Smart Ideas 04/06
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Tee for Two
What: Tabletop billiards and golf
Who: Clyde Beasley, founder of Beasley Creations Inc.
Where: Torrance, California
When: Started in 2003
Clyde Beasley remembers seeing his newly remodeled prototype come back from the manufacturer in 2003. "My mouth just dropped," says Beasley, 39.
Beasley is the creator of table golf, a new game that combines golf and billiards into one. The game comes in seven different styles and sizes, ranging in price from $150 to $680. Beasley dreamed up the game in 1999 while serving a sentence in Folsom State Prison. As he watched a golf tournament get rained out on TV, he wondered what golfers did on rainy days. Armed with his idea and some crude blueprints he had drawn, Beasley left prison three years later, in November 2002. He stopped at Home Depot for about $200 worth of supplies and materials, and then worked all night to create his first prototype.
After inviting a few of the neighborhood kids to test out his new game, Beasley hit the road, showing his creation to local pool halls and sporting goods stores. He had no luck selling the product, but one pool-hall owner suggested that Beasley take his invention to the Billiards Congress of America trade show in Las Vegas that coming July. Beasley were his game caught the eye of a representative from The Price Is Right, as well as his current manufacturer, Eagle Industries Ltd. His tables have since been featured on The Price Is Right and are available at his website and SamsClub.com. Beasley expects 2006 sales of more than $5 million.
Knock on Wood
What: An attractive chair mat for the office
Who: Pierre Klee, president and co-founder of SnapMat Inc.
Where: Novato, California
When: Started in June 2004
While remodeling a friend's home office, one-time construction company owner Pierre Klee had to choose flooring that was both attractive and practical.
Klee, 42, found his solution in a wood-finished laminate. After installing the floor, Klee gave his friend and future partner, Jeff Baudin, 42, an extra pack of the material. Baudin took a piece of the laminate to his regular office and slid it under his chair on the commercial-grade carpeting. Instantly, the two knew they had a great idea.
In January 2004, they started developing an alternative to the unattractive plastic chair mats common in offices. More than $150,000 and six prototypes later, they launched SnapMat Inc. in June 2004. The sectional chair mats snap together and create a more polished complement to office furniture.
"We started selling them online, and people just loved them," Klee says. "Besides thinking the mats were attractive, [customers were] just so tired of the plastic ones."
There were still kinks, though. The sectional mats were only recommended for use on commercial-grade carpet, and Klee's customers wanted something for their home offices. After sliding through 2004 with $30,000 in sales, Klee began 2005 by buying out Baudin and creating a one-piece mat better suited for high-pile carpeting.
With both mats available online in a variety of finishes and sizes, including custom orders, at www.snapmat.com, the company increased sales to $125,000 in 2005.
Klee says the mat also has some unconventional uses, including in music studios--the mats make it easier to slide heavy equipment over carpet--and as dance floors. Klee jokes that the company could have a special web-site dedicated solely to tap dancers.
With arrangements finalized with Brookstone.com and deals with other retail outlets underway, Klee expects SnapMat Inc. to garner $500,000 in 2006 sales. He hopes to spur even more growth for the company by automating the production process to increase output from 20 mats to 150 mats per day, which would allow Klee to lower the price.
"I like inventing, so it's been fun for me to figure out all the problems," Klee says. "I've always been a good trouble-shooter."
Sign of the Times
What: Museum exhibition banners sold as limited-edition wall hangings
Who: Nicolas and Nora Weiser, founders of Better LLC
When: Started in March 2004
When Nora Weiser brought home a promotional banner from the museum where she worked and hung it on her living-room wall, it sparked a banner business idea--literally. Friends constantly asked where they could get something similar, so Nora and her husband, Nicolas, dreamed up a way to provide a unique service, support the arts, reduce landfill waste and, most important, be their own bosses.
In March 2004, they started Better LLC, which sells recycled museum exhibition banners and donates part of the proceeds to museums. "We give the banners an afterlife by securing the necessary copyright licenses to sell them," Nora explains.
Before they became entrepreneurs, Nora, 36, worked at The Art Institute of Chicago and the St. Louis Art Museum, while Nicolas, 37, worked as an environmental consultant for a large company in Chicago. The couple tapped previous work connections to enlist roughly a dozen museums in their Recycle and Reuse Program, which takes vinyl and canvas banners off museums' hands so they can be sold to the public through the couple's website, www.betterwall.com.
To date, the Recycle and Reuse Program has saved over 10 tons of vinyl from landfills and has generated thousands of dollars in financial support for the arts. BetterWall.com, which was launched in February 2005, now partners with 18 museums, including one in Canada, and plans to establish a presence in Europe.
All banners sold to the public have been refurbished and are in excellent condition, while those that are undesirable are recycled for raw materials. Customers typically pay $300 to $800 for the banners, which come with certificates of authenticity. Necessary hanging hardware is also provided--Nicolas says the hardware is unobtrusive, making the banner look as if it's floating on the wall.
Operating their business from home and a warehouse, the Weisers have had a banner year: They've already seen profits and hired one employee, and they expect sales to double in 2006.
What: Cold-call training service
Who: Ron La Vine of Accelerated Sales Results
Where: Oak Park, California
When: Started in 1996
How much: Less than $500
After being laid off from his job at a software company in 1994, Ron La Vine finally figured out what he does best: cold calling. Relying on sales tactics that he learned as a sales rep in college, La Vine, 49, set out to acquire clients for his new software consulting business. But people were more interested in hearing how he managed to get clients on the line than hearing about what he had to sell. So he set up a home office and began offering tutorials on how to make cold calls.
To keep costs down, La Vine had clients cover all his expenses: He spread the word about his services by asking former clients to give testimonials, and he wrote a biweekly newsletter with personal tips on selling. Now, 95 percent of La Vine's business comes from referrals, and he averages over $250,000 a year in sales. In 1997, La Vine got the ultimate satisfaction: The company that had laid him off called to ask for his services. Says La Vine, "They wanted to know how I do what I do."