Avocations become side businesses for entrepreneurs mixing work and pleasure.
George Ibach's businesses keep his feet planted on the ground--he runs three Spring-Green Lawn Care franchises that generate $650,000 in sales. But in his spare time, he takes to the skies. "There's nothing I do that I don't find a business angle to," says the Minneapolis-based Ibach, 54 (third from left). So when he started flying hot air balloons recreationally 26 years ago, he offered rides to enthralled spectators; today, his $100,000 Ibach Balloon Co. sells balloons, gives flying lessons, and provides marketing for five corporate clients by flying branded balloons at events nationwide. "You get up in that balloon and all the stress disappears," says Ibach. "It's just you and the landscape."
The phrase "keeping up with the Joneses" refers to Edith Wharton's aunt, a social arbiter of Gilded Age New York; the term "hick" is derived from the wealthy Long Island Hicks, who would visit Manhattan, only to be snubbed for their rural ways. These legends come courtesy of Art Zuckerman, 50, a New York City entrepreneur and trivia buff who with his wife, Susan, turned a passion for the Big Apple into a side business (indeed, they count 1,300 books on New York in their library). In 1996, Zuckerman, who founded and runs software firm Armascan Development Group, volunteered as a walking tour guide as a way to shed a few pounds. Now Tawny Tours conducts nearly 40 tours a year, taking groups of four to 100 on four- to six-hour treks with themes like dog-friendly New York or Greenwich Village musicians. Together with offshoot RaconTours, which sells audio tours and videotapes of city sights, the business brings in about $350,000 a year. "I almost feel guilty getting paid," says Zuckerman, whose custom tours can cost upward of $150 per person. "We're having such a good time."
"I don't like to sit still, and my wife was looking for a way to make that work in a family setting," says Sean McLaughlin, founder and CEO of the $21 million, 125-employee trading-software manufacturer Eze Castle Software in Boston. He and his wife, Laura, bought a 100-acre apple orchard in Harvard, Mass., hired neighboring farmers to teach them harvesting basics, and began renovating the 1730s farmhouse on the property. But his plan to sell apples wholesale had slim profit margins, so the 35-year-old turned the farm into a U-Pick orchard. The McLaughlins, including six rambunctious children under 10, bake pies, press cider, and prepare food for the 8,000 visitors who stream in every year. They also raise sheep and chickens. Little Rascals Orchard, which adds several temporary employees during apple-picking season, will bring in $60,000 this year--but more important, it provides a bucolic place for the family to frolic together every weekend.
Ken Irwin and Donna Wilson Irwin bought their 1901 Georgian revival house in quiet Newburyport, Mass., after a single viewing five years ago. The Irwins expected Donna's parents as frequent guests, but those visits were few and far between. So the gregarious couple decided that with Donna's event-planning background and Ken's business acumen--he's a founder of Rounder Records, a $30 million, 100-employee music label that reps such musicians as Alison Krauss and Raffi--they could make the five-bedroom, seven-bathroom house a bed-and-breakfast. Artists, authors, and record producers have signed the guestbook. "It's like meeting new friends every weekend," says Ken, 59, who takes care of housekeeping duties while Donna cooks and greets guests. Newburyport Bed & Breakfast isn't exactly lucrative, but the Irwins don't mind. Not one bit.