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First Week of Mike on America

2007 May 10
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - There you sit... goop on your head... wrapped in a hot towel and a young lady with electric -- yes, electric -- gloves is massaging your neck... Whoa, what is this?

It's the Hair Club for Men salon/treatment center in West Palm Beach -- the last stop on this week's travels with 'Mike On America'.

Hair Club is the leading revenue center for the Regis Corporation and is a 30 year old plus company founded on one truism -- men will lose their hair, no matter how many hats they wear. (Women too -- but until recently that was a whole different business.)

Since its founder was not only the CEO... 'but a customer too' -- this is a company on a growth pattern (no pun intended) over the last few years in large measure thanks to its new 31 year old CEO and president. Fraser Clarke -- a Canadian by birth and an investment banker by trade -- took over the business a couple of years ago. They've expanded into hair replacements for women -- not wigs, but hair 'applications,' hair transplants and 'preventative' products -- Rogaine, Propecia and the like.

The whole set up is 'salon-esque' and -- I'll be damned -- out of the four or five people we met in the place, there's no way you would guess they were wearing a 'rug' -- or hair 'application.'

At 90 stores, they're about tapped out in North America--but overseas expansion is high on their list of things to do--particularly in Mexico and other Latin countries. India is a big market as well. Yes, India -- it's not culturally 'cool' to go bald in India.

The things you learn on the road! Parking the Chevy until next week.

Adios, amigos.

Yes -- electric gloves!

2007 May 8
Hardware, Sinks and Hammers

ORLANDO, Fla. - 300,000 square feet of hammers, wrenches and lawn chairs! It's the International Hardware Show at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando Florida.

A multi-billion dollar business segment that 'umbrellas' everything from crescent wrenches to lawn chairs to 'gourmet' plates. Top of the list in Orlando is paint, the original crescent wrench and smoke detectors that 'talk' to each other -- one 'telling' the others in your house by wireless connection when there is a fire in one room.

Scotts is a big player on the lawn and garden side, and I spent some time with an old friend, Ashton Ritchie. He's the guy who does their TV and radio ads, and also is up to date on the latest R&D. They're still working on 'slow' growing grass (imagine mowing the lawn only once a month!) and their launch of the patented fertilizer system last year, the best selling launch in their history, is being followed up by the same equipment being used on the 'bloom all 'product.

The market will soon see the box 'taco' -- the hit of the inventors' corner. It keeps those pesky flaps down on a box while you're trying to pack it.

Business across the 'sector' is good -- when housing starts are up--so is need for 'new' hardware and outdoor lifestyle materials--when housing starts are down--people need to repaint and repair. Interesting 'sector.'

Hair Club for Men & Women is next. Think rugs -- on top.

2007 May 7
Cold as Ice

MOULTRIE, Ga. - The 'Mike On America' road show rolled into Moultrie, Georgia on Monday -- and right into another example of the "American Dream."

Ice House America: a two-and-a-half year old company that, from a standing start, will bring home 34 million in sales in 2007.

What is it? A new way to look at the two billion dollar plus ice market. You've bought ice at the corner convenience store. You've had to slam the bag on the sidewalk to break it up. You've paid roughly two bucks for a seven-pound bag, and it's never enough.

Here's a value proposition for you: a buck-twenty-five for 16 pounds in a bag, or 20 pounds in bulk -- fresh, no melt. Thirty seconds -- you're in, you're out and on your way.

Bob Alligood is the CEO -- a guy who has had two careers already, who made his money and is running Ice House America out of his hometown of Moultrie, Georgia.

Moultrie is a farming town down on its luck that, thanks to Alligood and a statewide assistance program, is showing new signs of life. It's a small version of the Viking stove success; local guy moves away, becomes successful but never forgets where he's from.

Ice House America is the OEM of ice machines. They make a unique delivery system that they sell to dealers, and then the dealers sell to individual entrepreneurs. It takes about $100,000 to get it going per machine, but on average, each machine -- and they have 650 around the country -- makes $120,000 per year. In ice!!

But the heart and soul of the story is Alligood and his dedication to the folks in his small hometown. The American dream never dies. Off to the Hardware Show in Orlando tomorrow.

Back to the road.

Questions? Comments? mikeonamerica@cnbc.com