to door, selling it to local businesses. "I was walking around Atlanta with these jars," says Blondheim, 33. "I'd go into shops and ask if they could put [the mix] on consignment."
Blondheim donated a portion of the profits to his mother's breast cancer foundation, thereby attracting local media attention and a call from a Neiman Marcus buyer, who had received a sample of the hot chocolate. The buyer offered Blondheim's product a spot in the Atlanta store. And after reading an Entrepreneur article on kiosks, Blondheim decided to start selling his mix at the local mall.
Blondheim got more assistance along the way: A sympathetic manufacturer showed him what he needed to do to expand his business. By taking out a second mortgage on his home, he found the means to start financing his growing operation. And a marketing company that worked with his mother's foundation helped him build his brand name.
All the effort paid off when, in January, Chef Hilly's Kitchen was featured on Food Network's Unwrapped. With a lineup of various products including a chocolate chip cookie mix, the company's 2006 sales are projected to break $500,000--a portion of which will continue to go to the breast cancer foundation.