Dear Norm,
My husband and I have a business that rents ostrich-feather centerpieces, mainly for weddings. We get an overwhelming number of inquiries from California, Texas, and Florida. Because we are based in Cleveland, our travel fee to those states is a minimum of $1,000, which is more than most potential clients can afford. As a result, we lose the sales. How can we accommodate these requests? Right now, we are turning away a lot of good prospects.

--Angel Davis, Feathers By Angel, Cleveland

This is another business I'd never heard of. When I asked Angel how she got into it, she told me she had seen photos of ostrich-feather centerpieces at celebrity weddings and decided to use them for her own. It turned out they were available wholesale for about $150 each. She and her husband purchased 150 of them and built a business renting them out for other weddings and special events. The rental fee of $49 or $59 per centerpiece includes the lights illuminating each display as well as setup and removal. Travel expenses are extra, however, and can make the cost prohibitive to potential clients in distant states. I suggested that Angel consider modifying her business model. Instead of traveling to every event, she could team up with wedding professionals in other states who would, in effect, become her agents. She could offer them not only new leads but also an additional product to sell, on which she would receive a commission. As long as she protected herself by making sure her centerpieces were sufficiently differentiated from others, she could make as much as 20 percent per sale, which is revenue she isn't getting now, and it would require a small investment of time and money. I urged her to check out the many wedding planner and florist associations. Angel liked the idea and began her search for potential partners that same day. We'll see how it works out.

Please send all questions to Norm Brodsky is a veteran entrepreneur. His co-author is editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. Their book, The Knack, is now available in paperback under the title Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs.

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