Small Business Ideas

Dan Wesolowski ran a sandwich catering business out of his apartment, Tim Hamblen did upholstery, Chuck and Cathy Tate raised rabbits and Mike Chambers painted houses.

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    House painting is just one business started by an inspired MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader.

  • house painter

A Business Selling Sandwiches

I'm enrolled at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and—like most students—my Number One problem is money. Part time jobs here in Isla Vista (a student community adjoining campus) are scarce, low-paying, and quickly filled. Last year, however—with the help of Jack McQuarrie's article on how to start a home bakery, I set up and ran my own spare-time business . . . right out of my apartment.

I'd noticed the proliferation of small, independent restaurants that catered to Isla Vista's student population... and I knew that-among students-sandwiches are a popular lunchtime "main dish". So I decided why not go into the sandwich-cateringbusiness?  

First off, I invested about $10 in a stock of whole wheat bread, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, lettuce, natural mayonnaise, avocados, real peanut butter, and several kinds of cheeses. Then I [1] made a batch of sample sandwiches, [2] wrapped 'em in cellophane, [3] gave them names like Avocado Supreme, Peanut Butter Crunch, etc., and [4] visited some of the local coffeehouses and restaurants. After three or four days of showing and giving away my wares, I landed contracts with four businesses. . . each calling for five sandwiches per day to be delivered. (That was a total—in other words—of 20 sandwiches per day, which was about my practical upper limit while attending school.)

Before long, I'd developed a routine: Each morning I awoke at about 8:30, turned my kitchen into a sandwich factory for an hour and a half, then delivered my products to my accounts (all of which happened to be within walking distance). In the afternoons I attended classes . . . and bought whatever ingredients I needed for the following day (such as fresh produce).

The profit picture looked something like this: Depending on the particular variety I made, the sandwiches cost between 35¢ and 55¢ to make. (I was able to cut costs by growing my own sprouts and buying ingredients in bulk from the local food co-op.) Each sandwich had a "markup" for me of 25¢ . . . which meant—since I fixed some 100 sandwiches per five-day workweek—that I cleared about $25 a week for my efforts.

No, I didn't grow rich . . . but I did manage to [1] supply a healthful product to the community, [2] keep the business at home, [3] have evenings and weekends off, and [4] earn a modest income throughout the school year . . . without interfering with my studies. And that's just what I set out to do.

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