They started as collectibles for kids, but the candy colored bracelets known as Silly Bandz are fast becoming a bona fide fashion statement for all ages.
Kids trade Silly Bandz at a local Austin park. The brightly colored rubber bands are shaped like dinosaurs, musical instruments, animals and many other shapes.
It's rare that a fashion trend is as popular with the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker as it is on the playground, but since the Silly Bandz brand launched in 2008, the stretchy little bracelets have had everyone from teeny-boppers to A-list celebrities by the wrist.
The unlikely accessory is essentially a colorful rubber band molded to look like dinosaurs, cowboy hats and a multitude of other playful shapes. Stretch them, pull them, wear them for weeks, and the Silly Bandz will always spring back to their original forms.
Robert Croak, president and founder of Silly Bandz and its parent company BCP, was in the business of selling silicone bracelets, t-shirts, mugs and other collectibles when he got the idea for Silly Bandz. Now, the company which started with only 20 employees has more than 400 in the United States alone.
Inc. reporter Issie Lapowsky talked to Croak about Silly Bandz's astronomical growth and why he believes the product will be saved from the trash heap of forgotten fads -- slap bracelets, anyone?
How did you come up with the idea for Silly Bandz? I was at a business fair [in China] a little over three years ago. I saw a similar product that was a much smaller shaped rubber band that was created by a Japanese designer, who was developing them for a contest for office products. We had been in the silicone business for so long, and we talked about molding them larger and thicker to make them more of a fashion accessory. After some time and different molds and prototypes, we launched Silly Bandz.
What was it about the product that drew you to it? The bright colors certainly are attractive to the kids. The fact that it's so simple and unique is something that's drawn everybody to them, and I just thought it was great, because we could provide a lot of them for a low retail price. Now it's turning into a genius stroke of luck for us, because with the economy being in the state that it's in, any parent will spend $5 to make their kids happy.
How did you market yourself in the beginning? With our custom silicone bracelet site, we already had over 200,000 existing customers that had purchased silicone bracelets from us, so we definitely knew we could market to them and get the word out through our website and database. Obviously it was a slow start. It took months and months to build momentum. Now it's the 800 lb. gorilla that nobody can hold onto, so it's just growing rapidly daily.
When did you first realize the product had really taken off? Last September, at one point our servers crashed and our phone lines just couldn't keep up, and that was when I knew we were going to be onto something big. I didn't know it was going to continue to grow to get to the magnitude that it is now, but we certainly knew we had a hit on our hands.
Did you ever expect Silly Bandz to catch on with adults? I actually thought all along that adults, especially women and athletes, would attach themselves to the product, because you can't go to a basketball court or a baseball diamond without seeing athletes of all ages wearing rubber bands or some sort of silicone or woven bracelet. We're doing a lot of private label programs for professional sports teams and charities and such, that are more appealing to the adult audience. On top of that, there's so many celebrity sightings now with Sarah Jessica Parker and Mary Kate Olsen. So that's just bringing us into a whole new demographic of the 20s and 30s fashionista crowd. We're currently working on a project with Kitson, which is all the rage with the actors and rock stars, on a more adult-oriented style for fashion-conscious women. That's a demographic we always thought we would have, and now it's really coming into full swing.
What other plans do you have lined up for the brand? We have many licensing deals right now. Marvel comics, Nickelodeon, Rudolph, Paul Frank, Hello Kitty, Dora the Explorer. It's just endless, because everyone really adores the Silly Bandz brand.
Are you concerned about the copycats out there? I don't think it hurts us at all really, because we have a long jump on everybody else as far as being in the market so much longer. They're going to get their portion of the market, but it's certainly going to be a much smaller market share than we have, because we are the brand, we have the distribution, and all of the major retailers want to deal with the original.
What about the possibility of burning out like other fads? I think we're far past the fad stage, and we're more into the trend stage. We're going into our third year, and the popularity is still growing exponentially every week. If you really think about it, we have market penetration in only 35 states right now, so we still have the rest of the United States to grow. We're growing so much in the U.K., Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Those are really strong countries as well that are just really in the embryonic stages of the Silly Bandz life cycle.
Is Silly Bandz the future of BCP or do you have other products in the works? We do have a product that we're going to launch that's a big departure from the Silly Bandz product line. It's a product that has not hit the States yet, but it is a collectible, and it is a toy product, but it's more of a sophisticated toy collectible. We will be launching that in about eight weeks.