What: Custom sports jerseys that combine two different teams or home/away uniforms
Who: Craig and Matt Steichen of Torn Apparel Inc.
Where: Carol Stream, Illinois
When: Started in 2000
Matt Steichen didn't have a favorite team in the 2000 Super Bowl between the Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis Rams. So when his dad, Craig, took him to Atlanta for a fun Super Bowl weekend, Matt made a jersey to wear that supported both teams. He cut the official jerseys in half and sewed the opposing pieces together, creating an all-new, one-for-all jersey. Matt, now 20, says the shirt attracted immediate attention as soon as he got off the plane in Atlanta. People from all over the world were interested in his creation.
When they got home, the father-and-son team started developing a plan to manufacture and sell the two-tone jerseys to other sports fans. A year later, with jerseys in hand, they went to Tampa, Florida, for Super Bowl XXXV, the Baltimore Ravens vs. the New York Giants. Walking around a mall in the days before the big game, Matt, wearing his Baltimore/New York jersey, caught the eye of rap star Nelly filming an episode of MTV's Diary. Nelly was scheduled to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show, and he liked the look of Matt's combination jersey. The next thing they knew, Matt and Craig, 46, were watching Nelly perform live at halftime wearing their Torn Apparel jersey.
Fast forward to 2004: Torn Apparel now creates jerseys for professional baseball, football and hockey teams-even local high school and college teams. The most popular combinations are a team's home/away jerseys. While their products are sold online at www.tornaprl.com and in some local retail stores, the Steichens are still trying to secure licenses from the professional leagues and hope to have their products in stadium and arena souvenir stores in the future. With 2004 sales set to hit as much as $2.5 million, they're well on their way to making it in the big leagues.
Driven to Succeed
What: An all-female valet service that dresses according to a party's theme
Who: Gillian Harris of Valet of the Dolls Inc.
Where: Malibu, California
When: Started in 2003
For clients of Gillian Harris' valet company, the party starts as soon as they pull into the driveway. Guests are greeted by lovely women dressed to match the party's theme-whether it's the Roaring '20s or a Moroccan fantasy. For Harris and her staff, it's about providing a service and having a lot of fun doing it.
With a background in the radio industry, Harris had to look for a different type of gig when her radio station turned to Spanish programming-so she started working for a valet company. Harris, now in her 40s, says about the job: "What it showed me [was that] I did have a knack for this particular kind of business."
She brainstormed with a friend to come up with her unique company name. And because she had already learned about permits, regu-lations and such from her previous valet gig, she was prepared to launch a business of her own. Harris e-mailed all the contacts in her address book-party planners and caterers in and around the Los Angeles area-to spread the word about her new, fun take on valet service. As a result of her marketing efforts, Harris immediately booked half a dozen parties.
Her company's popularity grew with the help of some Los Angeles-area media coverage, and today, Harris maintains a staff of 120 well-trained valets. Though she's rarely had to actively recruit, her employees often refer friends and acquaint-ances to her.
It is Harris' commitment to a high level of training and customer service that she hopes will push her company's sales to about half a million dollars in 2004. With an eye on franchising as a possible growth strategy, Harris wants to get other people zooming down the specialty valet highway, too.
What: Manufacturer of erasers for the tops of dry-erase pens
Who: Julia M. Rhodes of KleenSlate Concepts LLC
Where: Sonora, California
When: Started in 2001
As a teacher, Julia M. Rhodes was used to the constant presence of white dry-erase boards. She also noticed how often people would write on them and hurriedly rub out mistakes with their bare hands or shirt sleeves. She thought about how much easier it would be if dry-erase pens had eraser tops-like pencils-and went looking for something like it on the market. Finding nothing, she set about manufacturing her own.
Rhodes, 47, then started networking with women's business groups and the Service Corps of Retired Executives. Through these groups, she landed a meeting with one of the vice presidents of PepsiCo. and asked for advice on how to get her products into large office- and school-supply retailers. He suggested she pitch to big corporations and tell them to ask their office suppliers for the dry-erase tops.
The wraparound strategy worked: Her product is now available in big retailers like Office Depot and Staples, and yearly sales are projected to hit half a million dollars this year. Now that's a mark no one would want to erase.
On a Shoestring
What: Card-stunt producer for large sporting and entertainment events
Who: Joe Kivett of CardStunts.com
Where: Orlando, Florida
When: Started in 1991
How much: Less than $1,000
Have you ever wondered who's the brains behind those nifty card stunts at big stadiums-where each member of the audience holds up a card to create massive pictures and messages for the world to see? Joe Kivett, 40, organizes these fan-friendly events with his company, CardStunts.com. Kivett learned the card-stunt business as an employee of another company and branched out on his own in 1991 when word about his successful Super Bowl card stunts started to spread.
Armed with less than $1,000 in startup cash, he landed his first client by virtue of his reputation. Kivett says most of his startup money was for travel expenses to examine the site in Minneapolis where he was doing the card stunt.
His serious startup-cash coup was drafting an agreement with the organizers of Super Bowl XXVI to pay him half his fee upfront and half on the day of the event-this way, he was able to organize the event with no out-of-pocket costs. "I paid all my bills añnd had my little profit left over," he says. "I took that profit and used it to market my company."
Word-of-mouth is still a key element of his marketing efforts, and the years have seen him grow CardStunts.com from planning one to two big card stunts per year to about 10 yearly today. In addition to doing card stunts for two Super Bowl half-time shows, he's coordinated events for the World Series and the Daytona 500. With about $350,000 in projected 2004 sales, Kivett is definitely playing his cards right.