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Learn from Barbara Sher, Barbara Winter, and me…

Living Large: How Some Enterprising Souls Are Turning a Trend into a Great Business Idea

By Valerie Young

You want to work for yourself but you’re not sure what kind of business to start. Assuming you’ve already 1) taken stock of the larger question (one that traditional career counselors rarely ask) which is, “What do you want your life to look like?” and 2) identified your personal gifts and interests, the next question of course is how do you put it all together in the form of a business?

A great place to look for ideas is trends. In fact it was trend expert Faith Popcorn’s 1992 book “The Popcorn Report” heralding the coming phenomenon of people “cashing out” of the corporate world to work at what they want, where they want, and how they want, that inspired me to launch the original pre-internet Changing Course Newsletter.

One trend that’s hard to miss in wealthier countries is obesity. We’re not talking about a few extra pounds here. According to the American Obesity Association (http://www.Obsesity.org), obesity is on the verge of surpassing smoking as the #1 cause of preventable death.

The diet and weight-loss market has long constituted a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. But in the past few years there’s been a boom in other kinds of businesses aimed at this ample market. Most of these enterprises are still in the business of trying to help large people slim down. But a growing number of businesses seek to serve big people in other ways. Some offer products and services to help big people feel a greater sense of self-esteem about being large. Others sell products to make physically robust people’s everyday lives easier.

In the “you’re okay just the way you are” category is ChunkeBusiness.com. The company was launched by long-time friends Peggy, Dianne, and Darliene. Having been, in their words, big, beautiful women for most of their lives, the three business partners decided they wanted to find and sell gift items which portray large men and women having fun and enjoying life. Visitors to their website can find such products as greeting cards, artwork, and diva doll magnets and other knick knacks including a line of African-American Dahlin’ Divas.

Amplestuff.com’s motto is “Make the world fit you.” The company was started by two people who share a passion for improving the lives and self-esteem of large people. An engineer by training, Bill Fabrey uses his talents to find and design products to solve a given problem like ADD. Co-owner Nancy Summer describes herself as a “supersize woman… who knows firsthand what the needs are, and which products are best at handling those needs.” Together they offer their customers products like extra large tape measures, umbrellas, and fanny packs, to heavy duty foot stools that can hold up to 500 pounds, seat belt extenders, and reaching tools.

Then there are the really niche markets like BigCostumes.com which, like the name says, offers large sized costumes for Halloween or other occasions. Or even big people as entertainment. Some slick producer decided to combine the trend in reality TV with the trend toward obesity. Combine these two trends with the general national obsession with weight loss and you’ve got yourself a hit show called The Biggest Loser featuring plus-sized men and women competing to shed mega pounds fast.

Finally in the “big” business is a company called GreatBigStuff.com which offers products not necessarily designed for big people but rather big versions of every day products for everybody. This is where you go, when for example, you want chess pieces the size of a three year old, a six-foot long wooden ruler, or a 5-foot long toothbrush. Who buys great big stuff? It could be a parent or teacher who wants to encourage a child to play chess or study, a dentist looking for a quirky decoration for their waiting room, or anybody who appreciates things on a grand scale.

Like a client of mine I’ll call Pat who had a passion for creating large pieces of 3-dimensional art like a giant piece of fruit or a spoon to be hung by wire from the ceiling. “I love making the stuff,” she said, “but who would pay me to do that?” Fortunately trends are on Pat’s side. With the average size of homes growing in this country (some would say obscenely so as in the term “starter mansions”) I suggested she launch a company called Big Art. If she were really clever she could get buzz going by hooking up with a pro basket ball player who’d be willing feature one of her pieces in their homes.

Most obesity busting businesses like diet and fitness centers offer few new ideas for the enterprising entrepreneur. Yet, even here trends signal a potential opportunity. For example, according to the American Obesity Association approximately 30 percent of children in the U.S. ages 6 to 19 are overweight and 15 percent are obese. So it was just a matter of time before someone figured out that overweight kids could benefit from having a personal trainer.

A recent article on this emerging trend posed the same question you might be asking, namely will parents really plunk down $50 to $70 an hour for a fitness trainer for their kid? According to Walter Thompson, a kinesiology and nutrition professor at Georgia State University and an expert on personal fitness programs, even though a personal trainer can be expensive, “so is the loss of income and wealth when the child becomes ill with a lifestyle-related disease like type 2 diabetes, heart disease or cancer.”

The article raised another valid point. Not all kids enjoy organized sports or are embarrassed – or even harassed – by fitter kids. Fitness trainers agree that workouts must be fun for kids and that parents should pick trainers who are experienced working with children. They also recommend that the trainer be certified by the National Strength & Conditioning Association or the American College of Sports Medicine. As of yet, no group certifies in pediatric training. Hmm, can you say “opportunity?”

If you’re serious about ditching your “job-job” to join the ranks of the blissfully self-employed, you’ll want to pay attention to the trends going on all around you. Find a trend that intrigues you, then look for ways to use your unique gifts to turn a trend into income!

 

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About the Author

"Profiting From Your Passions" expert Valerie Young abandoned her corporate cubicle to become the Dreamer in Residence at ChangingCourse.com offering resources to help you discover your life mission and live it. Her career change tips have been cited in Kiplinger's, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today Weekend, Woman's Day, and elsewhere and on-line at MSN, CareerBuilder, and iVillage.com. An expert on the Impostor Syndrome, Valerie has spoken on the topic of How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are to such diverse organizations as Daimler Chrysler, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Harvard, and American Women in Radio and Television.

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