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Kinder Cash

How to make big profits catering to the little ones

This story appears in the April 1996 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine.

All kidding aside, the numbers look great for children's business owners: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, American births have averaged about four million each year since the beginning of the 1990s, and American Demographics estimates the number will continue at this rate through the rest of the decade.

Because the children's business market is a uniquely regenerative one-as kids grow up, younger children take their places-new opportunities within the children's business industry are constantly springing up. This month, we've profiled five unique and thriving business that profitably cater to the development, security and creativity of children.

Children's Furniture

For some, business inspiration dawns after years of research. For others, it grows out of necessity. For Laura Mann, it came in the form of a giraffe.

"When my husband, Christian, and I were visiting his parents, we noticed a small giraffe chair he played with as a child," recalls Mann. "I'll never forget the look on his face when he saw the chair again, and I thought to myself, 'what a great gift idea for someone having a baby.'"

It was with this inspiration that Mann, now 26, started Wood Design, her homebased children's furniture business, in Pasadena, California. She presented her first chair as a baby shower gift in 1991, and by the end of the party, half-a-dozen interested guests asked for Mann's name and phone number. Within two weeks, she received her first four orders.

From there, it was a classic case of word-of-mouth advertising. Happy mothers, doting grandmothers and impressed shower-goers spread the word on Mann's behalf, raving about the young woman who made beautiful chairs for children. Now, her product line has grown to include children's toy chests, high chairs and bureaus. One client even hired her to customize an entire nursery, including a canvas mural to match the personalized furniture.

Mann estimates that the chairs, depending on the level of detail requested, take between four to six hours to complete. She purchases the furniture from an unfinished wood store, then sands, paints, personalizes and lacquers the pieces, selling them to customers for $150 plus shipping charges. At one point, Mann completed up to six chairs a week, but now that she and Christian are expecting their first child, she's slowed down production to prepare her own nest.

"I don't want the quality of my work to suffer because I'm overwhelmed with orders," admits Mann, who'd like her business to remain a one-person operation. But if you have a talent for creating children's furniture and the means to produce on a larger scale (space, materials, assistants, etc.), you can present samples of your work at children's boutiques, craft shows and swap meets. Mann, who also works part-time at a floral design shop, showcases some of her chairs in the store's children's section.

Most craft supply stores sell materials at affordable prices, so your greatest investment will likely be your time, patience and creativity. Personalizing your work is another way to appeal to children's gift purchasers; an item with a new baby' name is always a sweet treat for new parents.

"People love heirlooms. I get inspired thinking of the children looking at the furniture for the first time, having it with them throughout their childhood and then passing it down from one generation to the next," explains Mann. "I try to make each piece different, so they're all special and unique."

Reader Reference Source:

Juvenile Merchandising, a monthly children's merchandising magazine, provides further information about marketing children's products. Annual subscription/$25, single issue/$4. To order, write 2125 Center Ave., #305, Fort Lee, NJ 07024, or call (201) 592-7007. Entrepreneur Magazine Group publishes Business Start-Up Guide #1304: Crafts Business. To order, see page 93, or call (800) 421-2300.

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