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  • Funeral Homes Face Hard Times

    It's a tough time to be in the death-care business—or what all us non-undertakers refer to as funeral homes. At Service Corp. International (SCI), the Houston-based giant with 2,000 homes, the number of services conducted fell 2,131, or 4 percent, from last year. And revenue per funeral barely kept pace with inflation, rising just 2.7 percent. At the Batesville Casket Co., a unit of publicly held Hillenbrand Industries and one of the largest U.S. coffin makers, sales in the first nine months of 2007 were flat compared with 2006.In theory, death care should be immune from short-term economic swings. Death is one of only two sure things in life, and the U.S. population is aging. "This is one industry that pretty much holds strong regardless of the economy," says Mike Nicodemus, funeral director at Hollomon-Brown Funeral Homes, a 10-operation chain in Virginia Beach, Va. But costs for raw materials (wood, flowers) are rising, while the flow of customers has slowed. "There's been a...
  • Personal Finance Tips: Banks

    Simplicity can sometimes be overrated. Folks may pay a price when they insist on keeping their finances pared down. Here's how to make money by complicating matters.• Use lots of banks: Your neighborhood branch might have the most local ATMs, but the online players like ingdirect.com, bankofinternet.com and etradebank.com are offering better than 3 percent interest on checking, and sweet CD rates, too. Online transfers are easy. You can still keep a cash fund close to home.• Build a bigger wallet: Using one credit card for everything is easy, but wrong. You can earn hundreds of dollars a year maxing out rewards by using different cards for different types of purchases. That's because most reward cards cap the amount they'll give you in a year. Many offer higher rewards for specific purchases. Some of the more robust deals are the Chase PerfectCard (3 percent back on gas); the Citibank Driver's Edge card (6 percent back for one year at groceries, drugstores and gas stations, plus 1...
  • Adventure Travel: Wild Animals

    Need a break from the daily grind? Spend some time with exotic animals in their natural habitats. WhaleSwim Adventures offers an eight-night expedition to Tonga in the South Pacific, where travelers can frolic with humpback whales, as well as snorkel in reefs and underwater caves. Meals and accommodations are included (recommended only for strong swimmers, from $3,444, excluding airfare; whaleswim.com).For more of an adrenaline kick, Absolute Adventures—Shark Diver offers trips from San Diego to the coast of Baja, where divers don scuba gear before being lowered in cages to observe great whites. The package includes a videographer, gourmet meals and accommodations on an expedition yacht ($100,000 a week; sharkdivers.com).Have only a few hours? On the one-day "Blue Mountains Wilderness, Wildlife Park" tour in Australia, visitors can feed kangaroos and cuddle koalas at a wildlife park ($130; sydneywildernesstours.com .au). In Dubai, you can bond with dromedaries on a camel trek into...
  • Home Decor Inspired by Cars

    For car buffs, names like Lamborghini and Mercedes-Benz conjure up images of speed and style. But these traits need no longer be confined to the garage. Some carmakers are applying them to home furnishings.The Tonino Lamborghini home collection, produced by Formitalia, reflects the power and elegance of the cars (formitalia.it). The six-seat Pista sofa ($29,774) is made of gray ostrich and deer leather, and looks dashing next to a black lacquered side table ($9,127). The Raceway chaise longue features white ostrich leather and nickel legs ($6,232). For the kitchen, pieces include a red ostrich-leather double-door fridge ($20,286) and a yellow ostrich-leather wall clock ($580).The Mercedes-Benz Lifestyle Collection includes a speedometer-inspired AMG desk clock ($100; accessories.mbusa.com). Ferrari sells a Plexiglas umbrella stand lined with fabric bearing images of the steering wheel and dashboard of a vintage Ferrari ($296; ferraristore.com). And for some English elegance, Aston...
  • Can Garmin Maintain GPS Lead?

    Garmin is a leader in consumer GPS technology. But it now faces plummeting prices and competition from cell phones. Can the company find its way?
  • A Facebook for Boomers

    As she turned 50, the founder of Parenting magazine wanted more than an AARP card. Her new start-up aims to be a social network for the graying set.
  • Reviews: New Business Books

    New York Times columnist Krugman crunches data and cruises through history to locate the origins of rising income inequality. "The Shrill One," as he's been dubbed by friend and foe, gives issues like the decline of unions and free trade their due. But Krugman believes income inequality is largely a political issue. For more than a generation, he argues, Republicans have used race-based electoral strategies to pursue economic policies that helped the rich. Today, though, demographics and economic winds favor the Democrats. An oversimplification? Sure. But Krugman's command of economic data and eagerness to dispense with politesse make for a compelling read.Capitalism has enriched many, but is the world better off? Reich, Labor secretary under President Bill Clinton, explains how turbocharged global moneymaking is endangering democracy. He says low prices and consumer choice have also increased wage inequity and global warming. But he doesn't blame Wal-Mart. "We shouldn't expect...
  • Make Your Own Wedding Rings

    Isn't it romantic? And profitable, too. Couples who shop at New York Wedding Rings don't just buy their platinum bands—they design and make them themselves. Owner Sam Abbay started as a jewelry-making hobbyist who hoped somehow to build a business. "I realized I liked making gifts," he recalls. So he figured out he would sell the gift-making instead of the gift. Wedding and engagement rings were an obvious choice. That was in San Francisco at the end of 2005, and now there is a San Francisco branch, run by a friend, and the main New York shop, opened last year in the West Village, when Abbay moved there.He currently works with roughly 10 customers a month in New York—at an average of about $3,200 per ring. Couples can design anything from simple bands to intricate ones: carved, engraved or stamped, and molded of gold, platinum or palladium. It typically takes two days for a custom ring; simple bands are priced from $1,200 to $2,250 and take a day. Engagement rings typically take...
  • Firm Offers Ads on Handstamps

    Here's some new advertising space: the back of your hand. Nightclubs and other hand-stamping venues are getting paid to use logos, phone numbers and other advertising marks when they stamp customers who have paid cover charges or are old enough to buy drinks.An Australian firm, Passout Marketing, says it's already stamping about 5 million hands a year there for clients including Boost Juice and IKEA. In the United States, Orange County start-up Handvertising USA is building a network of venues that it sells to advertisers. including a real-estate company, a radio station and an alcohol brand. Handvertising charges advertisers about 50 cents a hand, and pays a dime of that to the venue.Secret shoppers spot-check the venues to make sure the stamps are being used. Owner Mike Brown is adding sales reps to promote the idea to marketers and others to sell to the clubs. He says he wants to build a nationwide big-city club network and sell the stamping rights to brand-name advertisers that...
  • When Will the Slump End?

    At the height of the boom, author and former Wall Streeter John Talbott warned of the crisis to come. Unfortunately, his latest predictions aren't promising.
  • Our Great Recession Obsession

    No one likes the side effects of a recession: higher unemployment, weaker profits. But slumps are inevitable, and they do have some benefits.
  • Split By Decision

    The rich are getting richer due to market forces—and to very human choices.
  • The Global Poverty Trap

    Without the proper cultural catalysts, those trying to escape from poverty face long odds.
  • Media Meccas

    Mideast nations eager to develop entertainment hubs are pouring money into Hollywood.
  • A Mission Of Her Own

    Gynecologist Hilda Hutcherson is fighting to help women combat the constant pressure to be perfect.
  • Foxy Business News

    Rupert Murdoch serves Wall Street to the masses with banter, beer and breasts. Watch out, CNBC.
  • Making Sense of Health Savings Accounts

    It's going to take Washington a while to figure out the future of health insurance. In the meantime, anyone with a high-deductible health-insurance plan, and a health-care savings account to go with it, can make some hay. They're ever more popular: some 4.5 million people were covered by these plans in 2007. That's more than doubled from the previous year. But folks flocking to these plans have yet to figure out the best way to capitalize on them. Their real worth is not in saving a fast buck on Band-Aids. They're really a back-door way to save for retirement. Here's how.
  • A Rail Car Of One’s Own

    Reminiscent of an era of cigar smoke and three-piece suits, vintage railroad cars are being restored with art deco interiors, private bathrooms and five-star chefs. For about $7,000 a day, these cars can be hitched to passenger or freight trains for private charter in the United States, Mexico and Canada (aaprco.com). The Hickory Creek, a restored 1948 Pullman car, once ferried movie stars and media from New York to Chicago along the 20th Century Limited line. Today the dining car uses silver and original waiter uniforms to give guests "some of that Cary Grant feeling," says charter agent Scott Clauss (startrakinc. com). Riders on the opulent Metis rail car, built in 1928 for Queen Elizabeth to tour Canada, can dine on lobster and truffles in the mahogany dining room (americanrail. com). They may hope the trip never ends.
  • Quick Read

    Conference Board president Spector and consultant Libert have plenty of their own wisdom to draw on, but that didn't stop them from getting help in writing their book. Using wikis, they collected expertise from more than 4,000 people representing top B-schools and organizations. There's plenty of advice about cutting costs, raising capital and understanding the potential of social networking, but the tale of how the collaborators turned all this advice into a book may be the most interesting thing they have to offer.Belfort's improbable rise from anonymity in New York's outer boroughs to infamy as the drug-gobbling chieftain of a fraudulent stock brokerage has already been fodder for a cult movie, Ben Younger's 2000 "Boiler Room." But now after time in jail and rehab, Belfort gets to tell this sordid tale himself. The title misleads (Belfort's crew of scammers operated from Long Island, not Manhattan), and you may hate yourself for giving him $25 of your hard-earned money (even if...
  • Feather Fashion

    Birds of a feather do flock together. This autumn, ostrich, pheasant and even pigeon feathers are popping up on jackets, gowns, handbags and necklaces. The feathered look can be bold and bright, or sweetly ephemeral.Prada adorns a sleeveless knee-length coat with long, black beaded feathers. With a mohair faux-fur vest on top and an orange felt band, it's a whimsical take on the trend ($6,550; prada.com).Nina Ricci has her models wearing wispy ostrich feathers threaded through their hair, like Shakespeare's midsummer fairies. The motif is repeated in an alpaca and mohair poncho. In soft light gray, the poncho's chunky knit and asymmetrical hem complement the strands of feathers woven throughout ($1,215; eluxury.com).Alexander McQueen is enamored of ostrich feathers, too, using them to decorate a short sage-green silk-chiffon cocktail dress. The turtleneck top is woven in delicate gold beads in a deep V shape, and the feathers—surrounding the hips through midthigh in a pouf—add a...
  • Win Prizes Online At Work!

    Need a new way to motivate employees? Have them play Vegas-style games in their cubicles. Snowfly, a Laramie, Wyo., consulting company, is marketing a corporate-incentive system in which employees get game tokens when they hit performance objectives. They then use the tokens—actually electronic codes—in online games of chance that can yield bonuses of up to $50, or benefits like extra time off. Clients like Regence BlueCross BlueShield in Portland, Ore., say the quick-playing games have improved both the bottom line and their ability to retain good workers.Snowfly was founded by Brooks Mitchell, a University of Wyoming management professor and behavior scientist who says workers are motivated by frequent rewards. The elegance of the incentive system is that giving employees a few bucks each time they do something right might seem cheesy. But "10 chances to win hundreds!"—while you're on the job—is an incentive that any cubicle jockey can surely appreciate.
  • Dream House or Nightmare?

    For years Americans custom-built homes with pricey extras expecting high returns on their investment. They're in for a letdown.
  • Women Leaders' Success Secrets

    These 11 women came from many different backgrounds, but they all had big dreams. The path to power meant facing obstacles and their biggest fears.
  • Feeling Pinch, Americans Trade Down

    Average Americans were living like the Riches, thanks to easy credit and the real-estate bubble. Now they're trading down instead of trading up.
  • Prick Up Your Rabbit Ears

    When cable TV arrived in the ' 70s, rabbit ears seemed destined to go the way of the polyester pantsuit. So, too, the clunky outdoor antenna, a rooftop fixture that once upon a time signaled the rise of television in American life. But a funny thing happened on the way to the analog dust heap: it turns out that a new generation of rabbit ears and antennas can receive high-definition television broadcasts. And it's free.The irony is marvelous. Pushed into obsolescence by the technological advances of cable and satellite, antennas are re-emerging thanks to one of the most promising high-tech services of the digital age. High-def channels can be plucked out of thin air by antennas just like regular broadcast signals--no cable, no satellite dish, no monthly bill, no waiting for the cable man. It's like the old days, except this time antennas (which cost between $18 and $150) may offer the clearest picture. "More than 90 percent of our customers say they want the antennas for high-def,"...