Archive for 2011
Life Change: Getting Rich Making Rubber Duckies
Craig Wolfe had already owned one successful company. For his encore, he wanted to create the product he would sell.
By: The Aging Diva
November 22, 2011
CelebriDuck’s fanciful creatures are big sellers.Source: Courtesy of CelebriDucks
Craig Wolfe is proud to be bringing production of his rubber ducks back to the States, where the first rubber duck was made.
He already had a successful business selling animation art to collectors, but at age 45, Craig Wolfe was bored. “Okay, I was the largest marketer of animation artwork of the Budweiser frogs and the Coke bears. But I didn’t create them, I just sold and re-edited their artwork. I wanted my own creation.”
The time was right. Wolfe could see that the market for animation had peaked. He had a fanciful idea for his next act: rubber ducks, but with a twist. His version of the classic bath toy would bear the likeness of cartoon characters, politicians, celebrities and historical figures.
His venture didn’t start off with a bang. “I called King Features, which owns the rights to Betty Boop. The woman there thought I was crazy. It was one of those phone calls we’ve all had where they’re trying to get rid of you. She said, ‘Make one and then we’ll talk,’” Wolfe recalls. He called her bluff and did just that. King licensed the imagery and Betty continues as one of CelebriDucks’ best sellers.
Wolfe also got a fast education in how complex making a simple toy could be. “I had to fabricate them in China, a galaxy far, far away. There were issues about floating, because our ducks have bigger heads. Hardness of the plastic. Packaging.” You name it, there were lots of hurdles to overcome.
The effort was rewarded. CelebriDucks exploded after an Atlantic City paper followed up on a press release Wolfe sent out. The Philadelphia 76ers read the story and called wanting a CelebriDuck of superstar Allen Iverson. “We did that duck. The cornrows, the tattoos, the earring, everything was perfect.” The Yankees called, and the Cubs. So did companies as diverse as Reebok, Southwest Airlines, Pepsi and Subaru. “We flew in 2,000 ducks for the launch of Conan O’Brien’s new show.”
In a good year, CelebriDucks ships more than 100,00 ducks.
That was two decades ago. Now Wolfe, 59, is broadening the business, with a line of Canards sold with chocolates. But the initiative Wolfe is proudest of is bringing manufacturing back to America.
“The rubber duck was invented in America. We’re bringing it back. We have a factory in Ohio that will make a line of Hatched in the USA ducks. Eventually, they’ll make all of our ducks. To bring an industry back here is without a doubt one of the most important things I have ever been a part of.”
Wolfe’s Rules for Success
Have patience. This is Wolfe’s cardinal rule. “You should create something great. I believe that if you build it they will come, but it takes time.”
Count your money right. “It’s not how much money you make, it’s how much you keep. Overhead will destroy you. Work out of your bedroom. People think I spent $10,000 on my website. I spent $500.”
Outsource, outsource, outsource. Don’t add staff too quickly. “Let the business push you to the next level. I outsource 99% of what I do. I work out of my house in Marin, everybody else is scattered all over the world.”
Get feedback. “Don’t sit in a vacuum. Take the people you least want to talk to and get their feedback. In my company, everyone has carte blanche to talk to me about anything.”
Fail well. “Wasn’t it Churchill who said the key to success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. Failure helps you fine-tune, come out stronger. And remember that many great brands got started in some of our worst economic times.”
Take one lazy afternoon, an excess of alcohol and two old friends shooting the breeze and what do you get? A great business idea.
Such was the case with CelebriDucks, a new take on an old toy — rubber duckies with famous faces under their bills, like President Obama and Elvis Presley.
“Our most popular, even internationally, is Mr. T,” said founder Craig Wolfe. “I had no idea how much everyone loved rubber ducks.”
He started the company in 1998 with $100,000 he made from selling his precious art animation company. Since that time, CelebriDucks has sold more than one million ducks and will hit $1 million in revenue this year. With 12 to 15 new ducks to be added to the line next year, the company is projected to grow by 50% in 2012.
Not bad for a guy who is the company’s only employee. He outsources all other tasks to 25 subcontractors. He also works from his home in California’s Marin County. “I resist expansion, build organically and turn down all investor’s offers,” he said.
Wolfe negotiates licensing and pays a percentage of every sale to those celebrities or estates he selects to “duckify.” Some licenses are limited like Charlie Chaplin — and after the run, these ducks are “retired from the pond” — he said. Others, like the Jesus duck, will be with us always, he added.
Wolfe is delighted by suggestions he gets for new ducks from fans and collectors. “I keep a running list of celebrities I’d like to depict,” he said “But there are so many ducks and so little time.”
BradyReports.com – by Stephanie Maier
Some of America’s top innovators and CEOs speak out on why jobs are leaving in droves and how to get them back
As of October, 14 million Americans are unemployed. The Labor Department reports that new unemployment applications are averaging over 400,000 per week and the percentage of Americans out of work has been over 9% for every single month but two since May of 2009. In August, zero net jobs were created.
As the unemployment numbers indicate, many Americans are acquiescing to the hand-out of big-government entitlements while others, in the interest of self-preservation, are seeking work outside of the United States.The 2009 World Development Report finds that “Eight million Americans change states every year, migrating to reduce distance to economic opportunity.” Two years later, people are increasingly willing to migrate not only across states but globally, causing a loss of workers in American service, labor, technology and manufacturing sectors. Also lost to overseas employment are talented innovators whose ideas will instead be developed for companies in Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, China, and Europe.
The costs associated with losing even one worker have far-reaching ramifications. Hundreds of thousands of dollars from that individual as well as their family members are lost over time in the money they would have spent on domestic housing, transportation, food, entertainment, taxes, and professional, medical, legal and other services – all money now spent elsewhere for the benefit of a foreign economy.
Perhaps even more concerning are the challenges of survival that business owners face every day. As a solution, more and more are outsourcing work to countries with fewer regulations and cheaper labor.
Outsourcing is more than a trend. As borders become obsolete, the idea of being based in one place and having employees in several others is becoming embedded in the fabric of our society. Even in better times, the domestic economy would have had to adjust to this new way of doing business, but in the midst of a national economic crisis, questions arise as to the greater implications that outsourcing has on the American economy and our ability to compete in a global market.
As Americans face the worst job market in generations, exactly what conditions are driving business owners to outsource, and is it paying off?
I spoke with a few of America’s CEOs and innovators on the reasons that outsourcing is on the rise, the price we’re paying for it and what we need to do to get our jobs back.
When Craig Wolfe, owner of CelebriDucks began his rubber duck manufacturing business in 1998, he had trouble finding all the components he needed to base operations in the United States. First created by Seiberling, rubber ducks used to be made entirely in the U.S. but increasing regulation, cost and a trend away from manufacturing sent the industry entirely overseas.
Today Wolfe’s company has manufactured over a million genuine rubber ducks, including ducks with celebrity faces. Averaging about 100,000 ducks a year, Wolfe does the artwork and sculpting in the U.S. but his manufacturing is in China, where he employs about 100 people.
“At some point we as a country started giving up all our manufacturing to foreign countries with lower wages and fewer regulations and ultimately U.S. facilities couldn’t compete with that. That’s why today we have toys with lead and other safety concerns.”
Wolfe says we gave up manufacturing in favor of technology-based industries, and now we’re even on the backside of that era, as high-tech jobs, too, are becoming global, not U.S. based. “It’s all driven by price and three cursed words: ’Maximizing-shareholder-value.’” Companies are increasing profits by firing people and going overseas and it’s gutting the workforce in America. People are happy when their stocks go up, but they have no idea why they’re going up.” A shrinking workforce in turn leaves behind desolate factories and skilled trades that die off after a generation.
“We’re losing innovation and manufacturing because there’s been too much emphasis on service-oriented industries,” says Wolfe. He says America bought into the notion that services are where it’s at and that manufacturing is old news. Companies that wanted to remain state-side have been squashed out by oppressive government regulation that makes it too cost-prohibitive to continue a “Made in America” policy: it’s either outsource or die.
As a member of the Fair Trade Association, Wolfe says that U.S. factory workers make approximately five times more per hour than their Chinese counterparts. Even with the expense of shipping containers from China, he has less stress, better control and more time for customer service.
Even so, the patriot in Wolfe wants to re-open rubber duck manufacturing at the site of the old Seiberling Estate in Ohio and is in the process of making the transition.
To do this he will have an overall cost increase of 20-25%. He’ll have to continue to import materials, molds, spray masking and other essentials that aren’t available in America, and he’ll increase his liability in everything from worker’s comp to OCEA regulations and a host of litigious areas related to the American business culture.
An additional result of the country’s shift from manufacturing to service is that one of Wolfe’s biggest challenges in re-establishing U.S.-based operations is the remarkable lack of skilled labor. Wolfe says it’s been challenging to find people who are trained in manufacturing and machine operation as well as maintenance and repair. “Seasoned factory workers are ole-timers now,” he says, and training a new generation will have to be an additional component of his expenses.
Even so, Wolfe emphasizes the upside: not be solely dependent on China and basing his plant in Ohio will create jobs for factory workers, truckers, printers, box makers, mechanics, officer suppliers, tool and equipment reps, machine sales, service and repair specialists and administrative and office personnel. That’s not to mention the local cafes, schools, banks and other retail outlets that will receive the residual benefits from a thriving local industry. “It’s really come to light what we’ve done to America,” Wolfe says, “The ripple effect can work in the positive as well as the negative.”
As a society “We’ve gone overboard focusing on money for money’s sake – investing in stocks, dot-coms, the housing bubble and living far beyond our means on credit – now we have foreclosures and disaster. Whenever you put money ahead of ethics it will ultimately fail.”
“As a society, we have to do business more in harmony with ethics. The problem is bigger than policies. It really all comes down to greed.” Wolfe laments the national trend of blaming the other guy for personal economic crisis. Phrases like, “strategic default” have cropped up in financial-speak for people who willingly walk away from home mortgages. This kind of flippant irresponsibility is becoming acceptable in both private and corporate culture. Wolfe recalls companies like Hershey, Ben & Jerry and others that built their business on ethics and a policy of giving back to the local community. And while it’s highly in vogue for a company to wear its environmentalism on its sleeve, much of this has become superficial. “The problem is that we’ve become so overly structured and bureaucratic. Everything is a campaign or a publicity stunt. The human dimension is lost.”
Is there any hope?
“Yes, oh yes, there’s always hope!” says Wolfe. “Life is inherently good and every human being has a spark of good in them.” Wolfe observes the irony that things have gotten so bad that it’s beginning to make people realize the way we’ve been doing things as a culture is not fulfilling, and Wolfe believes that’s causing people to search for ways to make things better.
“We’ve been seeking money for money’s sake; living way beyond our means, worshipping materialism and now it’s all come back to us and we realize that we’re not fulfilled. But that’s a good thing.”
The bigger question is can this kinder, gentler nation translate into more domestic jobs? Perhaps if more business owners think like Wolfe, then there’s a chance.
Bevo Ducks Make a Splash with UT Fans
UT fans are known for their unyielding loyalty to Bevo and her boys, and now, thanks to former Austin resident Craig Wolfe, fans can replace their rival-Michigan spirited yellow rubber duckies with a bath time friend who sports a UT twist: a Bevo rubber duck.
CelebriDucks, the company behind the bath tub Bevo, was recently voted as a top 100 gift to give by Entertainment Weekly. The company created the first ever celebrity rubber ducks to resemble the greatest icons of film, music, athletics, and history. They have produced CelebriDucks for the NBA, Major League Baseball, the NHL, NASCAR, NCAA collegiate mascots and also for famous people, such as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Barack Obama, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, James Dean, KISS, James Brown, The Blues Brothers, Mr. T, Shakespeare, and the world’s first ever 100% recycled “Green” duck. To date they have created over 200 different CelebriDucks and have pioneered a whole new collectible.
When asked how he came up with the idea to turn icons into rubber ducks, Wolfe answered that Austin is “a very inspiring and creative place to be to come up with good ideas.” Since launching, the company has received a tremendous amount of publicity, having been on almost every news network from NBC, Fox, the CBS Evening Magazine (three times), CNN, to ABC, and more. They have been featured in a range of periodicals spanning U.S. News and World Report to Playboy, and CelebriDucks have even been guests on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, twice.
Trying to explain why CelebriDucks has so many media outlets and customers quacking, Galen Jones of Red Nightlife Magazine explained, “These little critters are amazingly detailed, while still maintaining the charming qualities that make rubber duckies so, well, collectible.” The ducks, all claiming Canardland as home, are proof that Austinites have a knack for keeping things both weird and waddled. Wolfe cautions, though, “If people want a Bevo, they better act quickly; he’s going to be sold out shortly and we don’t know yet when new arrivals will come in.”
WAHS Podcast #160 Craig Wolfe of Celebriducks
This week I interview Craig Wolfe of Celebriducks! If you’d like to download any episode you’ll notice a new “Download MP3″ below the player. You can get the podcasts through iTunes as well.
Resources listed on the show: