Oakland Tribune
September 25, 2005

Entrepreneurs leave home base behind, love it when business is 'on the move'


SOME PEOPLE can't sit still. They don't like being stuck in an office cubicle. They want to set their own hours, be their own bosses and get out and about. They could be a locksmith, a plumber or a piano tuner. They could be a computer technician, someone who repairs windshields or an aquarium cleaner.

They share a common trait: They are mobile entrepreneurs. They bring their businesses to you, whether it's in your home or office.

They face their share of challenges, from competition to high gas costs. But they benefit from reaching a wider customer base, writing off travel expenses and avoiding the overhead costs of running a storefront.

Of all home-based businesses in the country, industry experts estimate that one-third of them have a mobile element.

Here is a closer look at several entrepreneurs who have created their own businesses and made them mobile.

LINDA KAY - Piano technician 'If you're good and know what to do, I think you will always be able to find pianos to tune.' If you go to a house where Linda Kay is working and hear a Bach prelude being played, you know her job is almost finished. For the past 30 years, Kay of Oakland has been traveling to people's homes to tune their pianos. At the end of the job that takes 45 minutes to more than two hours, she plays Bach to signify completion. "I've probably played it millions of times," said Kay, who is certified with the Piano Technicians Guild. "Never to the end, but I always play it." Every day Kay usually tunes at least one piano and sometimes two. In the earlier years, that number was sometimes three or four, but she has cut back because of the strain tuning can put on her body. Her favorites are Yamahas, but a Steinway might be a close second. "I originally had hoped to do something with my music degree, but there wasn't much I could do, because it's really hard for a composer to make it," she said. "Then I thought tuning pianos might be fun, and I became really committed, and I really got into it." For those who have a regular tuning, Kay typically charges $110. Pianos that have greater pitch problems can cost anywhere from $155 to $185. While she occasionally brings some of the insides of the piano home to work on, the majority of her time is spent in people's homes since tuning is the "bread and butter" of her business. Between appointments she enjoys taking a break and listening to her favorite classical station on the radio. "It's also nice because I don't have to work crazy shifts and I can pretty much name a lot of my times," she said. One of the biggest benefits to her trade has been the technological advances in the industry. Instead of a tuning fork, she uses a program she keeps on her personal digital assistant. "It makes the tuning process much faster and you can zone right in and make the piano sound really good," she said. "It enables us to do a concert quality tuning on every piano." Although Kay is happy to take on new business, the fact that most pianos need to be tuned a couple of times a year has given her many regular accounts she can count on. "If you're good and know what to do, I think you will always be able to find pianos to tune," she said. "Fortunately there are a good number of people into getting their piano tuned.

Linda Kay can be reached at (510) 463-0313.

Email: itune88@comcast.net

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