Startups Roundup 09/08

From massage franchises to websites for the visually impaired, these are the ideas that are making waves in the sea of opportunities.
5 min read

This story appears in the September 2008 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

By Nichole L. Torres

Making a few small changes to your company's website can help disabled users in a big way.

If you build a brick-and-mortar storefront, you must make everything accessible to the disabled. If you're building your business's website, you should do the same--especially for the visually impaired. "We want the internet to be accessible for everyone," says Garry Grant, president and CEO of SEO Inc., a professional search engine marketing firm.

Grant enlisted the help of his daughter Amber, who has been blind since birth, to check the user-friendliness of various corporate websites. Using screen-reading software vital to a visually impaired consumer, Grant has come up with three critical elements for businesses to consider.

  1. Don't have your linking architecture in Flash or JavaScript. "Search engines don't read it, and screen-reading software can't," says Grant. Opt for cascading style sheets.
  2. Offer an alternate authenticator. You know those boxes with the crazy letters or numbers you must type in to stop spammers? "How does a blind person see that image?" says Grant. Look into offering an audio version as well; they are available.
  3. Clearly mark images with descriptions. "It's called an alt attribute," says Grant. The screen-reading software will pick up the text describing the content of the image--from the printer model number pictured to the VeriSign security logo on the checkout page.

Making those small changes will not only make your website accessible to the visually impaired, but it will also improve search engine rankings. Says Grant, "That's basic stuff [businesses] can do right away." Go to for more information.

Knot Kneaded
By Emily Weisburg

How one stressed-out couple loosened up with a massage franchise.

Rick and Anna Davis were tired of their careers in technology and marketing, respectively, so they decided to start a business in an industry with proven demand. "We wanted a business where 100 percent of the people who walked out of our store felt better than when they walked in," says Rick, 52. They knew that the massage and wellness industry was growing fast, and they liked that Massage Envy was a professional massage clinic concept designed to fit into a shopping center. Another plus was Massage Envy's membership business model: Members pay a monthly fee that includes one massage and then pay for additional massages at a discounted rate.

Rick and Anna, 48, signed a deal for three units in 2004 and later bought two more locations. To date, their five locations through-out Washington have provided more than 100,000 massages. The Davises built their large client base through walk-ins as well as word-of-mouth generated by satisfied patrons. Their massage technicians are happy, too: They choose how many hours they work and receive medical benefits, but they don't have to handle marketing and scheduling--all advantages for licensed massage therapists who've tried setting up their own practices or are just starting out in the industry.
The Davises find plenty of support from the franchisor, which emphasizes massage customization and customer service and offers monthly training and annual conferences. With their locations projected to bring in combined revenue of more than $5 million this year, the Davises are considering opening even more units in the future.

What Are Friends For?
By Tracy Stapp

A cancer survivor finds support from her franchisor and her customers.

When Judy Johnston started her Snap-on Tools franchise in 1998, it was because she thought it would allow her to own a business, but not be in business on her own. Little did she know how true that would turn out to be.

Mobile tool distribution may seem like an unusual choice for a woman, but Johnston, a self-proclaimed tomboy, feels perfectly at home running her business. However, her mechanic customers did take a bit of convincing. "A lot of the guys were a little shocked," she says. But it didn't take long for them to warm up to her. Now, says Johnston, "I consider most of them my friends."

And they showed that the feeling is mutual when Johnston was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Many sent cards, and when her treatments kept her from her weekly appointments, they would double their payments the next week. Some even offered to help her with her business by loading and unloading tools. "My customers were very good to me," says Johnston, 49.

She also had the support of her children, whom she had put through college loan-free with the money earned from her Snap-on franchise. Her son, Cameron, drove her truck when she couldn't, while her daughter, Elaine, helped at home. When Cameron wasn't available, someone from Snap-on corporate helped cover her route.

Johnston earns sales of about $9,000 per week in her territory north of Pittsburgh. But just as valuable are the relationships she's formed and fostered because of her business. In her time of need, she's found that she is most definitely not on her own.

What's New
By Emily Weisburg

Snack attacks bite, but you can help those with a hankering.

Midnight snackers and starving students alike are turning to Insomnia Cookies to satisfy their late-night need to nosh. The combination retail location and delivery service franchise offers fresh-from-the-oven brownies and cookies and, of course, milk to wash it all down. Started at the University of Pennsylvania in 2003, Insomnia Cookies currently operates 14 company-owned units near college campuses, with some locations open until 3 a.m. The company plans to keep expanding to campuses nationwide.

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