Hard-of-hearing travelers often have a tough time in hotels because they don't know when to answer the telephone or the door -- and they can't hear a fire alarm. Customized Engineering Services Inc., of Laurel, Md., has developed a portable system that flashes a strobe light when the telephone rings, someone knocks, or the fire alarm sounds. Lights on the main console tell the guest what griggered the strobe. Holiday Inns Inc. has ordered 1,000 systems for its hotels, which will lend the briefcase-size system to guests when they check in.

Time is money in business, and taking a car to the car wash costs plenty of time. So Mobile Express Car Wash, of Kansas City, Kans., brings the wash to the car. Using vans equipped with water, buffers, and vacuum cleaners -- everything needed for the job -- employees wash cars in driveways and office or club parking lots. The company charges a pricey $19 for some washes, but, like a fancy restaurant, it caters to clients who treat the cost as a tax-deductible business expense.

The fitness craze has produced many sick start-ups in the health spa business, putting a premium on new marketing strategies. Judy Fannin, of Ashland, Ky., is pulling in workout clients to Concepts in Fitness Inc. by offering plenty of vanity under one roof. In addition to the spa, her "minimall" houses a beauty salon, color consultant, and designer-clothes outlet -- tenants that also help cash flow.

How do you sell an apple for $5? Like many businesspeople, David Guthrie looked for a way to add value to his product. Apple Attractions Inc., of Tonasket, Wash., grows Red Delicious apples in bags to prevent reddening. After harvest, workers put sticker designs on the cream-colored apples and allow light to redden them. Then they remove the stickers. Voila! Red apples with cream-colored designs. Guthrie expects the apples to appeal to health-conscious gift-givers and Big Apple tourists.

Since the breakup of the Bell System, American Telephone & Telegraph Co. can't sell local calls, and local phone companies can't sell most long-distance ones. But Peoples Telephone Co., in Miami, isn't subject to these rules; it combines several forms of deregulation into a single service. The company installs its own coin and credit card telephones, paying up to 20% commission to the site's owner. Peoples Telephone offers local and long-distance service, both provided by reselling bulk lines from the local Bell operating company and several long-distance carriers.