This installment of an ongoing business startups feature includes contributions from an Illinois man who started a junk hauling business and a Florida woman who earns extra money collecting cash refunds.
The following are business startups readers were inspired to establish by articles they saw in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.
Last year I became dissatisfied with my job as a machinist and found the inspiration to resign the job from an article in MOTHER EARTH NEWS called "Underground Moving."
Naturally enough, I began my new business by acquiring equipment. A good pickup truck ($1,400) was my largest investment. I built up its sides (at a cost of $20), bought an appliance dolly and five moving pads ($70), a telephone answering machine ($180), and 1,000 business cards ($11.50). Next, I shelled out $30 to place a month-long ad in the service directory of a local paper which announced my services as a "light hauler of furniture, appliances, and junk ... lawn care worker and handyman on the side."
At first, I kept my machinist job and operated my fledgling enterprise in the evenings and on weekends. But after two months of moonlighting, I was so satisfied with the promising results of my venture that I gave the machine shop two weeks' notice and set out to expand and refine my own business. Soon thereafter, I dropped the lawn care and handyman jobs (which were not nearly as profitable as the moving activities had already become).
I then really began to develop my business, with a heavy concentration on the removal of junk and construction debris and the moving of local apartment furniture and appliances. Each load of the trash I hauled paid $35 ($5.00 of which covered the fee I had to pay for dumping it out), and the residential moving brought in $22.50 to $37.50 per hour.
Before long, I'd learned the intricacies of the business (how to properly move every size of piano, for instance), and I'd invested in an extra supply of moving pads and other equipment. Believe it or not, within just a month and a half, my little venture had grown to the point where I both needed and could afford to buy a brand-new, large capacity, one-ton flatbed truck with a three-ton dump hoist!
And it soon became clear that my enterprise was not only profitable in its own right, but–in the case of junk removal in particular–also quite conducive to financial "extras." In short: a good deal of the "junk" I was hauling turned out to be potentially resalable. I've made as much as $375 in one load this way: $45 to haul the trash away and $330 from selected "rubbish" I resold.
At this writing, I've been in the business a little under seven months, full time. I have two trucks, a tractor with a front-end loader and trailer, and a couple of thousand dollars' worth of other moving equipment. The future is looking pretty bright now, and all as a result of an initial investment of under $2,000, some hard work and ambition, and of course MOTHER EARTH NEWS!
Villa Park, III.
I was looking for a way to remain at home with my three-year-old daughter and still have an income independent of my husband's when I read "Recycled Refunds" and "More Recycled Refunds" in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. This was just what I needed: a small investment, working hours of my choice, and a home-based center of operations (which would eliminate such expenses as transportation, outside lunches, and child care). Now after only a few short months in the business, I find my venture a good deal more profitable than I'd ever even hoped for!
I began by investing $4.65 in a variety of refunding bulletins I had learned about from the articles (sample copies ranged in cost from 50¢ to $1.00 each). After reviewing a good number of the publications, I settled on the ones I'd subscribe to: Moneymaker Bulletin (one issue 75¢, three issues $2.50, six issues $4.50, twelve issues $7.50) with about 200 new offers each month, and Quick Silver (one issue 75¢, six issues $3.75, twelve issues $7.00) with a list of exchange persons and about 80 offers per month.
From my refund periodicals I learned the basics of the enterprise. When I felt ready to set out on my own, I began by procuring supplies. One hundred envelopes and an equal number of postage stamps set me back 50¢ and $13.00, respectively. This plus the money I'd spent on sample publications brought my total initial investment to $18.15. Later, I learned to stock up on envelopes when I could find them on sale (generally at a cost of about 77¢ for 300). I also began saving incoming envelopes, carefully ungluing their flaps, turning them inside out, and recycling them back into the mail again. Now, I use postcards whenever possible (a good homemade variety can be constructed by peeling the cardboard from your box tops).
With supplies in hand, it was now time to start "sending away for money." I was careful to write down each offer as I sent for it, and to check every refund off as it arrived. It has been a little difficult to keep the list completely accurate, since some companies fail to state in their return which of several offers any particular refund is for. The records do, however, provide a pretty good guideline to go by.
You'll find that cash refunds can range from 25¢ to $75, but most will fall within the $1.00-$4.00 range. Some refunds offer 25%-60% of the product's purchase price. A few will pay 100% of the item's price tag value. Sometimes, too, you're given the choice of a cash refund or a coupon good for the full value of your next purchase of a product (even if the price increases during the period in which the offer is good, the coupon will cover full product cost). But cash refunds are only a part of the story. Companies also maintain a multitude of gift offers (lighters, tablecloths, towels, T-shirts, flashlights, and the like). And remember: Cash gift offers are not limited to food products alone. A wide variety of non-food consumer items also offer refunds.
To cash in on the offers, of course, you'll need to be familiar with the jargon of the refund world. Box tops, weight statements, and proof of purchase seals are all potential qualifiers, and the blanks found in stores, newspapers, and on product containers are known as "forms." Some companies require one or more of these in exchange for your refund, but many times all that's required is a postcard requesting the offer.
My very first month in the business I cleared $64, while "working" about 2 1/2 hours a day. And during my second month, profits went up to $82.30 while I cut my time "on the job" to only 3 1/2 hours a week! I now make $120 per month above and beyond the free gifts I receive, and larger profits are easily possible.
A rich source of expansion is the "trash" of your family and friends (I have always been perturbed by the way the average American household saves trading stamps, shops for the best buys, and then throws away many dollars' worth of cash and gifts in the trash!). In addition, many refunders borrow their friends' and family's names and mailing addresses since most refunds are limited to one per name or address. Some folks also trade off their extra refund offers to others who have usable refunds in their own surplus. And, sometimes, refunding colleagues will even sell a complete deal (everything needed to obtain a particular offer) for one-half of the refund's total face value. This is a good profit booster if you can afford to have your money tied up for several weeks or more.
In short, refunding is for everyone. Even our three-year-old is a refunder at heart. When she sees complete strangers empty the trash she tells them, "Save that. You can get money and presents for it!" Any day now I thoroughly expect her to flag down a garbage truck and have a heart-to-heart talk with the driver!
Daytona Beach, Fla.
A few years back, we suffered a severe financial loss in our business (building homes for speculation). At the time, we were truly scratching with the chickens and searching for ways and means to keep body and soul together.
Fortunately for us, however, we were lifetime subscribers to MOTHER EARTH NEWS and had a solid understanding of what was really necessary for good living and what was not. As a result, we'd been preparing ourselves for some time to "live better with less" independent of Big Brother and the Utility Companies. We had, for instance, already set up a standby water supply (in case the electricity went off, and stayed off); started to raise chickens, which supplied us with many eggs (we sold the surplus to health food stores); put in a garden, which provided us with ample vegetables to eat fresh in season and to can to carry us through the winter; installed passive solar heat in the form of 22 sand- and water-filled steel drums in the south windows of the basement (to keep our waterlines from freezing); and were enjoying an active source of heat in the form of our efficient wood-burning stove.
The only thing we needed was money! I'd tried several get-rich-quick schemes (including a venture into the international brokerage business) and darn near gone broke in the process. Finally, my wife suggested that we should (as MOTHER EARTH NEWS continually points out to her readers) make an effort to provide something basic to the needs of others. When we thought about that, we realized that most of our friends and neighbors had been inquiring of late about our old Ashley C-60 wood stove–how we liked it, where they could get one for their own homes, and so on. So we decided that this was the answer and went into the business of selling wood-burning stoves!
We started by taking out a bank loan for $3,000 on a 90-day note. Then we set out looking for a good dealer's price on a few good stoves (which we thought we'd sell from a pole building next to our chicken house by the pond). We soon found, however, that most suppliers insisted upon a minimum order of four units before they'd "qualify" us as a dealer, but our meager budget would not permit such an expenditure. We kept on searching anyway and found three suppliers who would sell us one unit each, just to help us get started.
Well, we were finally ready to go, but by that time the stove-selling season was already over for the year. Let me tell you, this gave us second thoughts about our unsold inventory. After all, to us it represented money invested but not working. Fortunately, the bank allowed us to make interest payments on the note, with extensions ... and soon fall arrived again, bringing our first customer with it.
When my son and I delivered our initial order (which weighed about 300 pounds) down a 14-step flight of basement stairs, the second thoughts began to flare up again. But we were soon making daily sales and the bank was paid off in full. We then expanded by taking on several other lines of stoves ... along with wood splatters, chain saws, and Aladdin lamps. It didn't take long to find out which stoves did the best job for our customers, though. We quickly eliminated all but four lines of fuel efficient, wood and/or coal burners. We also found the wood splitters to be more bother than they're worth, and the chain saws required a service shop (which we didn't care to have). So before long, our stock was boiled down to nothing but stoves, kerosene space heaters, and Aladdin lamps.
Our first full season proved to be well worth the effort, and our books reflected a reasonable profit for our investment of time and money. Best of all, our customers turned out to be our best salespeople! We give utmost attention to customer service, making sure our patrons have top quality equipment with top quality installation for maximum safety. It pays! Good service always returns handsome dividends in the form of referral business. (For each stove we sell, we now figure that we can expect at least three more sales later from nothing but the referrals of our satisfied customers.)
Now each fall we add a promotional touch to our store front in the form of a pumpkin patch. Children can take away any pumpkin they can carry. We believe they'll remember that experience for years to come.
Now that spring has arrived again, we've found that our stove business is really not at all as "seasonal" as we'd once thought. If anything, sales are picking up! (More and more folks are coming to the realization that they must plan ahead for their own well-being. They must be able to cook no matter what the weather and stay warn in the face of fuel emergencies and price increases. As a result, they're buying wood-burners year round now.)
Furthermore, our business has enjoyed yet another "frosting on the cake." When we put our own first stove to use in our kitchen, we found we needed something to protect the wooden wall behind the unit from the heat it generated. After searching in vain for a suitable substance, I decided to put my expertise in concrete technology to work ... and i came up with a formula for a 4' X 4', inch-and-a-half-thick "Insulcrete" panel. Boy! That protector really did the job! When installed just one inch from a blistering-hot stovepipe ... I could place my hand on the other side of the panel and feel no appreciable heat!
Quite naturally, I was proud of my creation but thought no more about it until our stove customers began asking how they, too, could protect their own walls. So, after I'd made a few more panels and sold them, my family and I set up four casting tables in the field next to our stove shop and began cranking out the fire guards. We worked longer and longer hours (always just barely keeping pace with orders), and have now gained the attention of dealers and major distributors who want our "Insulcrete" panels in even greater numbers. Consequently, we'll be granting licenses in this state and others for the manufacture of our partitions with matching hearths. (Anyone out there interested?)
My family is now a healthy, happy functioning unit, and we're all enjoying the good life thanks to MOTHER EARTH NEWS.John R. Gusler