8 Perpetually Hot Businesses
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Eight of our businesses from 2005's Hot List--pet products and services, and medi-spas, to name a few--are still seeing record growth. One year later, here's another look at these continually hot businesses. We've got updated stats and the latest trends to help you decide if these are the industries for you.
Technology Security Consulting
Raise your hand if you have security concerns when it comes to your hardware, software and network. With spam, spyware, security breaches, software patches, viruses, worms and hackers to worry about, many businesses are turning to technology security consultants for help. While some will use their regular IT vendors, there's an increasing demand for specialized consultants who are up-to-date and knowledgeable about all aspects of technology security.
"During the next five years, the share of services spending by small and midsize companies will grow from 22 percent to 28 percent of the market in the U.S.," says Rebecca Segal, vice president of Worldwide Services at IDC, an IT and telecom research firm based in Framingham, Massachusetts. Compounding the problem of malicious code is the fact that many business systems still run on old computer languages, such as COBOL. Many businesses figure if the system still runs, why replace it? This has created a demand for consultants with fluency in 20-plus-year-old computer languages--very C-3PO.
Another trend in consulting is on-call computer services such as the Geek Squad, operating out of Best Buy electronic stores or Overland Park, Kansas-based Tech Guys. Services like these offer pizza-delivery convenience for both residents and businesses in need of expert advice and service. Some of these on-call repair services also offer drop-off and pick-up options. The opportunity to replace the takeout delivery sign on your car, dump your French and Spanish class and enroll in FORTRAN is clearly now.--Amanda C. Kooser (updated by Steve Cooper)
Home Automation (Digital Home Consultant)
The mythic Jetsons-style home with its automatic lighting and easy room-to-room communication is no longer a figment of the imagination. The demand for home networking is growing, with nearly 86 percent of consumers wanting to install custom electronics in their homes, according to the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association. Home security systems top the list of desired automated amenities, followed by home entertainment, lighting and window coverings. Formerly a perk for just the very wealthy, the trend is starting to trickle down to more middle-class consumers, says Jeff Hoover, current member and former president of CEDIA.
Joe Dada, founder of Smarthome Inc., a manufacturer and retailer of home automation products in Irvine, California, has seen rising demand from consumers. Dada notes that his customers generally start with a smaller, more inexpensive product--something to control lighting, for example--then move up to other, more elaborate automation products. "Once you've had it, you won't let go," says Dada, 43. He's expanded his $30 million-plus business to include Smarthome Live, a service where customers can monitor their homes live via an internet connection, and is launching INSTEON, home networking technology that will control and monitor everything in the home.
As big-name electronics manufacturers like Dell, Microsoft, Philips and Sony continue to design home automation products for the mass market, the entrepreneurial opportunity will be found in installing and maintaining these systems, says Hoover. Michael Holthouse, 47, founder of Intuitive Homes Inc., specializes in such installations. This Houston entrepreneur, who expects sales of $2.8 million this year, notes that the challenge comes in integrating pieces of technology from different vendors--but that the end result is astounding to consumers. "The excitement is when homeowners who are not tech-savvy can fully utilize huge amounts of technology--it makes [it] so simple."--Nichole L. Torres
Financial Aid/College Planning
Getting into the college of your dreams has never been a walk in the park, but with rising numbers of students heading there, competition is fiercer than ever. The National Center for Education Statistics reports the total enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased 23 percent from 1988 to 2002; and between 2002 and 2004, total enrollment is projected to increase another 17 percent, to 19.5 million. Students and their parents are realizing that time and care are essential in planning for college, and that's where entrepreneurs come in. Judy Hingle, director of professional development for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, has seen a rise in independent counselors providing financial aid and college planning services.
Families spend $5 billion annually researching and applying to colleges, according to investment bank research firm Legg Mason Investments. Entrepreneur Craig Powell, 28, is carving out a piece of that market by harnessing technology to streamline the process. Powell's Boston-based ConnectEdu is an education software services company focusing on the college search and application process, including financial aid. ConnectEdu's software and network of education professionals assist in every step of the process. By researching and finding the right school, filling out admission and financial aid applications, and then evaluating acceptances and rewards, ConnectEdu helps students find the school that fits their needs. Projected revenues for 2005 are $3 million to $5 million, but students--not profit--come first in this operation, according to Powell: "We position ourselves as a trusted source of third-party information."--April Y. Pennington
Upscale Pet Services
People love their pets, and it's showing. In fact, their overwhelming displays of affection and concern have transformed the pet industry in an explosion of new offerings. The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc. estimates $35.9 billion was spent on pets in the United States in 2005, up from $34.4 billion in 2004. With more than 80 percent of pet owners purchasing at least one accessory for their pet in the past year, the exponential growth of the upscale pet services sector signals a seismic shift in pet owners' attitudes.
"More people are treating their pets like humans, thus looking for human-like services and products," says Bob Vetere, managing director and COO for APPMA. "We're seeing everything from pet hotels with heated floors to a guy who does liposuction and chiropractics." Other luxury pet services out there include limousine rides, day cruises and personal shoppers--proving what's good enough for humans is definitely good enough for pets.
Tom O'Leary, founder of Dogspa in Beverly, Massachusetts, caters to coddling pet parents by offering a full dog spa in addition to premium specialty products. Grooming and spa treatments in "quiet rooms" include exfoliating treatments, hair revitalization and aromatherapy. O'Leary, 50, launched the business in 2003 and says 2004 sales ranged between $750,000 and $1 million.
The two top U.S. pet supply chains, Petco and Petsmart, have boosted sales by adding high-end merchandise and services to their stores. While that may sound ominous for entrepreneurs, the good news is that many pet service consumers prefer boutiques to the larger stores. The key is specialization. "You have to identify your niche and work it to your advantage," says Vetere.
There's also a growing demand for products that help bridge the emotional gap between creature and man, like greeting cards from pets and Bow Lingual, by Tokyo-based Takara Co. Ltd., the first dog bark translator that scientifically analyzes barks and interprets dogs' emotions. With dog yoga being all the rage, maybe "ouch" is what Fido's really been trying to say.--April Y. Pennington
Get off work and drop by the spa for a quick laser peel. Welcome to medicine in the new millennium. More and more consumers want medical services (we use the term loosely) to feel like a trip to the salon, and businesses that provide that feeling are seeing healthy returns.
Medical spas, or "med-spas," have become a beauty of a business category. Services include dental cosmetics, chiropractic services, vein removal, laser skin resurfacing and even laser eye surgery. Consumers are looking for a quick fix and some pampering. On the other end are doctors breaking into higher-end services where haggling with insurance companies isn't an issue. "Physicians from all realms are getting involved," says Melinda Minton, a spa consultant in Fort Collins, Colorado, and founder of The Spa Association. "They just decide that they're now a spa."
Marcia Fosnaugh-Avis, 46, has transformed her late father's Southfield, Michigan, dermatology clinic, Fosnaugh Center for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, into a med-spa offering everything from face-lifts and liposuction to Botox injections. She's also started a skin-care line called Clinitone. Today, the center has annual sales of about $3 million, with the med-spa constituting 30 percent of the company's business. You have to be a good strategist to pull all these areas together successfully under one roof, she says. "Have some background in the area," she suggests.
The downside: Payroll and the costs of creating luxury surroundings can mean high overhead. Most spas make between 8 to 13 percent profit--low for a business. If this is too ugly a prospect, consider cyberspace, where websites such as HealthcheckUSA.comare springing up to offer direct-to-consumer blood testing and other services.
Middle-Aged Women (Over-40 Women)
Teens aren't the only age group soaking up attention these days; middle-aged women--35 to 55--are making their purchasing power felt. "These women make the majority of purchasing decisions in married households, and more than a quarter of U.S. households are single women making buying decisions without any men involved at all," says Martha Barletta, author of Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach and Increase Your Share of the World's Largest Market. Middle-aged women are looking for any type of service that will simplify their lives, says Barletta.
The opportunity isn't lost on the retail sector. The strong sales by retail companies like Chico's FAS Inc. and J. Jill, which offer comfortable, stylish clothes targeting middle-aged women, are evidence of the demand.
Middle-aged women are also key customers for health foods and supplements. Forty-year-old Tori Stuart, founder of Needham, Massachusetts-based Zoe Foods, expects $4 million in sales this year for her soy and flaxseed cereal bars. Stuart's core customers are women, and products formulated to relieve menopause symptoms are especially popular. According to Maria Bailey, author of Marketing to Moms: Getting Your Share of the Trillion Dollar Market, when marketing to middle-aged moms, don't use images of June Cleaver or assume all women of the same age are in the same life stage. Focus on simplifying their lives and the experience your product or service offers. Bailey says mothers respond well to print ads--if the models are their own age--and the average woman reads three magazines a month.
Here's another business idea where you're only limited by your imagination. A concierge service for seniors could both provide escorted transportation and bring services into the home, depending on what the client requests. Think beautician services, dry cleaning, mobile vets, domestic help--again, anything that makes seniors' lives easier and also makes use of their disposable income.
"Many people of this age need their errands run, groceries picked up, laundry and tailoring taken care of. Just imagine if you couldn't drive--what would you need done for yourself?" says Fishman. "Some are without family nearby, and although they don't need companions, it's nice to have someone take you to the doctor and wait for you."
That's just what Dick Padgett had in mind when he started Five Star Concierge. Though a small one-man operation, the San Diego company represents the kind of seed-stage opportunity set to explode within the next decade. "The senior market needs a reliable source of transportation and care," says Padgett, 55, who offers escorted transportation, personal shopping and errands, technical consulting and training, handyman services and more. "They need someone they can call who is dependable and honest. I am the substitute son."--Karen E. Spaeder
Senior Care Consultant (Senior Home Transitions)
When it comes time to move out of your home--perhaps the place where you've spent the better part of your life--the last thing you want to deal with is pesky details. Helping seniors find a quality environment in which to spend their golden years, and easing the transition into the new surroundings, can be an invaluable service to those who have a lifetime of memories to sort through.
That's one thing that attracted Karen J. Martin, an antiques hobbyist turned entrepreneur, to the business of helping seniors take inventory of, appraise and liquidate their possessions. "What's really important is helping people sort through a lifetime of possessions, maybe things they haven't seen in years," says the 53-year-old Farmington, Connecticut, president and owner of Karen J. Martin LLC, started in 2000.
The options are many in this sector, as you can also provide services like helping research new places to live, finding a realtor, selling the home, packing belongings, arranging for or performing the actual move, and unpacking at the new destination. Jim Stevens, president of Cleveland-based Caring Transitions Inc., a member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, started his company in June 2003 to help seniors with the physical packing and unpacking, moving, resettling and myriad details involved with a big move. "So many times, immediate family lives out of town, state or even the country," says Stevens, 56, who expects 2005 sales to reach between $150,000 and $175,000. "There needs to be a reliable, caring and empathetic individual available to fill in for family that cannot lend a hand."
If you go the moving-management route, expect to spend up to $10,000, plus the cost of a vehicle, on an initial supply of packing materials, a dolly, a toolkit and professional uniforms.
Above all, be prepared to lend a listening ear. "Most important is listening to their stories as they reminisce," says Martin. "That's the heart of this life move--hearing the history of [someone's] life."--K.E.S.