Star Tribune Business - 3/02/2003 Youngblood: Business niches can be opportunities

By Dick Youngblood

One is Kimberly Baeth, 31, who in five years has built a thriving business out of planning grand openings. Oh yes, and selling 3-foot-long metal scissors used in ribbon-cuttings, for which folks pay anywhere from $200 to $600.

Then there's Anne Ferreira, 33, a onetime waitress who proved she could make tastier desserts than her employer -- and wound up with a growing pastry and catering business that specializes in home cooking for the actors and stagehands on movie sets and theater stages hereabouts.

Their topic, naturally: business niches that offer toothsome opportunities and comparatively limited competition.

We'll hear first from Baeth, who has translated an admittedly off-beat imagination into a $275,000-a-year business.

"I was working as member services director at the North Hennepin Chamber of Commerce, and I kept getting calls from members looking for help with their grand openings," Baeth said. "Where could they find decorations and food, get invitations printed and press releases done?

"I tried referring them to chamber members, but I couldn't find anyone who did all the things they needed -- or even most of them," she said. "There were lots of event planners, but there didn't seem to be anyone who specialized in grand openings."

There is now: Since 1998, Baeth's Golden Openings Inc. in New Hope has been operating on her theory that "you can't just hang up a banner and expect people to come to your event; you've got to do something fun, even wacky, to draw a crowd."

Which helps explain why one hardware dealer was giving away toilet paper to grand opening visitors ("People were lined up around the block"). Or why a new medical-office building had trick-or-treaters scampering about the premises for its October opening ("it's now an annual event").

Lighted ice cube anyone?

Over the years, Baeth has enlisted the help of "Baywatch" cast members for a Bally Total Fitness opening, lured Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa for a Prize for Humanity event and drafted gardening guru Rebecca Kolls to help open a TCF branch.

She knows where to rent furniture, tents and -- perhaps most important -- portable potties. She often saves clients money by persuading local restaurants to provide free food in exchange for event publicity. And she's adept at locating unusual items, once including some ice cubes that lit up.

Most important, she offers a a lengthy list of event themes she's prepared to deliver, ranging from a pirate ship or western roundup to a Mad Hatter tea party or Star Trek odyssey.

"I'd rather not do a Hawaiian luau every other week," said Baeth, the daughter of a home builder who's skilled enough with a hammer and saw to build her own props.

Her most high-profile accomplishment might be those oversized scissors, however.

"I used to have a large pair of wooden scissors with razors attached that I used for ribbon cuttings," said Baeth, who counts TCF, Ace Hardware and Opus Corp. among her regular clients. "People kept asking where they could buy them, and I couldn't tell them."

Then a relative who owns a manufacturing shop made her a pair of metal shears, which set Baeth's entrepreneurial instincts aquiver. She started selling giant scissors made of stainless steel or chrome, often adding engravings or decals with corporate logos, and opened a scissors page on her Web site (http://www.goldenopenings.com). That's how the Macy's folks located the shears used to open their most recent Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The upshot: Since mid-2001, Baeth has sold more than $55,000 worth of the scissors.