Smart Ideas 10/05

Healthy treats for your pet, smoke detectors that talk and more
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

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

What: Made-to-order office parties
Who: Leanne Mumm Pardo and Christopher Hughes of Day Perks
Where: Seattle
When: Started in 2001

When Christopher Hughes heard his clients singing "La Bamba" in anticipation of their Cinco de Mayo party, he knew he was onto something. Hughes, 34, had recently co-founded Day Perks with business partner and friend Leanne Mumm Pardo, 40.

As co-workers at a branding and design firm, Hughes and Mumm Pardo saw a need for a service to take care of office events and parties. Armed with just $500 and plenty of corporate contacts from past jobs, the two left the firm, incorporated the company and set about creating a pilot program to test the party-planning waters. They lined up five clients, including Alaska Airlines, CoinStar and Washington Mutual, and for about six months worked with client feedback, incorporating reviews and suggestions into their business plan. "We kept hearing, 'We want it to be quick, we want it to be really creative, and we want it to be affordable,'" says Hughes.

Today, Day Perks offers one-hour parties (think parties-in-a-box that include snacks, beverages, plates, napkins and so on) and basic food services (taco bars, pizza, breakfasts and desserts) for everything from simple socials to office holiday parties. Clients can mix and match as they see fit, or they can consult with Hughes and Mumm Pardo to create their own theme parties. Prices range from $2.95 to $3.95 per person.

"The things we're good at are listening and branding. We completely rely on our customers to guide us and, to this point, have relied on them to guide the business's direction," Mumm Pardo says.

Now with more than 100 corporate customers in the local Seattle market, Day Perks expects $250,000 in 2005 sales. Their success has prompted Hughes and Mumm Pardo to take a serious look at franchising the business.

--James Park

Bred in the Bone
What: Healthy treats for cats and dogs
Who: Patrick Meiering of Zuke's
Where: Durango, Colorado
When: Started in 1996

The saying goes, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. In Patrick Meiering's case, what's good for the owner is good for the pet. In 1995, Meiering was out on a four-hour hike with his chocolate lab, Zuke, when he noticed his canine companion was looking a bit worn out. He shared some of his Clif Bar with Zuke and, after seeing Zuke's positive reaction, decided to create an energy bar just for dogs. "That was really the 'aha, whoa, cool' idea," says Meiering, 38.

When Meiering returned to his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a few days later, he quit his job at a consulting firm and spent $15,000 of his own and money borrowed from friends and family to create the first batch of Power Bones energy/endurance supplements in his garage.

Meiering perfected Power Bones by testing them on Zuke. When he was satisfied with the results, he began selling his product to local pet and natural-food stores. Zuke further inspired his owner when Meiering noticed his pet wasn't as mobile as before. In 2000, Meiering came up with Hip Action, nutritious treats loaded with glucosamine and chondroitin to help dogs and cats with joint pain. In 2001, he moved the business to Durango.

Today, Zuke's, named after Meiering's beloved inspiration, has eight employees and seven product lines, the newest of which is Z Ridge, an edible dental chew bone for dogs. Meiering projects 2005 sales to exceed $2 million.

--James Park

Trial by Fire
What: Consumer products company that develops home-safety devices, such as the Vocal Smoke Detector
Who: Bruce Black and Matt Ferris of KidSmart Corp.
Where: Roswell, Georgia
When: Started in 2003

When Bruce Black, 30, and Matt Ferris, 28, registered for the business plan competition course that was part of their MBA program at the University of Georgia in Athens, they had no idea it would result in real-life profits. Presented with the challenge of creating a business plan for a new product, they researched ideas to pursue and came across a brilliantly simple one: a smoke detector that plays a personally recorded voice message in an emergency. The idea had been patented by Brent Routman, a former administrator at the University of Georgia's law school and a current shareholder in the business.

With Routman's approval, Black and Ferris ran with the idea. And when new research revealed that children repeatedly sleep through traditional smoke alarms, it only added fuel to their fire. However, it wasn't until May 2003, when they won the University of Texas at Austin's prestigious Moot Corp. business plan competition, along with a $100,000 convertible loan, that the business really got underway. After six months of intense work, the pair made contact with a manufacturer in China and a designer. Says Black, "To actually take something from someone's mind and make it come off a manufacturing line half a world away is probably one of the hardest things anyone could ever try to do."

Today, the KidSmart Vocal Smoke Detector is available in Radio Shack stores nationwide, as well as in catalogs and specialty children's stores. Meanwhile, with 2005 sales projected to exceed $10 million and 10 more fire-safety products and extensions in the works, it seems Black and Ferris' class project has become a project for life.

--Sara Wilson

Finish Line
What: Decorative-finish and design studio/teaching facility
Who: Trudi McCullough of Wall Mysteries Inc.
Where: Walnut Grove, California
When: Started in 2003
How much: $2,000

Trudi McCullough happened to learn about decorative painting and wall finishes while searching the net for fun activities for her children. Inspired, McCullough--once an major and a former art gallery owner--did more research, took an art class at a local college and began to practice painting and finishing around her own home. "Our house transformed a lot," laughs McCullough, 40.

Before long, McCullough was starting to do work for friends. As requests grew, she used the money she made to buy supplies and take more classes. Her hobby turned into a business when she began to set up booths at local trade shows, but it wasn't until she started giving demonstrations at the biannual California State Home and Garden show in Sacramento that business really took off. After cutting a deal with the show owners--she agreed to give free demonstrations in exchange for a mention in their TV ads--McCullough was able to market her business for next to nothing. She also saved money by using professional contacts from class to score deals on liability insurance and website design.

To complement her studio and teaching center in Walnut Grove, McCullough opened another location in Temecula, California, this past February and projects 2005 sales to reach $500,000.

--James Park


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