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Starting a Business

Inside Job

Turn a little style into a lot of profit by trying your hand at dorm room design.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the March 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Dorm life--it's filled with cramped spaces, weird roommates and funky smells. And if you're like college students all over the country, your room is also filled with the hottest décor. If you have an eye for design and a knack for creating greatness out of small spaces, a business capitalizing on dorm design could be for you. From selling groovy beanbag chairs to multifunctional shelves, businesses are clamoring for a share of the $2.6 billion that students and parents spent on dorm and apartment furnishings last year, according to a survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation.

Dorm design is hot. "Students know what they want, and they're savvy consumers," says Gina LaGuardia, editor in chief of The CollegeBound Network, a New York City magazine publisher that targets the pre-college market. "They don't just want an end table--they want [one] that has neon lighting in it that serves as a lamp and an end table," LaGuardia adds.

Because college students don't have a ton of disposable income, they have an eye for value. The founders of AllDorm Inc., a college furnishings retailer in Santa Clara, California, know this well--they were college students themselves when they started their business in 2000. Ryan Garman, 24; Ivan Dwyer, 25; Kevon Saber, 25; and Chad Arimura, 25; saw that students needed futons, tables, accessories and other items specifically designed for small spaces--combined with a service that would deliver the products when school started in the fall, even if they were purchased in May.

Keen knowledge of the market is paramount--even now, the AllDorm team hires college interns to keep up with the latest trends. Catalog and online sales pushed revenues past the seven-figure mark in 2004 and that number is expected to grow.

Matt Jung and Chip George, 30-year-old founders of Comfort Research LLC, a manufacturer of promotional furniture, pillows and beanbags in Grand Rapids, Michigan, found success with Foof Chairs. Their cushy, beanbag-inspired seats, which they created during their junior year, were a hit among their peers. "We'd set up in front of student unions and student fairs and sell as much as we could," recalls George.

The 1998 startup now distributes through independent furniture and accessories stores, as well as department stores. They've since built a line of colorful Foof Chairs for everyone from college students to children, pushing annual sales into the eight figures.

So look around your cramped quarters for inspiration on what sort of dorm design business you can start. Keep in mind that you'll have to be creative enough to conform to university regulations. Many dorms have restrictions on electric or lighting fixtures, and even nail holes for pictures are sometimes forbidden.

You could also focus on a product or service to make dorm life easier and more fun. LaGuardia sees students buying everything from retro posters and décor to items that remind them of home. "Practical items that have that funky element to them will really sell," she says. Now, go forth and decorate those hallowed walls.

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