Kid Stuff

10 best children's businesses you can start now.
Magazine Contributor
15+ min read

This story appears in the August 1998 issue of . Subscribe »

Some of the newest and fastest-growing businesses today are devoted to easing the burdens of parenthood. Busy moms and dads rely on entrepreneurs to help them do everything from decorating the nursery to ferrying kids to and from soccer practice. And mothers are turning to businesses that help them learn how to care for their newborns or get back into shape after childbirth.

"The whole country is more child-focused," says Jennifer Basye, author of 101 Extra-Income Opportunities for Women (Prima Publishing, $14, 800-632-8676), of the boom in child-related businesses. "None of these businesses were available when we were kids. Women are working more and [parents are] spending more money on their kids. This is a fabulous field to be mined." Here are 10 great ideas for getting your share of the gold.

Pamela Rohland is a freelance writer and university professor in Reading, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in Self, Philadelphia Magazine and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Day Care

With 20 million children in the country under the age of 5, the need for quality day care is clear. Although day care costs an average of $4,000 per child per year, it has become as necessary to millions of families as food and shelter, and experts predict a 5-percent to 10-percent market growth rate in the next five years.

But day-care centers must provide more than snacks and playtime. Parents want to know their children are both safe and educationally challenged. As a result, many day-care centers have expanded their services to include trained teachers providing age-appropriate experiences. Other centers are adding services to relieve some of the burdens on harried parents. Cookie's 24 Hour Child Care & Learning Center in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, is open for business around the clock, bringing sighs of relief from parents who work the second and third shifts at nearby hospitals and factories.

"We've had parents pick their kids up at 1:30 in the morning," says founder Kathy Brandyberry, who worked as an elementary school tutor and teacher's aide before launching the business in 1991 with her husband, John. The couple used credit cards to finance $5,000 in start-up expenses, which included toys, books and recreational equipment purchased at garage sales and flea markets. The center began with five children in the Brandyberrys' converted home. Today, a staff of 46 cares for 300 children in an expanded facility. The center also operates a private, licensed kindergarten. Cookie's has annual revenues of $700,000 and has 200,000 shares of stock offered, which, if sold, will generate $1 million; the capital is being used to pay off a loan and expand an upstairs portion of one of the Brandyberrys' four locations.

Kathy says two things are essential for success as a day-care provider: a thorough knowledge of federal and state laws regulating the industry and a genuine love for children and the business. With a workweek that averages 60 hours, running a day-care center is far from child's play.

Children's Resale Store

If you enjoy scavenging for bargains, you might have what it takes to start your own resale business. Adele Meyer, manager of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, says the number of thrift and resale shops has been growing among people of all income levels, thanks to the popularity of recycling. "The days of conspicuous consumption are gone," she says. "There's no longer a stigma attached to thrift shops. People are proud to be thrifty."

Jared and Debbie Kelner of Santa Clara, California, who have two young children, spent eight months and $1,000 stockpiling children's clothing, toys, books, shoes and videos they purchased at flea markets and yard sales. "We wanted a business where we could work together and watch the kids," explains Jared, 26. "We really wanted to keep the family together, and we saw this business as a way to do it."

When the Kelners had collected a healthy supply of used items, they converted their garage into a makeshift shop and put ads in local papers. The rewards were greater than they expected: The Kelners made $3,000 their first day.

Convinced they were onto something, they used $7,000 from a savings account to open The Well Dressed Baby, a children's resale shop, in mid-1997. Less than a year later, the shop has grossed $240,000, and the Kelners hope to open five more stores within three years. "There's a real need for this," Kelner says. "People want to dress their kids nicely, but they don't have the money to buy new clothing."

The biggest challenge for a children's resale business is maintaining quality merchandise. The Well Dressed Baby accepts only name-brand clothing, such as Gymboree and Baby Gap, that's in excellent condition. Customers whose clothing passes muster receive store credit, while the Kelners sell the clothing for 30 percent to 40 percent of the retail cost.

Children's Entertainment

Clowns, mimes, magicians, storytellers, puppeteers. In a world of video games and movies with spectacular special effects, how can these simple entertainers hope to compete for the attention of children--and the discretionary dollars of their parents? By delivering a memorable experience, live and in person.

"No matter how technology advances, we're still programmed to experience things directly," says Naomi Caspe, 44, who operates The Magic Makers, a children's entertainment business, with her husband, Douglas Kipping, 45. "Kids remember a party with clowns and jugglers long after they've forgotten a movie."

That immediacy is the key to the growing children's entertainment industry, according to Caspe. Professional entertainers can charge up to $200 for a one-hour private party and more for a performance at a corporate event, such as a company picnic.

Kipping and Caspe, who has a degree in early educational communications, launched their San Francisco company in 1984 for less than $1,000. They began by performing for local residents and at parties for children and grandchildren of celebrities, including "Star Wars" director George Lucas and actor Robin Williams.

But The Magic Makers has found markets beyond children's parties. It also performs at conventions, festivals, schools and museums, and has presented its show in Japan and Taiwan. In addition, Caspe offers a workshop for teachers, showing them how to use magic tricks to demonstrate scientific principles.

Although The Magic Makers earns $75,000 per year, profits in the children's entertainment business are relatively slim, Caspe says, because of travel and prop expenses. But for those with a love of children and a fondness for the spotlight, there are greater rewards than money.

Custom Murals and Children's Furniture

Baby boomer parents with disposable income and a taste for the unique are fueling a new interest in high-style nurseries, a trend that has gained attention in TheNew York Times and furniture trade publications. But schools, day-care centers, churches, camps and other organizations that cater to kids are also potential markets for custom wall murals and painted furniture.

Talent--not necessarily formal training--is an important key to success in this industry. Sue Beaumont, a 47-year-old Loomis, California, housewife and mother of two grown children, dabbled in artistic endeavors for years with no serious notion of starting a custom mural and furniture painting business. But with some time on her hands in 1992, she agreed to help her sister paint murals--a robot design and a Beatrix Potter motif--for her niece's and nephew's rooms. Gradually, family and friends began asking her to paint murals and furniture for them. Before she realized it, Beaumont was in business.

"For years, wallpaper was in, but now parents want something different," she says. Using washable acrylic paint, Beaumont has embellished dressers, headboards and walls. She painted a playroom resembling an attic filled with antique toys for one business to occupy customers' restless children. A church commissioned her to paint its nursery with an angels-and-children theme.

Start-up costs are minimal--$600 to $1,000 or so for paints, brushes and letterhead, according to Beaumont. Depending on location and clientele, muralists can charge between $200 and $1,500 per day, proof that artists don't have to starve.


Keeping tykes out of trouble can be a time-consuming proposition for any parent. Today, more busy parents turn to professional baby-proofers to help make their homes safer and bring much-needed peace of mind.

Baby-proofing has taken root only in the past decade, but its ranks are growing faster than you can say "Barney." Barbara Kelczewski, president of the International Association for Child Safety and the owner of Baby Bee Safe, a baby-proofing firm in Parsippany, New Jersey, estimates there are more than 100 professional baby-proofers in the United States. She attributes the industry's growth to an increasing awareness of safety hazards in the home, which gained attention when former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop announced in 1993 that home accidents are the number-one killer of young children.

Stacy Kibort, a 34-year-old mother and owner of Baby Proof It! in Plymouth, Minnesota, was motivated to become a baby-proofer in 1994 because of accidents she heard had happened to others. "I knew a number of people who had been permanently burned or disfigured by childhood accidents," says Kibort. "I wanted to be in a business where I could prevent problems and make a positive difference."

Baby-proofers can start for about $10,000, which includes standard office equipment, insurance and professional training from experienced baby-proofers. Most baby-proofers charge between $35 and $75 per hour for consultation and installation, depending on their location and experience; it costs about $500 to baby-proof the average home.

Baby-proofing businesses are most successful in metropolitan areas. You need a steady supply of new customers, because repeat customers are rare. It's also important to be in an area where customers can afford to buy what you provide. "One of the best things about this business is, it's so rewarding," Kelczewski says. "Parents are truly grateful for your service."

Children's Transportation

Many parents complain that they feel like taxi services for their kids. One mother, Tracey Welson-Rossman of Marlton, New Jersey, decided that wasn't such a bad idea: As owner of a kids' taxi service, she now gets paid to do what so many soccer moms do for free.

Welson-Rossman isn't alone. A growing number of entrepreneurs are putting the pedal to the metal and starting their own independent transportation services. KangaKab Inc., the $300,000-a-year business Welson-Rossman operates with her husband, accountant Steve Rossman, ferries youngsters aged 21¦2 years and older to day-care centers, schools, activity centers and summer camps in areas of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Youngsters and their parents can count on the white van with its navy-blue and mint-green logo to escort them to pre-arranged destinations between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, at $6.50 per ride. During off-peak hours, KangaKab also transports groups of senior citizens to church, the movies and senior centers. "You're not making money if the van is sitting," says Welson-Rossman, a former store department manager.

Working parents love the convenience of the service; for many, it's a necessity to get their children to school. "More people are sending their kids to private schools," Welson-Rossman says, "some public school districts are cutting back on busing, and in this day and age, it's not safe to let children walk a mile or more."

The Rossmans purchased an existing KangaKab service in New Jersey in February 1996; in September 1997, they started another branch in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. Start-up costs--including vans, office equipment, insurance, rent and salary for a driver--run about $45,000, according to Welson-Rossman, whose business employs 10 people.

The most successful kids' cab companies are located in areas with a concentrated population. It's also important for owners and drivers to like kids, because sometimes things don't go according to plan . . . like the day one young passenger vomited in a KangaKab van, prompting all the other children to throw up, too. Despite the occasional unsettled stomach, the business gives Welson-Rossman a feeling of satisfaction, because she knows she's providing a needed service.

Personal Fitness-Training For New Moms

Pam Skinner had two reasons for starting MommyFit, a business offering personal fitness training for new mothers. She wanted a career that would allow her to stay home with her son, and she knew the personal anguish of trying to lose 20 pounds of excess baby-weight.

Gut instinct told the 40-year-old Huntington Beach, California, entrepreneur, a certified personal trainer, that there was a market for her business. "[New mothers] don't have time to go to a health club, and they don't want to [exercise] somewhere where they're going to be checked out by others," Skinner says.

Statistics support her intuition. IDEA: The Health and Fitness Source, a San Diego-based association of personal trainers, has seen membership grow 800 percent to 8,000 members since 1991, according to David Gilroy, IDEA's director of communications.

A personal trainer's start-up costs are relatively low, and licensing isn't required. Using $2,000 to purchase an array of basic home fitness equipment, a computer, air conditioning and software, Skinner converted her garage into a fitness studio and began training her friends. Word spread quickly about her business, which has been featured in television and newspaper reports, and Skinner now has an extensive waiting list of clients. "I try to bump people out of the nest once they've reached their [fitness] goals, but they don't seem to want to leave," she says. Clients pay $45 for each 75-minute session, allowing Skinner to gross $25,000 per year working only two days a week. Many full-time personal trainers earn more--up to $50,000 annually.

In addition to personal training, Skinner sells start-up kits for others to start their own MommyFit programs. But this business, she cautions, is about more than ab crunches. "I develop a personal relationship with my clients," Skinner says. "I try to help women feel better emotionally as well as physically."

Children's Photography

According to a survey by the Professional Photographers of America (PPA), the top three occasions when people use professional photographers are for family portraits, school portraits and to record a child's growth. Nearly half of the Atlanta-based organization's members are portrait photographers, and 2,000 specialize in children's portraits.

If it sounds like the market is already glutted, don't despair. "There's always room for one more good photographer," says Mark Bohland, 47, owner of Maranatha Photography in Mansfield, Ohio.

Bohland started his business part time in 1978 with one camera and $100 for business cards and letterhead. By 1981, he had gone full time, specializing in artistic portraits of children in their homes. Four years ago, though, market demands spurred him to switch gears and begin doing even more upscale, personalized sessions.

Rapidly changing technology is causing the price of photographic equipment to skyrocket; fortunately, photographers have come up with creative solutions. Unable to spend $30,000 on the latest digital cameras and printers, Bohland joined forces with a competitor to share equipment and staff, cutting both their costs in half. Now Bohland grosses between $120,000 and $150,000 per year.

Although it's ideal to have some formal photography training and at least $35,000 for the latest equipment, skilled amateurs can still break into the field with basic equipment and several types of lenses. With families, schools, churches, sports teams and other organizations lining up to have pictures taken, making money in this business is a snap.

Doula Care

Doula (pronounced doo-la) is a Greek word meaning "woman's servant" or "one who mothers the mother." Postpartum doulas aren't nannies; instead, they focus on caring for the new mother so she can attend to the newborn. For several days to a few weeks after mother and baby return home from the hospital, doulas run errands, cook--whatever eases the transition.

There's a strong educational component to doula care. Doulas teach mothers the basics of baby care and health, plus how to handle changing family dynamics. "Doulas are an extra pair of eyes and ears to alert new parents to budding problems," says Chris Morley, a former doula and founder of Tender Care, a Valencia, California, company that sells a $25,000 training program to hospitals nationwide interested in providing their own doula services.

Although doula care is relatively new in the United States, the number of doulas is growing, from 85 in 1992 to about 2,500 currently, according to Doulas of North America, a trade association in Seattle. Morley started her business in 1988, two years after the birth of her daughter, Amanda. "I realized there was no way anyone can prepare for the all-consuming demands and needs of a baby," says the 42-year-old entrepreneur. "Physical exhaustion is a real problem for new mothers." She started her homebased business with a $5,000 loan, promoting her services at Lamaze classes, in parenting publications and directly to physicians. Clients pay doulas between $16 and $23 per hour; most use the service for about two weeks.

When Morley, who once employed as many as 30 doulas, closed her direct-provider service in October 1997, it was grossing more than $100,000 per year. Since she began offering her consulting and program development services to hospitals, her income has increased even more.

Because there are no licensing requirements, providers can enter the profession easily, but Morley recommends receiving training from an experienced doula before accepting clients. Some local midwifery centers offer training; Doulas of North America also runs moderately priced certification workshops.

It's also important to determine if there's a market for the service in your area. Successful doulas operate in middle-class or wealthy communities, where clients can afford the service. "A lot of people have great doula hearts but they don't wear their business hats," Morley says. "That's where they run into trouble."

Extracurricular Education

The face of education is changing in America, and entrepreneurs are leading the way, creating for-profit learning centers to fill the educational gaps left by schools weakened by budget constraints. Also fueling the trend: Many public schools are slow to install new technology and train teachers to use it.

Chris Yelich, executive director of the Association of Educators in Private Practice in Watertown, Wisconsin, says educational specialists in almost every field--the arts, sciences, technology--are providing more alternatives than ever before. "Parents are always looking for ways to help their children succeed, and this trend allows parents to shop around for providers who can meet their children's needs," says Yelich. "The biggest challenge in this business is educating parents. They're not used to spending disposable income on education, and they're not used to seeing educators in private practice."

Victoria Ulmer, 33, was at the forefront of the trend when she launched STEPS Performing Arts Center of Stanford Inc., a dance, music, drama and arts center, 15 years ago. Based in Stamford, Connecticut, the $750,000-per-year business has 17 employees and caters to children 2 years and older. Ulmer was 18 when she began giving dance lessons part time, funding the business from her paycheck as a pharmacist's assistant and cold-calling people from the phone book to generate a clientele. In 1990, she and partner David Nanarello, 38, went full time with the business, which has since grown by graceful leaps and bounds.

In addition to a variety of arts-related lessons, STEPS provides field trips, open houses, performances and a birthday party service, as well as a boutique where children can buy dance gear. Ulmer, who believes children are hungry for the lessons and discipline she provides, says children encourage their parents to take them to lessons: "I have [some students] who would be here seven days a week if they could."

Contact Sources

Baby Proof It!, (612) 339-2229

Sue Beaumont, 3205 Ditmars Ln., Loomis, CA 95650, (916) 660-0857

Mark Bohland,

Cookie's 24 Hour Child Care and Learning Center, (717) 367-8600

Doulas of North America,

IDEA, (800) 999-IDEA,

International Association for Child Safety, 144 N. Beverwick Rd., Lake Hiawatha, NJ 07034, (888) 677-1ACS

KangaKab, 4001-F Greentree Executive Campus, Marlton, NJ 08053, (609) 424-5437

The Magic Makers, 564 Melrose Ave., San Francisco, CA 94127,

MommyFit, (714) 962-8459,

National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, P.O. Box 80707, St. Clair, MI 48080, http://www.naorg rts.

Professional Photographers of America, (800) 786-6277,

STEPS, (203) 324-5669,

Tender Care,

The Well-Dressed Baby, (408) 261-3511,

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