Sunday, December 30, 2001

Directions changed for local start-ups in 2001

Optimism abounds for most

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        A year that brought shake-ups and slumping sales to many in the business community dealt kindly with several of the entrepreneurs featured on the Enterprise page in the past 12 months. Eight small businesses selected at random reported on their activities during 2001:


[photo] Dan Dlugos, electrical engineer for Atricure, tests a device in the lab.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        The head of start-up AtriCure is very encouraged about recent developments in his medical technology company.

        “We have participated in a study headed up by Ralph Damiano, chief of cardiac surgery at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis,” Mike Hooven said. “The initial results are very exciting.”

        AtriCure, in West Chester, is developing a technology to treat atrial fibrillation, which is the most common heart irregularity. It's the third most common cause of hospital admissions and a major cause of stroke and congestive heart failure.

        Future studies, led by Dr. Damiano, will take place at the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic and at Medical Cities-Dallas.

        “We believe this will be one of the most exciting products in surgery in the coming years. Next year, we expect explosive sales growth,” Mr. Hooven said.

        “This year has been fantastic,” said David Woeste, who operates with his wife, Beth.

        The Internet retailer of supplies for wild birds and backyard wildlife said his business grew tenfold in 2001, after a similar rate of growth in 2000. In April, Mr. Woeste left his job as a software consultant to devote full-time energies to BestNest.

        “We're in the process of getting new warehouse space and getting into the distributing business as well,” he said. “We're supplying wild-bird specialty retailers such as Wild About Birds in Milford.”

        Working out of their Anderson Township home, the couple has expanded its product line significantly.

        “We carry at least double the number of products now; we have much more breadth,” Mr. Woeste said.

Independent You

[photo] Independent You co-owners Amy Hirschman (left) and Suzanne Martin are concentrating efforts on promoting their business, which caters to people with handicaps.
(Dick Swaim photo)
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        The owners of Independent You are sharpening their marketing strategies to reach new customers better and reward returning ones.

        “We're considering marketing strategies through trade publications,” said Suzanne Martin, co-owner of the Wyoming shop, which sells adaptive clothing and accessories for people with handicaps. “But we think it's better to start locally and work toward national sales rather than the reverse.”

        She and business partner Amy Hirschman are promoting their enterprise through area groups concerned with Parkinson's disease, arthritis and multiple sclerosis. They also are marketing their Web site in new ways, including using Internet promotions. Recently, their enterprise has been featured in two local publications.

Window Genie

        Window Genie has earned national recognition for its accomplishments as a franchiser.

        “Entrepreneur Magazine has ranked us number 368 in its Top 500 Franchises in the country,” the company's owner, Richard Nonelle, said. “That will be announced in its January issue. We have also sold some new franchises, which brings us to 29.”

        That's four more locations since the summer, spreading the downtown company's services to Las Vegas and parts of Colorado and Maryland.

        Window Genie is seeing new interest in the window films it sells for residential and commercial use. Since Sept. 11, high-profile government agencies have taken a serious look at window films as a way to provide enhanced building protection. That's spurred a marketing collaboration between manufacturer CP Films and Window Genie to promote CP Films' line of safety and security window liners.

Kroner Dry Cleaners

        “Our sales are up,” said Ray Kroner of Kroner Dry Cleaners in Cheviot. “Traditionally, our industry is recession proof: When people aren't buying new, they take better care of their old clothing. But we like to think that we put out a quality piece of work, and that if people are going to spend money, they will spend it with us.”

        The family-run dry cleaner hasn't expanded its delivery area, which includes the west side and downtown Cincinnati. But the company is doing more business within that area, Mr. Kroner said. He thinks that his consistent sales growth is due to the attention he and other family members give.


        “I'm in 30 stores now,” Mary Kay Hansen said of her invention, the BladEater Holster.

        Ms. Hansen made a splash at the Chicago International Hardware Show in August with her utility knife holder and blade snapper, but getting the product to market has been a slower process than she envisioned. For one thing, events of Sept. 11 made it difficult to promote knife-related items. Shopping channel QVC still plans to feature the Loveland inventor and her product but has postponed an introductory segment until spring.

        Still, Ms. Hansen sees progress.

        “I'm in Jobsite Magazine. Two big companies are interested in licensing or distributing the BladEater. And I've been chosen to receive the Small Business Best Practices "Innovative Business Practice Award' from the Clermont County Chamber of Commerce,” Ms. Hansen said.

Chris Herron

        The year presented a new enterprise opportunity for Chris Herron of Oxford, who is completing his bachelor's degree at Miami University while managing two business ventures.

        He and friend Nathan Howell founded Quick Cuisine, a restaurant meal-delivery service, and developed the venture into a money-making operation. In early 2001, he also bought JoAnn's Costumes in uptown Oxford.

        Then, in August, Mr. Herron launched Uptown Bucks, an off-campus meal plan for students. The concept is simple: with a pre-paid debit card, students can eat at any of 20 Oxford restaurants.

        “Parents know that their money is going for food and that their kids are eating well,” Mr. Herron said.

        He and his Uptown Bucks partner Amanda McDermott have been working so hard on their new business that Mr. Herron realized that he had to let go of Quick Cuisine. He's in the process of selling his original enterprise.

        “Uptown Bucks took off a lot faster than we thought,” he said. “In just the first semester, we've had $150,000 in sign-ups.”

Capital Software

        Capital Software of Park Hills has registered some impressive firsts during the past year.

        Using the company's software, the city of Florence became the first city in Kentucky — and one of the first in the nation — to offer residents a secured online method of paying property taxes. Eventually, all government entities will be required to comply with new comprehensive federal accounting standards, and Capital Software's Christopher Sturm hopes many will purchase his product.

        Because the company's products are meeting with success and finding new markets, Capital Software is adding a sales representative and one other support person, Mr. Sturm said. And the young company has obtained bank financing to support its continued growth.


Tristate gropes to regain economic footing
Big year for big names
Interest rate cuts unprecedented
Tristate by the numbers
Comair still on comeback
- Directions changed for local start-ups in 2001
Two local firms maintain pace
Business Notes
Listings of stocks, mutual funds to expand