The Business: How's this for the ultimate lifestyle play? Follow in the footsteps of two guys who chucked their corporate careers 14 years ago to become repairers and restorers of stained-glass windows, mainly for churches, synagogues, and historic buildings in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. You don't have to be a Michelangelo to run this two-person operation. But you do have to be willing to spend a couple of months learning from the current owners how to preserve, modernize, and even construct pieces for fees that range from $1,000 to $20,000 per window. With three-quarters of sales coming from repeat customers and a payment history that would turn larger companies stained-glass-green with envy, this business's devoted client base and relative lack of competition are its biggest selling points. Other assets include $15,000 worth of inventory and equipment, including a van, cutters, and a curved-glass framer. After passing on the scaffolding, the current owners are planning to reinvent their work lives yet again.

Price: $155,000 (does not include studio or office). With a $60,000 down payment, owner financing is possible for five years at 9%.

Outlook: Prospects for this niche industry (about 200 studios nationwide) look as shiny as, well, gussied-up stained glass, given that most windows require preservation after 75 to 125 years and current demand outpaces supply in many regions, such as this company's home base. As for this restorer, a new owner could polish up its growth prospects by hiring additional work crews, starting to aggressively market its services, and broadening the customer base to include residential work and new commissions. The good news: its current financial picture already looks like a masterpiece, given a gross profit margin of 70%--which is more than double the glazing industry's average of 31% for similar-sized companies.

Price Rationale: Here's the crack in the casement: with tiny industries like this one, it's difficult to come up with valuation rules of thumb or recent sales trends. For lack of better guidelines, treat this as a general-service business; in today's hot mergers-and-acquisitions market, a good price range is 1.5 to 2 times recast earnings. Since this company's results have bounced around--mainly depending upon when jobs have been completed and paid--it's best to rely on a three-year average, or about $110,000. But don't think of this company as a whopping bargain, although it is priced below the suggested range of $165,000 to $220,000; a discount makes sense here, since a new owner will need either to split profits with a partner or to hire a crew. (All jobs require at least two workers.)

Pros: You'd need a crystal ball, not a bottle of Windex, to find many lifestyle businesses with margins as pretty as this one's.

Cons: If you're afraid of heights, slivers of glass, or getting too far off the fast track, this is one scaffold to stay off of. Maybe the view from that corporate window really doesn't look so dull after all. --Jill Andresky Fraser

FINANCIALS

Year Gross Revenues Recast Earnings*
1995 $174,800 $130,400
1996 $113,500 $81,700
1997 $201,400 $119,500

*Before interest, taxes, depreciation, and owners' compensation

Inc. has no stake in the sale of the business featured. The magazine cannot confirm the accuracy of financial or other information offered by the seller. Inquiries should be directed to John Barnard of SVI Corp., at 603-883-0238.