Do what inspires you….not what you think will make you the most money…..do it right and the two will combine very nicely in the end.
Craig Wolfe is the original creator of the first ever celebrity rubber ducks of the greatest icons of film, music, athletics, and history. We have produced CelebriDucks for the NBA, Major League Baseball, the NHL, NASCAR, NCAA collegiate mascots and also famous people such as Elvis Presley Marilyn Monroe, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, James Dean, KISS, The Blues Brothers, Mr. T, Shakespeare, and the world’s first ever 100% recycled “Green” duck. To date we have sold millions of CelebriDucks and have pioneered a whole new collectible. We are also considered the top custom duck manufacturer in the world and the only ones manufacturing rubber ducks back in the USA where the industry originated!
Where did the idea for [insert your idea, company, organization] come from?
You know it is funny in that I was the largest publisher of artwork from television commercials creating the first ever animation art lines for Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Bush, M&M/Mars, Nike, etc. When I came up with this idea of the celebrity rubber ducks, it just seemed so different and unique that I just had to try it and see if the concept would translate as a rubber duck and also a celebrity. Fortunately it did! In twenty years, the company has continued to evolve more and more and until now we are creating our new line of Costume Quacker parodies which is our best work ever. I had no manufacturing or business background at all. I was an English major in college. I just picked it all up as I went along!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
It’s like getting shot out of a cannon. Right out of the gate, I have to respond to order issues, production issues at our factories, and many questions from suppliers and customers. It keeps me hopping. Plus I have to schedule time to work on all our new designs and new marketing ventures.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It all begins with me first kicking them around with the two most trusted people in my life….my lady, and my creative art director. Once we reach a common agreement, I will then further send it to a trusted group of friends and business associates whose opinions I respect. Then I will also put in out on Facebook for even more feedback. If it continues to get good traction, then I will move to doing conceptual artwork to see how well it translates…and the rest as they say is history.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Made in America! That’s why I brought our whole industry back to the USA to be the only one manufacturing rubber ducks here once again. I love that people care about this!!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Not working…that’s right…., I always make time for my music. You have to have a creative outlet in life and I have a beautiful Steinway baby grand and a fantastic Korg Triton studio 88 synth that I write and compose on daily. Also, I make sure to spend quality time with my lady by phone or in person every day. And remember, I also own a chocolate company, Cocoa Canard. So I ALWAYS take a Spooning Chocolate hot cocoa break at 1:30 every day!!
What advice would you give your younger self?
It’s not how much money you make, it’s how much you keep. Excessive overhead can bring down any business no matter how much you make. Lean and mean is the key to survival especially in the beginning before business gains traction.
Do not try and be all things to all people or you become nothing to anyone……focus like a laser on your niche and be really clear on what you stand for.
Reflect your core brand ethics and quality in every marketing communication to the public.
Compete on the cheap end and someone can always make it for less…..Quality like the tortoise will ultimately win out or as I lie to say, “live by the penny, die by the penny….don’t compete on price alone! Quality is the hardest thing to knock off
So goes your mind goes your reality – yes, your mind-set really does affect how things transpire in your business!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
I will got back to the final point above…..people think business is all about numbers and products….WRONG! It is a psycho-physical world we live in. I am not into airy fairy things, but trust me on this. To the degree you can love, have faith, and trust the process no matter what is going down in any moment in your business, it can change that moment dramatically. I have many stories to this effect. The point is, your mind is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Things can always change and lead to something better, but without faith, that difficult moment can bring you down personally or a business.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Do what inspires you….not what you think will make you the most money…..do it right and the two will combine very nicely in the end.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
I never competed on price. I always pushed the limits of my art form and tried to be the best such that no-one could ever easily duplicate my success. There was already a LOT of rubber ducks on the market. I did not try and become just another new rubber duck. I wanted make the best, most unique and most innovative rubber ducks in the world. And we even put then in gift boxes which no-one did…and each box was different. Sure it was more money, but it bullet-proofed our niche and no one could compete with us. And then being the only one to make them in the USA and making the PVC free ones in Michigan…..well, whose going to catch us now!!!
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Well, here is my story again that I’ll post below….as I always say…my biggest failure and my biggest success!
I went through tremendous adversity to bring the industry back to America. As I mentioned when I first wrote you, it was seemingly my biggest failure and clearly seemed like my biggest mistake ever, but eventually it became my biggest success. Fortunately I was able to persevere over time to change it. I decided to take our foreign competition head on by becoming the only one in our industry making our products in the USA! I have a very unique company here. No-one did licensed rubber ducks as the intricacy in the sculpting and painting we offered was unheard of. We ended up selling millions of ducks and creating a whole new company that does a line of celebrity rubber ducks that were voted one of the top 100 gifts by Entertainment Weekly and featured on hundreds of TV shows, magazines, and newspapers including The Tonight Show. I’ll post our press kit letter below. We’re also considered the top custom duck manufacturer in the world.
But over time, I also wanted to do something right and make some kind of difference in the lives of people here in America. I got so tired of seeing the loss of jobs and industries in America and everything being outsourced. It was very sad to see so many Americans losing their jobs. I saw companies unwilling to take the risk of bringing their manufacturing back here. For me, it was very important to bring a whole industry back to America.
Thus, I finally decided that I had to do something. The rubber duck was actually invented in the USA. Now every rubber duck was being made overseas. We decided to bring the whole rubber duck industry back here and are now the only ones making them in America once again! We’re actually making them in New York City where as it turns out some of the first rubber ducks were invented in the 1800’s!
You read a lot today about industry returning to America. I really want to make something clear about this. You might see bigger molded plastic parts and such coming back here and more robotics and so forth, but the small hand-painted toy industry which also uses rotational molding is virtually gone and is NOT easily coming back at all. It is just too much hand work to do the painting of small toy like items plus with all the EPA regulations, most of the rotational molders could not survive. Still, there are a few of us left and out of the ashes, in our own small way, we are helping to keep this industry alive.
In the Made in America section on our website you can read more about our story. I knew from the start that it would be a very expensive and big risk. But I never knew just how much the technical skills had been lost here and how much work it would take to get it all re-established. Honestly, it was a disaster which is why I first called it a failure. No-one could make them correctly and we were getting our asses kicked. It seemed like a tremendous mistake. I was on the verge of losing so much money plus missing deadlines with our custom work that was unheard of for us.
I always joked that if I didn’t own the company 100% I would have been fired. There was no way I was “maximizing shareholder value” in the short run. But I knew in the long run, it should put us in deadlines and do smaller production runs that our competition cannot. And the quality and safety of our items is as good as it gets. Truth a fabulous position, as we would own our niche. No-one else will ever try doing what we did and making rubber ducks in America…trust me! We can also make shorter is a lot of people want things made in America, something our foreign competition obviously cannot duplicate.
In terms of other benefits, we now have companies from Harley-Davidson to The Future Farmers of America wanting us to make ducks made for them in America and we are getting national PR which has been wonderful for the company. It has been very emotionally rewarding doing this and they are now some of our most successful products. In fact a national TV show just shot an episode of how a rubber duck is made at our factory which will air nationally in May all over North America and Europe! You can watch a clip of it at the top of the Made in America section on our website.
I’m a big fan of Milton Hershey who failed in business so many times that it seemed there was no hope for him. And yet not only did he persevere and make it work, but gave away his life’s fortune while he was still alive donating it all to do good for others. That’s the way to live your life. Also, I learned a lot of good lessons, the biggest being that nothing is impossible if you really hang in there and have faith in your vision. I also realized that like any good business venture, do all your research and then really do a LOT more.
I will say that without a doubt the most stressful and financially difficult venture I have ever taken on in my life. That being said, sometimes you just have to do what is right and look at a bigger picture. We chose to embrace change and never look back…..or as it says on the hang-tag on our new 100% made in America Pork Chopper biker duck….”live free, float free!”
And outside Detroit as I mentioned earlier, we are now making our Good Ducks, the only duck on the market that is 100% made in the USA and PVC, Phthalate, and BPA free using medical grade materials. Bottom line, I am now doing things in America that even Asia cannot duplicate which really is a pretty unique story. In the end, these ducks are now our top selling items.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Plants for Peace……right…a website that has the best selection of the coolest and most unique plants that you probably did not know existed…..olive tree, venus fly traps, chocolate trees, cool catus, etc……not the same old same old you can get at the Home Depot nursery. Source out unique, cool, fun, whimsical…..and then even start a plant of the month subscription like the dollar shave club. Of course the concept only works for a person who LOVES plants!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought books that inspire me….inspirational business books, inspirational spiritual books…..bottom line buy what inspires you….money well spent….My lady pushed me to buy that Steinway baby grand and that Korg Synth. Best things I ever did…in other words, buying what leads to creative inspiration and emotional well being will always positively affect your business.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
SKYPE…..what a great invention! Lets me do interviews all over the world with the media, and also makes it so easy to speak to the people I work with all over the world…..great invention…and free no less.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury…..I know, a chocolate book seems like an odd choice, but it’s not just because I also own Cocoa Canard, my chocolate company. It’s because the history of chocolate companies is a microcosm of business in general. What is amazing about this book is that you also really get a feeling for how to do business where ethics and your way of doing business is as important as the bottom line itself and is in fact intertwined with it. Plus it’s a fun read.
What is your favorite quote?
Milton Hershey – “Give them quality, it’s your best advertisement”
Tell us about one friend or acquaintance of yours who we should interview on IdeaMensch? Who are they, how do we get a hold of them and what are they doing?
Jodie Davis…very cool lady….ran the Quilt TV network, did shows on HSN, makes Cuckoo clocks, rubber ducks, and is the writer on the book on the history of the rubber duck. In the Made in America section, you can see the clip the Home Factory filmed there. I flew Jody in to represent me on camera……she’s a lot of fun!
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