Looking for an inspiring or innovative business idea? One surefire place to look is to trends. Depending on your interests it might be trends related to the U.S. housing market, global warning, parenting, fitness, food, pets, technology, travel, dating, sports… the options are really limitless. Today we’re going to look at three examples of how entrepreneurs benefit from the trend of safety. As you will see, each one is connected to the safety trend in a very different way.
Trend #1 Back to Basics With Wooden Toys
If a year ago I had told you wood-working types that you could run a successful business building simple wooden toys you would have said I was nuts. But with millions of recalled toys manufactured in China containing lead paint and other dangerous chemicals, the makers of domestic wooden toys were swamped with holiday orders. Ron Voake operates Vermont Wooden Toys (VermontWoodenToys.com) out of his home in Norwich, Vermont. His company makes over 135 different kinds of wooden toys from “riding size” fire trucks to doll carriages to blocks. According to an article in the New York Times, wooden toy makers like Ron can barely keep up and are hiring extra employees. “Every time there was a story about a recall,” said the 61-year-old Voake, “I got flooded with orders.” Voake isn’t the only toymaker to benefit from the trend toward safe toys. Mark Rainville of Maple Landmark Woodcraft (MapleLandmark.com) in Middlebury, Vermont was also deluged with orders. With toy orders up 60 percent in the last quarter of 2007, he and his holiday staff of 45 were working 16-hour days. It’s clear from his company’s Web site that Mark is seizing on other current trends like the buy local movement and environmental responsibility. And speaking of the environment…
Trend #2: Safe Water and a Cleaner Environment
When Stacey Griffin graduated from Tulane School of Social Work in 1995 she was more interested in healing kids than the environment. Five years later she opened a psychiatric facility for low-income children and adolescents (MilestonesMHA.com) in New Orleans. Then she lost it all to hurricane Katrina. Safe, clean drinking water was just one of the many problems in flood ravaged New Orleans. During the time she was rebuilding her staff and agency, Stacey got an idea from her then 3-year-old daughter who had a strong preference for juice boxes over water bottles. Why not package drinking water in juice boxes? Initially she was discouraged to find that two other companies were doing it. When she looked closer, though, she found that one specialized in disaster relief and the other geared their product to kids. That left a huge unfilled niche – environmentally responsible people like me who hate the wastefulness of creating, shipping, and then land-filling plastic water bottles. Stacey started Aqua2Go in 2006. She got a lot of help from her husband who worked on the business in addition to his full-time job. Things really took off when Ellen DeGeneres featured Stacey’s water boxes on her show. The very next morning a big merchant who Stacey had been working hard to contact called her at her home. Today Aqua2Go is in selected Target department stores, Winn Dixie super markets, Whole Foods in Louisiana, and other major retailers. Every day 40 million plastic water bottles go into the trash or becoming litter (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5279230), putting a huge a burden on local landfills. Some communities like San Francisco have responded by banning city departments from buying bottled water for their offices. This trend toward municipal bans, the need for safe drinking water on the go, and a growing awareness about global warming all point to continued success for entrepreneurs like Stacey.
Trend #3 All Natural Products for Kids
This next example comes from Kristen Bassick of Stuff4Sprouts.com. Like Stacey, Kristen’s business idea was also inspired by her children. In Kristen’s case it was to find a natural way to treat the persistent dry skin of her own children, or little “sprouts” as she likes to call them. So at the urging of her husband who was throwing money at products that didn’t work, Kristen decided to start her own line of kids’ skin care products formulated without using nut oils, animal products, paraben-based preservatives (to which some people are allergic), soy, artificial colors, or chemical fillers. Her company’s promise also serves as her motto: To produce products with “Nothing weird. Nothing gross. Just good stuff for dry skin.” My Canadian friends who love the idea of all natural products for kids and prefer to shop local should check out an online company in the Toronto area called ParentingByNature.com. In addition to a wide range of products like an organic baby skin care line and cloth diapers they also carry wooden toys! I love Canada but I have a soft spot for Kristen’s business because she is one of the many success stories to come out of my annual Work at What You Love seminar. I’ll let Kim share her progress report in her own words:
I came to the seminar last August unhappy with my “job” and with an idea for a new business venture. But I was terrified by the idea of building a “business” with employees, and a building, and a manufacturing site…and all that stuff that just seemed like more than I wanted to take on. Sitting there listening to all of the stories of micro-business owners, who didn’t have a “job” and didn’t have what I had initially thought that a “business” would need to be, opened my eyes to what was possible. I launched my company in September after two years of putting all of the pieces into place. Manufacturing is outsourced, distribution will be soon. I work from my home office, available for all of the things in my actual life that demand my presence. I was lucky to be on the receiving end of a well-timed downsizing/severance at my corporate job and now have the chance to move Stuff for Sprouts to the next level. Life is good and my new jobless job is so completely cool I just had to share!
I said I was going to share three business ideas but there is actually one more safety-related trend worth mentioning. This one is actually not a new trend. In fact, it’s been kicking around for quite some time. I call…
Safety Trend #4: Thinking Up New Excuses For Staying Stuck
There’s nothing safer than staying miserably where you are. And one of the best ways to play it safe is to come up with a litany of excuses about why dream making is always easier for the next person. Admit it. How many of you zeroed in on the line about Kristen’s well-timed severance package and thought, “Hey, I could start my own business too if I had money coming in from a severance package!” Maybe you would and maybe you wouldn’t. But did you also see the line about spending two years putting all the pieces into place? I’ve worked with my share of desperate people who had a full year to find and work on a business idea but waited until they had one month of severance pay left to call in full out panic mode because they were going to have to find another j-o-b. There are plenty of other people out there with either the time or the money to start their own thing – but because they are too afraid, or they lack confidence, or they don’t know where to begin, or all of the above, they do nothing. Kristen did something. As Shirley Hufstedler said, “If you play it safe in life, you’ve decided that you don’t want to grow anymore.” If you are tired of contributing to the negative trend of coming up with reasons why you can’t leave your safe but ultimately soul-sucking job then do this one small thing. Get yourself a small notebook and label it Trends = Ideas. Then start actively being on the lookout for the thousands of trends that can be the catalyst to your brilliant business idea. One you have an idea, take a step. Any step. Once you get the entrepreneurial ball rolling, it’s hard to stop. Besides, as Hufstedler put it, “Security is not the meaning of my life. Great opportunities are worth the risks.”