How to Make a Million

Entrepreneur

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Senior Care

Age might be more than just a number, but when it comes to understanding the potential of the senior-care industry, the numbers say it all. According to the National Institute on Aging, an organization whose mission is to understand the nature of aging and extend the active years of life, approximately 35 million Americans are age 65 or older, and that number is expected to double in the next 25 years. In addition, people age 85 and older constitute the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. About 4 million people are currently in this age group, and that number is expected to grow to 19 million by 2050.

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With the average life expectancy longer than ever and more Americans expressing the desire to age at home, the need for in-home assistance is thriving. "This is about demographics, and we can only take credit for being at the right place at the right time," says Leo Landaverde, 37, a former vice president at a staffing company who opened a ComForcare Senior Services franchise with his wife, Sandra, 38, in North Hills, California. Since opening in 2003, they have already built their system up to more than 250 employees, serving about 500 clients. They were also the recipients of ComForcare's 2007 Franchise of the Year Award and currently operate the largest ComForcare franchise in the country. Sales are growing, too, with a 2008 projected increase of 15 percent over last year's $3 million.

The franchise gave the Landaverdes a helping hand and the freedom to implement new ideas, which has helped them grow their business exponentially. Always looking to expand their services, Leo and Sandra regularly research and introduce new services, such as giving veterans the resources to take advantage of the Veterans Administration Aid and Attendance Benefits program, as well as offering care for children with disabilities.

If senior care appeals to you, keep your finger on the pulse of the industry. The sector has already begun to evolve with wider use of technology, specifically for monitoring and communication purposes, says Merrily Orsini, founder of senior-care management company ElderCare Solutions and managing director at Corecubed, an integrated marketing communications agency that tailors many of its products to helping private-duty agencies succeed.

A lack of adequate staff members has many looking to technology to supplement care, says Orsini, whether it's developing web-based programs (Lotsa Helping Hands helps family and friends schedule care) or specializing in in-home adaptations to reduce the hours of care required. (National Association of Home Builders recently introduced a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist designation program.) "Pay attention to what the customer is requesting, and look for niche needs that currently aren't being met," says Orsini, who also sees opportunities in creating planned retirement communities. "It's important to understand that this burgeoning demographic bulge just now beginning will change the landscape of the industry incredibly, and solutions that haven't yet been imagined will be in place in the next 10 years."

Children's Services

The economy can plummet and gas prices can skyrocket, but one thing remains constant: Kid-focused businesses are continuing to grow. Even as purse strings tighten, spending on kids--from their tutoring to their art classes--remains generous. "Parents will scrimp on items for themselves to get the best for their children," says Jennifer Ferguson, consumer insights and research director at Creative Consumer Concepts, an integrated, kid-focused brand marketing agency. Ferguson also notes that the market is being fueled by doting grandparents who have become increasingly involved in their grandchildren's lives.

Child enrichment and child fitness businesses in particular are enjoying healthy bottom lines. Having tapped into both segments, Albert Diaz, 49, and his wife, Maria Fernanda Diaz, 40, are perfectly positioned to ride the wave. In 2003, they opened a FasTracKids franchise, which offers a specialized curriculum in 12 subjects. They were so encouraged by the success they experienced with educational enrichment that they shifted their focus to physical enrichment. Two years ago, they introduced their Rye Brook, New York, community to JW Tumbles, a children's gym specializing in physical development. Because of the well-tested programs already put in place by the franchisor, the couple has been able to open two additional JW Tumbles locations and expects sales for the three locations to reach $1.5 million this year.

But as tempting as it might be to buy a franchise and wait for parents to show you the money, don't think of the industry as child's play. The Diazes are successful because they're completely hands-on in their business. Not only do they make sure their clients enjoy the experience from start to finish, but they also make it a top priority to learn names and keep the facilities spotless--and they train their employees to uphold the same business practices. Says Albert, "People will try something once, but what's going to keep them coming back is the whole experience."

And if you want your business to stand the test of time, make sure you're sufficiently capitalized to get through the growing pains. With the average JW Tumbles location measuring in at about 2,500 square feet, Albert estimates that startup costs for the franchise range anywhere from $150,000 to $225,000, and he recommends having an additional $50,000 in working capital to handle the first year. What are the trends in kids' businesses? Kids increasingly want to have a positive impact on the world and the environment, so businesses that can empower kids might enjoy broad appeal, says Ferguson.

And don't forget about moms. "This is the first time we have had four generations of women becoming mothers at the same time," says Ferguson. "Tap into a mom's desire to be a good mom with a product that works for kids and the whole family."

Pets

In homes across the U.S., animals of all shapes and sizes get the red carpet treatment. Americans are obsessed with their pets: The American Pet Products Association, or APPA, estimates that Americans will spend a whopping $43.4 billion on their furry companions just this year.

So why the craze? Baby boomers, whose children are leaving home, and young professionals, who are prioritizing their careers over raising children, have voids to fill, says Bob Vetere, president of APPA. "Because they're looking to pets to fill a human-type void, they are humanizing the pets," he says. "With that comes the desire to reward pets in human terms rather than pet terms. This broadens the opportunities for higher-priced goods and services."

Brennan Johnson and Jennifer Melton, who have backgrounds in marketing and structural engineering, respectively, accidentally discovered the industry's potential when Melton started making homemade treats for their newly adopted puppy that suffered from food allergies. The creations caused a sensation at their local animal shelter's bake sales, inspiring the husband-and-wife duo to officially launch Cloud Star, a manufacturer of natural pet products, in 1999. Two years later, their San Luis Obispo, California, business had already hit $1.5 million in sales, and it's projected to reach more than $5 million in sales this year. Their products, which range from dog biscuits to shampoos and conditioners, are available at health-food stores, pet supply stores, grocery stores and gift stores across the country. And the company has been growing an average of 35 percent per year.

With nearly a decade of success behind them, Melton and Johnson, both 34, have mastered the industry and have plenty of tips to share. Working full time at their day jobs for the first year and a half was crucial to their success. "When you're selling a product, it's critical that that money goes back into the company for expansion and shipping and other expenses of running a business," says Melton. "We always had an outside income until we got to the point where we could pay ourselves from Cloud Star." They've also seen countless entrepreneurs at trade shows who, after seeing interest from retailers, either couldn't deliver on the promised product or couldn't ship the order promptly enough.

You must also deliver a unique product to the market and stay true to your values and ethics, says Johnson. Cloud Star uses recyclable packaging, soy-based inks and skylights in its warehouse. The company also foregoes byproducts for all-natural ones and manufactures everything in the U.S., using American products.

Happy pets mean continued profits. Vetere predicts that high-tech products such as timed feeders and automatic litter box cleaners will continue to appeal to consumers. In addition, Vetere says, pet owners will continue to take a liking to pet clothing and specialized treats as well as services that allow them to maintain flexible lives, including pet-sitting, pet walking and pet-waste removal.

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Green

Across all industries and all generations, a single word has people talking and taking action: green. These days, if you're doing good for the environment, consumers want to do good by you and show you another kind of green. According to a survey conducted last year by Cohn & Wolfe, Landor Associates, and Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, consumers expected to double their spending on green products and services in 2008 to reach an estimated $500 billion annually. The survey also discovered that consumers' perceptions about green living have evolved and that they now perceive it as a direct and positive reflection of their social status in addition to recognizing its broader value to society and the world.

For husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Satoko Asai and Mohamed Elgayar, the first clear sign that organic had gone mainstream came when their baby clothing business, Sckoon Organics, was featured on the cover of American Baby earlier this year. The green movement has boosted the company's sales projections to about $3 million this year, but for Asai and Elgayar, who started their business in 2003 before green was really big, their success has also come from their decision to add color and style to organic cotton at a time when the word organic was often equated with plain, oatmeal-colored fabrics.

Their overwhelming success also has to do with how the pair maximized the potential of the internet, using their website, sckoon.com, not only as a tool to educate consumers about organics, but also as a distribution channel to grow their Hampton Bays, New York, company into a global brand. Launching their site in both English and Japanese and offering Japanese consumers the option to buy in yen made their brand easily accessible. They're also constantly innovating: They launched a pet clothing line last year and baby bedding just this month. "You have to stand out," says Elgayar, 46. "You can't stand out presenting the same old stuff that's in the market. You have to come up with something and believe in it and go for it."

They currently sell to 560 stores--baby boutiques, eco-stores and health stores in 22 countries--and will open distribution centers in Japan and the United Kingdom by the end of this year. "The pie is getting bigger," says Asai, 44. "But our aim has been the global market from the beginning."

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