House Care, Model Covered Wagons, and Other Business Startups

This installment of an ongoing business startups feature profiles a Nevada City woman who established a house care business for absent vacationers and a Canadian man who makes models of covered wagons.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
March/April 1979
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A man in Ontario, Canada found business startup success making scale models of covered wagons out of scrap wood. 

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The following are business startups that readers established after reading articles in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.    

House Care

Not long ago, I discovered firsthand that a young housewife in search of employment is likely to run into a blank wall, unless she's willing to do the "office" route. As a result, I found myself stumped and frustrated as to employment possibilities. I simply could not come up with an idea that appealed to me until I read "You Can Earn Extra Cash With a Lawn-Mowing Business."  That article sparked the idea for a similar enterprise which was more in my line: a vacation home-care service!

I decided that I would "oversee" vacationers' property for a flat daily fee. And so I began. My initial investment was $115, and for that amount I [a] filed a fictitious name statement with the county and published it in the newspaper for four weeks ($32), [b] saw a lawyer once to draft individual client contracts ($10), [c] had the contracts plus flyers, business cards, postcards, and fee schedules printed ($53), and [d] advertised in three newspapers and "throwaways" for two weeks ($20).

I set my basic rate at $3.00 per day: This includes a daily visit to the home, a complete security check of doors and windows, mail and newspaper pickup, watering of house plants, and lighting arrangements agreed on in advance with my client. (I charge extra for pet care and for any additional services requested by the customer.)

My first week in business earned me a total of $75 from three customers who had at least one pet each. The time expended on each visit—excluding travel time—turned out to be just 15 to 20 minutes, so that my pay averaged out to between $5 and $10 per hour.

My business is a unique one, and it's satisfying and financially rewarding as well. If anyone out there is interested, I'd be glad to answer questions and send copies of my printed forms for a couple of dollars to cover postage and processing costs. I'm willing to bet that there's a need for a vacation service in your neck of the woods, too!

Nevada City, CA

Model Covered Wagons

I'm convinced that anyone who listens to MOTHER EARTH NEWS can become independent and self-sufficient, because I did!  

It started when I read "How to Start Your Own Home-Based Business." MOTHER EARTH NEWS' good advice set me to scrounging and recycling until I'd come up with some old shipping skids tossed aside by Mr. Big Business. I removed the nails and sorted the boards by width, and then I began to create. From the widest planks I built a removable top that attaches to our dining room table and doubles its size. I used the narrower boards to construct a bookshelf and a gun rack. Then I hit the jackpot with a use for the leftover scraps.

Those little bits of wood were soon formed into tiny model wagons. Before I knew it I had orders for more from friends and neighbors who'd seen my toys when they happened by. Then word of mouth began to take its course, and my temporary pastime became a permanent home business.

I started out with no "seed money" at all making use of scrounged materials and a jigsaw that I already owned. Now, I've expanded quite a bit and cut down on my work with a router and templates. In addition, I've improved the covered wagons by attaching toy saddle horses— which I purchase in batches for pennies apiece through a local five-and-ten-cent store—to each miniature prairie schooner. (I've drawn up plans for the construction of my little moneymaking wagons and would be glad to send copies to those who're interested for $2.50 to cover postage and handling.)

The tourist trade in our locale has helped my enterprise tremendously. Five of us have been eating quite well on my craft business for over a year now ... and we're on the verge of beginning construction on a brand new home. Bless you, MOTHER EARTH NEWS. We owe it all to you!

Harold Kennedy
Contau Lake, Gooderham, Ont.

Family Engraving Business

A few years ago my wife and I had four children in their teens. Our family seemed in a constant turmoil over how to earn enough spending money. So, after a good deal of thought on the matter, and no acceptable solutions, I turned to my back issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Soon I came across an article entitled "Learning Calligraphy: The Value of Hand Lettering" and suddenly I had the answer. Lettering by machine was my idea, and I knew just how to go about helping my youngsters set up business.

I was working at the time as Controls Design Engineer and Purchasing Manager for a small industrial equipment manufacturer and was, therefore, in the perfect position to order the necessary supplies. I carefully priced various brands of engraving equipment and settled on a portable "scriber" from the Green Company—complete with attachable hardware and a supply of blank nameplates—for a total investment of $509.

In no lime I'd taught the entire brood how to operate the equipment, and the four began taking turns filling orders. While my contribution to the family business involved purchasing supplies and doing the bookkeeping and billing, it was the teenagers' responsibility to set up jobs and do the engraving. After paying immediate business expenses, the children and I split the profits down the middle.

Now at the end of a year and a half of part-time engraving, our little enterprise has managed to pay for the engraver and all supplies, and my youngsters have spent 18 months in a learning experience that has allowed them to earn their own spending money!  

There's a good deal of potential for growth in our project, but for my clan's purposes, our business—as is—has been the perfect family sideline!

Stanley Ring
Newtown, CT

Yellowstone Skiing Trails Guide

When I lived and worked in Yellowstone National Park three winters in a row, I noticed a growing interest in cross-country skiing. In addition, I'd found a definite lack of published material on ski trails in the Yellowstone area, but it took MOTHER EARTH NEWS to give me the push I needed to remedy that situation!

Two articles—"How to Start Your Own Publishing Business" and "You Can Write and Sell a Regional Trail Guide"—really set my wheels in motion, and soon I was mapping out the contents of my book-to-be. I knew that the park kept only one road open to winter automobile travel and that most folks would be driving in for just a day or two of skiing. So I determined to concentrate on those trails (most of which I already knew firsthand) that started at the main road's edge.

As my ski guide evolved, it became more than just a listing. I began to incorporate some of the history of the area as well as such important considerations as safety, clothing, equipment, and wildlife/back-country etiquette. Before too long, I felt I had a marketable product. I named my "masterpiece" Ski Touring in Northern Yellowstone National Park.  

Next, I made arrangements for a local printer to run off 5,000 copies of my book, for a total investment of $980. I priced my guide at $1.25 each retail and 75¢ wholesale, and—following MOTHER EARTH NEWS' advice on sale and distribution—I immediately sold 2,000 copies, enough to more than cover my initial investment!

These days—even when I sell my book at wholesale prices only—I make enough profit to meet my expenses and to put aside something for my future plans and projects. I can honestly say that I'm makin' it on my own, now. Thank you, MOTHER EARTH NEWS. It sure feels good!

John F. Barber
Yellowstone National Park, WY

Airbrushing Business

I recently read an excerpt entitled "How to Start Your Own Home-Based Business" which put me on the road to self-sufficiency.

For quite some time I'd been making original greeting cards for my family and friends—little "notes" that depicted flowers, sunsets, and other natural scenes—with a meager set of children's colored pencils. I dreamed of establishing a business doing airbrush painting, but had neither the equipment nor the guidelines by which to set up such an enterprise until MOTHER EARTH NEWS showed me the way.

I started by making arrangements to sell my greeting cards through a local boutique. From those first small profits I began to purchase supplies. My initial investment was a $35 air gun (fortunately, I already had access to an air compressor, a $200 piece of equipment necessary to operate the gun) and I was in business!

My first job—air brushing 12 T-shirts for a nearby health food store—earned me $25, a sum that enabled me to buy a three-month supply of T-shirt paints. My next projects—an air-brushed sign on the side of a plant/pottery shop and a custom airbrushed guitar—totaled $45, just $5 more than I needed to acquire several new brushes and enough lacquer, paint, and thinner to last me a year. At the end of my first week I had all the supplies and equipment necessary to do any kind of airbrush job imaginable, including custom van painting and murals and pin-striping T-shirts.

Though I still charge minimum prices and devote the majority of my time to my 1 1/2-year-old baby, my business now averages about $500 per month. Not a bad little income, I'd say, for an average work week of two 5 1/2-hour days!

Vicky Johnson
Long Beach, CA

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