The economy is brutal, but their business booms

Many housing-related businesses, from builders to bathroom renovators, are suffering or even closing. But tiny Bathroom Magic of Fairfax, Va., is "coming off the best year we've ever had," says owner Jeff Miller.

Miller says his 2008 revenue jumped about 75% compared with the previous year. That's because Miller, who works alone or with a few helpers, can make a bathroom look nearly new for a fraction of what it costs to remodel.

"When the economy goes down, my business takes off," Miller says.

He uses a porcelainlike spray to reglaze old but functional bathtubs, sinks, toilets and tile. That way, homeowners don't have to buy new ones and pay contractors to install them.

His fee for reglazing a standard 5-foot-long, cast-iron bathtub in white or bone color is $425. Miller has reglazed bathtubs and toilets that were black, pink, yellow and silver. Hiring a contractor to break up an old bathtub, haul away the pieces, install a new tub, then tile around it, can cost thousands of dollars.

Getting a charge

Dallas-based Interstate Batteries, with 125 retail stores nationwide, seems to have little in common with Bathroom Magic. But Interstate is benefiting from the same do-it-yourself, cost-cutting fever sweeping consumers.

The 56-year-old, private company sells batteries not only for cars and trucks, but also for power tools, hearing aids, cellphones, cameras, laptop computers, toys and other devices. Interstate's retail stores, called All Battery Centers, sell batteries that people can install on their own, or customers can pay to have them installed.

"October and December were the best months for revenues and profits in our company's history," says Mickey Elam, vice president at Interstate Batteries.

The company opened 43 new stores last year. It now has 125 stores in 41 states, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Elam says sales in October, November and December combined were up 12% year-over-year.

In December, Interstate began airing ads on cable TV featuring its top-selling auto battery, the green and white Mega-Tron.

"With the recession, people are not upgrading to new products, whether it's cars or laptops," Elam says. "Instead, they are trying to extend the life of their products."

Finding the loot

Internet site PropertyRoom.com auctions off — eBay style — valuables seized by law enforcement agents from criminals. Among the typical loot: precious jewelry, fancy watches, designer handbags, cars, computers and rare coins.

In 2008, the company sold $34 million worth of merchandise, up 38% from 2007, says CEO P.J. Bellomo. In 2008, 68% more people visited the company's website than in 2007. Last year was the eighth and best year for the business, which is based in Mission Viejo, Calif.

Founded by a former New York City police detective, PropertyRoom lists as clients 1,300 law enforcement agencies and several large cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Las Vegas and Milwaukee.

Some proceeds of every PropertyRoom sale go back to the police department or city that seized the merchandise.

One item to be auctioned soon: a man's 9-carat diamond ring in 18-karat gold, size 11, seized from a Texas drug dealer. Retail value: at least $47,000.

"It's huge," says Bellomo. "That thing fits my thumb."

In December, the site auctioned seven diamond rings and five Rolex watches.

Bellomo figures many customers used the site for holiday shopping.

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