Smart Ideas 07/04
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What's Up, Doc?
Manufacturer of personalized doctors' scrubs for children
Who: Jacquelyn Aven of MiniScrubs Inc.
Where: Naperville, Illinois
When: Started in 2002
Seeing a sick child on TV inspired Jacquelyn Aven to start her business. The little one, who'd spent a lot of time in the hospital, had on child-size scrubs. According to Aven, 38, the medical uniform seemed to make the child feel better, like he was a part of the team.
Aven knew countless kids-both in the hospital and out-would love to wear doctors' scrubs of their very own in the same material and colors worn by real doctors. A mom herself, Aven was expecting her second child while starting up this part-time venture. However, she soon discovered that it would be no simple task to find a manufacturer willing to make the child- and infant-size scrubs with a high-quality material.
"I thought this was going to be the easiest thing," Aven recalls. "It's a great idea, and there are already adult scrubs on the market." Learning by trial and error, Aven found a manufacturer who could make the scrubs to the specifications she needed-big enough to fit over a child's head, with extra room in the diaper area. They're also available with personalized embroidery to help little Molly feel like the future Dr. Molly Smith.
Aven started selling wholesale to hospital gift shops and got a good response; but her best outlet has been her Web site (www.miniscrubs.com), where she can get feedback directly from customers. "You can tell their excitement," says Aven. From moms who got the scrubs as baby shower gifts to children battling illnesses, Aven hears how her creation has brightened people's lives.
Aven, who donated some of the profits from her sales of about 500 scrubs last year to organizations including the American Cancer Society and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, now plans to target doctors and dentists who want to outfit their children like mom and dad-and even has an eye on the veterinary market as well. Sounds like MiniScrubs is in very good health.
Ready for Takeoff
portable DVD-player rental service for airline passengers
Who: Barney Freedman, Michael Freedman and Dave Kight of InMotion Pictures
Where: Jacksonville, Florida
When: Started in 1998
Michael Freedman spent much of his time in airports and airplanes in the late '90s, observing how bored people were in transit. Sure, there was in-flight entertainment-but it certainly didn't interest everyone on board. It would be better, he thought, if passengers could choose their own movies and watch them on their own timetables.
At the time, DVD technology was still competing with the DivX format for consumer loyalty, but the trio of entrepreneurs put their money behind the DVD concept and designed their rental service offering. There are a few different rental options: Customers can rent the unit with a hit DVD movie for the duration of the flight and then turn it in to a drop-off box at the destination airport. They can also keep the unit for the entire trip and return it after the flight home. Or they can take a prepaid mailing envelope and mail the unit back from their destination.
The hard part was getting airport execs to warm to the concept. Freedman and his partners pitched all the airports they could and finally got Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Portland International Airport to allow them to build storefronts in their concourses in 1999. Though Michael, 34, and partners Barney Freedman, 29, and Dave Kight, 38, lacked experience in the airport and film worlds, Kight had a retail background, which was helpful.
The business grew rapidly during the first two years, though the events of 9/11 slowed business dramatically. The company still hasn't returned to its pre-9/11 rate of expansion, but its revenue growth is holding steady. Michael notes that today's long security lines and even longer airport waits have made the InMotion product more useful than ever: People are actually watching movies at the gates well before takeoff. With 25 locations in 21 airports nationwide and sales well into the eight figures, these entrepreneurs are in for a very long ride.
All Dolled Up
manufacturer of authentic Russian nesting dolls with the likenesses
of sports and entertainment figures, as well as traditional Russian
Who: Alexander Krilov and Julia Butler of Newcrafters Nesting Dolls Co.
Where: Encino, California
When: Started in 2000
Alexander Krilov was a medical doctor by trade, but when he emigrated from Ukraine 15 years ago, his thoughts turned to entrepreneurship. After running a variety of businesses, ranging from athletic shoes to international distribution for online florists, Krilov landed on the idea for sports-themed Russian nesting dolls while working as a business manager for Los Angeles Lakers star Stanislav "Slava" Medvedenko.
Krilov, 40, and his wife, Julia Butler, 45, noticed sports fans would buy anything featuring their favorite player's likeness, so the pair decided to create a traditional-looking Russian nesting doll with the modern twist of a superstar's face. Obtaining licenses from the NBA took perseverance, but in the end, Krilov and Butler were able to make dolls with the renderings of Kobe Bryant, Rick Fox and Shaquille O'Neal.
Manufacturing the dolls in high-quality plastic with almost portrait-quality artwork, Krilov and Butler have since secured licenses from the NHL and Major League Baseball, in addition to Elvis Presley and I Love Lucy properties. With these unique collectible alternatives to bobblehead dolls now being sold nationwide in arena stores, specialty stores and online, sales should hit $1 million in 2004.
On a Shoestring
company that prints advertising on parking-garage tickets and other
types of tickets in the transportation industry
Who: Christopher Gilliam of AdverTickets
When: Started in 1998
How much: $5,000
With an eye for untapped marketing vehicles, Christopher Gilliam saw prime advertising space on the empty backs of parking-garage and valet tickets. People had to take the tickets, he reasoned, and keep them in their cars or hold onto them for the valet. Gilliam, 41, worked for an advertising com-pany at the time and pitched the idea as an addition to the company's offerings. When the agency didn't want to take the chance, Gilliam decided to make a go of it on his own.
With a little less than $5,000 to start, he hit the ground running. He trekked to local parking garages and advertisers to gauge their interest in the concept. The interest was there, but learning the ins and outs of printing was a challenge for Gilliam, as was finding a printer he could trust. In fact, a mishap with a substandard printer cost him a substantial portion of his startup cash.
Despite his loss, Gilliam, a marketer at heart, spoke to anyone and everyone about his business. With luck on his side, he eventually met a property owner in Dallas who leased him an office for a very low rate-with no big deposit upfront. Located over a restaurant, the place had interesting (read: funky) food smells wafting in at 11 a.m. each day, but the space helped Gilliam grow the business fast and rebound from the printer glitch.
To further spread the word, Gilliam crashed the National Parking Association's Parking, Transportation and Services Convention & Exposition trade show-"I didn't have money to get a guest pass; [I was] sneaking around the monitors"-and started meeting people and showing them the product. His stealthy maneuver worked. Today, AdverTickets has clients like Delta Air Lines, DreamWorks, Jiffy Lube, Lexus and Sony, and can be found in parking garages all over North America and in Mexico and Puerto Rico. Sales are expected to exceed $10 million in 2004.