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Frozen Assets

These chilly towels prove their worth in the battle against the heat.
Magazine Contributor
5 min read

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

What: A manufacturer of ice-cold towels
Who: Mike Fanning and Bill Sammon of Hima Ice Towel Corp.
Where: Westlake, Ohio
When: April 2002

There's nothing like a hot product--or, in this case, a cold product with hot sales. Just ask Mike Fanning and Bill Sammon, founders of the Hima Ice Towel Corp., which sells prepackaged cotton towels soaked with refreshing mixtures of essential plant oils that promote evaporation and cooling. Sammon got the idea after a trip to Asia, where he noticed mothers wiping down their babies with towels dipped in isopropyl alcohol to cool them off. With the help of another partner, Koy Thummaskra, Fanning and Sammon developed their own version of the towels, which come in different sizes and colors. Says Sammon, "It gives your average person an affordable luxury in hot climates."

Fanning and Sammon, both 37, marketed the towels, which need to be frozen for 12 hours prior to use, to amusement parks and sporting events. The towels sell from $1.29 to $4 each, depending on the venue. The pair also markets to corporate clients. Now that 2003 sales are expected to hit $3.5 million to $5 million, it's clear these entrepreneurs have cornered the market on cold relief.

Ready to Wear

What: A clothing storage service
Who: Kim Akhtar of Garde Robe
Where: New York City
When: Started in 2001

Kim Akhtar was a typical new yorker with a typical problem--too little closet space for all her clothing. "I've lived in New York for 20 years," she says. "You're always complaining about space." She knew her predicament was not unique--plenty of professionals and fashionistas have more designer clothes than closet space. Tired of the massive effort it took each year to switch her closet from spring to winter and store her off-season clothes with the local dry cleaner, Akhtar wanted a readily accessible place where she could store her things and keep them in good condition.

Out of that desire, Garde Robe was born. Akhtar, 38, invested nearly $200,000 of her own money into the idea, rented a Tribeca loft and began to market her clothing storage service. For $225 per month, Garde Robe will photograph, catalog and store clothing and accessories for clients ranging from professionals and socialites to celebrities. A few clients even live outside New York but require storage in New York City for business trips. Akhtar modeled her service after that of a concierge--available 24/7, clothes are delivered to a client's home or hotel room in Manhattan in 90 minutes or less.

In addition to clothing storage, Akhtar provides each of her 35 clients with a leather-bound catalog of his or her wardrobe as well as a secure online clothing portfolio. Akhtar completes the service with wardrobe and image consulting as well as seamstress and repair services. "We don't like to market it as a luxury," says Akhtar, whose sales are currently in the six figures. "For New Yorkers, it's a practical service. We're offering them extra space in their own homes."

Check It Out

What: Advertisements on the back of paychecks and direct-deposit slips
Who: Dana Bromberg and Andy Robinson of ChekAds
Where: Columbus, Ohio
When: Started in 2001

Payday is a happy day. That's partly what inspired Dana Bromberg, 31, and Andy Robinson, 32, to start ChekAds, a firm that sells advertising placed on the backs of payroll check stubs.

Bromberg, who has a background in theater advertising, had always wanted to find new ways to get ads in front of consumers. The partners' initial idea was to place ads on the backs of personal checks--until they realized that bill-paying was often a negative experience. Receiving a paycheck, on the other hand, was a positive one. "I thought 'Why don't we place advertising on the backs of paychecks?'" recalls Bromberg, whose company received nearly $100,000 in venture capital funding. "There's regularity in it, it's a qualified audience, and receiving a paycheck has a good association."

Today, Bromberg and Robinson have agreements with check-printing companies and payroll businesses. With advertisers such as Jiffy Lube, Papa John's Pizza and Wendy's--as well as a few deals in the works--ChekAds projects sales to be well into the seven figures for 2003.

On a shoestring

What: Virtual PR firm
Who: Laura Love of GroundFloor Media Inc.
Where: Boulder, Colorado
When: Started in 2001
How much: $3,910

As the former director of marketing for a failed high-tech start-up, Laura Love couldn't stand the idea of returning to the corporate agency world. So she took her severance pay and decided to start a PR firm. "There were three things I wanted to do," says Love. "Keep it small, keep it virtual and only hire senior-level people who could do their work without a lot of micromanagement."

A refurbished computer, a phone, a fax machine, DSL and a Web site helped Love, 32, get underway in the basement of her house. She hired an accountant, and a lawyer friend helped with legal matters. When a Denver Post reporter friend interviewed her for a story on laid-off workers-turned-entrepreneurs, Love mentioned the fact she hadn't hired anyone yet. "The next day, [the reporter] called to tell me she had 20 resumes in her inbox for me," Love recalls.

Love's first-year sales were $110,000; she projects sales of $700,000 for 2003. Despite some success, she still operates on a budget, which benefits Love's clients. "I'm cognizant of costs," she says. "They [aren't] paying for the fancy office. When we give invoices, we detail what we're doing." Her clients obviously appreciate what they're paying for--and not paying for.

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