Table Maker, House Cleaner, and Other Business Startups

A Texas man who rapidly achieved success as a table maker and a Florida man who established himself as a house cleaner and handyman are among the business startups profiled in this installment of an ongoing feature.

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Texas table maker Joseph Hunka's first table had a ceramic tile top.


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

Table Maker

Like most MOTHER EARTH NEWS-types I've always had a strong desire to be independent and self-sufficient, and I'd been working toward that goal by saving up to buy a piece of homestead land. After looking over some of the Good Earth's price tags, however, I came to the conclusion that my current carpenter's wages wouldn't bring In enough cash to realize my dreams. So instead I began to look for just the right part-time job.

My search ended when I came upon an article entitled "Homestead Furniture: A 'Natural' Moneymaker." After reading that piece, I took a swift inventory of my garage store room. There I found a dozen or so eight-foot pieces of rough cedar 2 X 4's, some large scraps of half-inch plywood, a bit of ceramic floor tile (left over from a remodeling job I'd done the summer before), and a decent supply of glue, nails, and grout. With these materials plus some lag screws and flat washers I bought for a grand investment of $3.56, I'd soon put together an 18' X 2' X 4' rough cedar table, with a ceramic tile top, in a total of four short hours! The ceramic covering was a big bonus, I thought, since It provided an inexpensive, scratch-and water-resistant surface, and at the same time eliminated the time consuming "finishing" process normally required in furniture making.

No sooner had I completed my masterpiece than a friend stopped by, admired my work, and offered me a deal: $25 in clash plus two bucket seats to replace the dilapidated bench I'd been suffering upon in my van. I promptly invested in a new supply of ceramic tile and went to work once again on my table making. Before I'd finished my second attempt at the art, I'd presold three more tables for a total of $135. That worked out to a $75 profit for approximately 12 hours of enjoyable work or $6.25 per hour! My home business has been going "great guns" ever since. Needless to say, I am one thankful MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader!

Joseph R. Hunka
Houston, TX 

House Cleaner and Handyman

I'm a Navy man with five years left to go before my retirement. I've been planning for those "years of leisure" with dreams of buying a small farm in Tennessee. As a result, my wife and I decided that we should set up a part time business to build a nest egg for our future ... so we turned to MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

Three articles helped pave the way toward our new endeavor: "I Wash Windows ... and Live Like a King" and "Clean Up With a Window Washing Business" and "You Can 'Clean Up' as a Freelance House-Cleaner"—as well as a piece called "The House Painting Business" in THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS  Handbook of Home Business Ideas and Plans. Those four write-ups were more than enough to put us to work cleaning and repairing homes!

Our initial investment was only $35, to have business cards and billing statements printed. Then we began advertising by distributing the cards to all the real estate agencies, paint stores, hardware stores, and lumberyards in our neighborhood. Two days later we had our first job.

Our working tools for both cleaning and repairing turned out to be many and varied, but for the most part they were implements that we (like most do-it-yourselfers) already had on hand. We never bought a special tool unless we'd already been commissioned to do a job that required it . Then we would purchase the device and charge it to "material" on the billing statement.

It was necessary, of course, to come up with a fee schedule for our clients. We decided to base the price for our cleaning services upon the number of bedrooms in the house. To spruce up a two bedroom dwelling, for example, we charge $30. (Our service includes cleaning all the appliances; disinfecting tubs, showers, commodes, and sinks; washing dirty walls and woodwork; and sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping the floors.) We charge an additional $35 to wash all of the home's windows—inside and out—$10 for mowing lawns, and $10 to haul away trash that can't be handled by the regular garbageman. Our interior painting fee is generally $40 per room, while on exterior jobs our rule of thumb is 40 cents per square foot of living space (a house that is 50 by 30 feet, for example, has 1,500 square feet of living space and therefore will earn us $600!). We charge a minimum of $5.00 per hour for repairs (plus materials) on any job. So far the majority of our fix-it work has included replacing broken windowpanes, building new screens or rescreening old ones, hanging doors, and patching holes.

We've found that we can stay as busy as we like with our new business. And since we began our part-time endeavor some nine months back, the two of us have netted a total of $2,000. That's above and beyond the added benefits of tools left over from special jobs, and furniture and bric-a-brac that have either been abandoned In houses by tenants who've moved out or thrown away by current occupants.

All in all, our bootstrap business has been the perfect moneymaker for us. The market is limitless, and the experience itself has been a valuable reward!

Dennis Frank Burkett
Jacksonville, FL 

Scrap Metal Recycling

I'd been searching for a long time for that one bootstrap business that would fit my lifestyle. I wanted to work what I call "hobby hours"—approximately half of a regular workday—and after researching MOTHER EARTH NEWS' many back issues, I found just what I'd been seeking: An article entitled "How to Earn $500 a Month Recycling Metals." A few short days after I'd read that piece, I found myself In business ... with a total initial Investment of one tankful of gas!

My first week on the job was pretty rough going, because I really didn't know what to look for or where to look for it. However, I kept referring to the article and before long I began to get the hang of my new trade. Soon I was specializing in nonferrous metals (such as copper, brass, lead, and aluminum) since my hauling vehicle was a car rather than a heavy-duty pickup truck. (Nonferrous metals sell for an average of 20¢ to 50¢ per pound, in contrast to their ferrous counterparts, which usually pay only about 2¢ per pound. It would take a few thousand pounds of Iron scrap to equal the profits I can make hauling several hundred pounds of the lightweight materials.)

In addition, I learned to scan hillsides, follow clean-up and pick-up routes, and frequent garages, filling stations and dumping locations In my searches. In no time I was averaging $10 to $12 per hour ($14 to $16 during the warmer weather) and on several occasions I've pulled In as much as $50 per hour!

In the summers my nine-year-old son accompanies me on my excursions, and helps me to detect metals with his trusty magnet. (My rule of thumb: If it doesn't stick to the magnet, grab it and throw it into the trunk.)

One of the nicest things about my bootstrap business is that the entire family can take part in it. But even better still, it's an inflation-proof operation. The price of scrap metal just keeps on rising!

L. Eugene Humphrey
Pittsburgh, PA

Used Book Seller

Last year after I was discharged from the Air Force, I moved from California to Ormond Beach, Florida with my pregnant wife and six year-old son. We planned to wait out the winter "down South" before returning to our home state of Indiana ... and I'd decided to enter school part time during the cold months. Finances, therefore, were bound to be tight, so I began to research various moneymaking ventures. As luck would have it, I came across two articles in THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS' Handbook of Home Business Ideas and Plans: Clarence Sockwell's "My Paperback Book Exchange" and Paul Encimer's "Used Books Can Give You a New Life".

As I mulled over the idea of running a book exchange, I opened the yellow pages to check out my potential competition. To my surprise, there was not one used bookstore in all of Ormond Beach. With that, my mind was made up. I would open the "Ormond Book Exchange''.

My first step was to call upon my small $1,000 savings account as collateral on a loan for an equal amount of cash. In this way, I reasoned, making loan payments each month would be a form of forced saving. And, after I'd repaid the money, my $1,000 would be there to use all over again.

Next came the search for appropriate bookstore housing. After a good deal of checking around, I located a 900-square-foot building that rented for $200 a month. Using my borrowed "seed money," I furnished my place of business with $150 worth of fixtures procured from an old book dealer; $300 in paperback/hard-cover inventory, gathered here and there around town as the result of a small classified ad; and a variety of homemade store signs. My final Investment went toward the purchase of city, county, and state permits, a set of business cards printed as bookmarks, and a little local advertising.

In four short weeks my project had gone from the idea stage to an open bookstore: I was finally in business for myself! In the first month, my bookstore pulled in $293. Eight weeks later both my gross and my Inventory had nearly doubled! I was in my glory ... but, alas, winter had ended and it was time to move on to Indiana as my wife and I had planned. So we sold our little enterprise to a local business broker for a whopping total of $5,000!

In Indiana at last, my family was able to make use of its bookstore profits to purchase four wooded homestead acres. I've taken a job working for someone else now, but pretty soon I expect to have some "seed money" built up once again. When I do, I'm sure MOTHER EARTH NEWS will have another business opportunity awaiting me.

Who knows? The next time you hear from me I could be cookin' up a homemade breakfast from my newly opened health food restaurant!

John D. Long
Bloomington, IN