Never-Ending Stories

Here's the tale of one entrepreneur who refused to close the book on her favorite out-of-print classics.
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5 min read

This story appears in the February 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

What: Publisher of out-of-print for children and young adults
Who: Madelene Towne of Green Mansion Press
When: Started in June 2001

As the mother of three children, Madelene Towne wanted her kids to read the same books she had enjoyed as a child. But after shopping around unsuccessfully, she realized that most of her favorite titles were out of print. Rather than giving up, this former trust and estates lawyer decided to bring them back to life with her own book business.

Towne started out by researching the availability and copyright status of her favorite books, then she purchased and acquired the rights to those that were available. She then hired a printer, artists and designers to give the old books an updated look.

After joining The Small Press Center, a New York City organization that assists small presses, Towne, now 47, happened to sit in on a seminar where a Barnes & Noble buyer was discussing selling books. When the two met, the buyer asked Towne to submit her titles and find a distributor, because they wouldn't be able to deal with her directly. Towne secured a distributor-and Barnes & Noble placed its first order.

In fall 2002, the self-financed entrepreneur released her first five titles, including The World of Henry Orient by Nora Johnson, The Joyous Season by Patrick Dennis and The Wonderful Winter</.I> by Marchette Chute. The books are also available on and at independent bookstores, and 15 more titles are in the works.

Says Towne, whose business posted quarterly sales of $30,000, "For me, it's more than just a business. It's really a mission to get these books out there, [to] have them read again."

Paper Chase

What: A site that screens for plagiarism
Who: John M. Barrie of, a division of iParadigms LLC
Where: Oakland, California
When: Started in June 1998

When he worked as a teaching assistant at the University of California, Berkeley, John M. Barrie, 35, saw firsthand the problem academic dishonesty posed to educational institutions. So after he graduated in 1998, he and a group of eight friends launched a Web site designed to help teachers catch dishonest students. Today, four of Barrie's co-founders remain in the business--Christian Storm, 31; Emmanuel Briand, 33; Melissa Lipscomb, 31; and Todd Huddleston, 34.

Called, the system scans high school and college students' work for plagiarism. Students submit a digital version of their term papers online, and screens the papers against three databases. The business got off to a good start, thanks to $2 million in start-up capital raised from family and friends.

Today, the antiplagiarism system has been adopted by the University of California system, every university in the United Kingdom, Cornell, Duke, Rutgers, and thousands of high schools worldwide. Sales for 2003 are expected to exceed $5 million.

Shaping Up

What: An alternative to overcrowded gyms
Who: Robert B. Shapiro of BodyScapes Inc.
Where: Newton, Massachusetts
When: Started in April 1997

During his tenure as a health-club manager, Robert Shapiro made three observations: Some clients found it intimidating to use the equipment for the first time, many had to wait to use the exercise equipment during peak usage hours, and there was high demand for personal training.

After he was laid off from the club, Shapiro wrote a business plan, sought out a $70,000 loan from the SBA and opened a different type of club. "We have five or six people an hour working out at one time," explains Shapiro, 34, who intially relied on word-of-mouth and grassroots marketing. Shapiro sets his business apart by not offering gym memberships; instead, clients can buy six, 12 or 22 sessions at a time, a feature that Shapiro credits for his club's 90 percent retention rate.

BodyScapes offers the latest in workout equipment, an intimate setting and workouts by appointment only. (Clients are met by trainers who take them through their individualized workouts.) Clients range in age and fitness levels, including many who are undergoing physical rehabilitation, and 65 percent are women.

Plus, the clubs are staffed by top-notch professionals: "We have athletic trainers, physical therapists and exercise physiologists," says Shapiro. "We have the best of the exercise sciences."

With 2002 sales of $1.3 million, BodyScapes has three locations in Massachusetts, chosen for their proximity to affluent areas--after all, it takes a high-income demographic to afford the $60-plus fee per session.

On a shoestring

What: Advertising/public relations firm
Who: John Galbraith of Twin Partners Inc.
Where: Rochester, New York
When: Started in 1996
Start-up cost: $50

It was the birth of his twins that sparked John Galbraith's desire to start an advertising and PR firm. When the babies were born premature, Galbraith realized that no challenge could match that harrowing experience. He left his job as a senior account executive at an ad agency and filed a dba for Twin Partners Inc.

Bartering with an ad agency landed him in a warehouse where he worked rent-free for two months. When he moved down the hall to a one-room office for $200 a month, his office was robbed the second day. "All I had was a computer and a phone, and they stole both," recalls Galbraith, 36. He used technology and the best equipment to keep overhead down. For instance, he put commercials online for clients to view in real time rather than shipping them out. Though he was saving, Galbraith still dressed professionally, believing people want to work with those who look successful.

The business brought in $150,000 in sales the first year, and last year, Twin Partners shifted its focus to PR, increasing gross sales to $2.5 million for 2003. With buyout offers from two major agencies last year, it appears Galbraith was right about breeding success.

-April Y. Pennington

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