This is going to be exciting for you," says Alan F. Rypinski when a reporter calls to ask about his new company. "How often," he continues, "are you present at the birth of a billion-dollar industry?"
Well, not often, you admit. But maybe the more important question here -- if one accepts the premise -- is whether Rypinski is the man to play midwife to a concept that big.
Rypinski says of course he is. But then Alan Forman Rypinski does not want for confidence. Forty-eight years old, with his hair fashionably long, a pricey leather tote bag over his shoulder and a Piaget fitted to his wrist, he is already in the midst of building that billion-dollar brand. But that shouldn't surprise you. "I am perhaps the only person capable of systematically taking a product from zero dollars in sales to national-brand status," he explains. As we said, Alan Rypinski, self-made millionaire, founder of Very Incredible Products Inc., and seller of Wrinkle Free, is not a man riddled with self-doubt.
He earned a right to some of this ego 17 years ago after he took his Jaguar -- Rypinski has always been a car nut -- to an antique auto museum for advice on its restoration. The curator hauled out an unlabeled gallon jug filled with a white, creamy liquid, and started rubbing the stuff all over the seats, bumpers, and tires. Rypinski, then 31, was intrigued. And his interest turned into amazement as the gunk brought a shine to the leather and rubber.
Having marketed everything from motor homes and real estate to cars, Rypinski knew an opportunity when he saw one. He acquired worldwide marketing rights to the compound, and bought out the inventor a few years later. In 1979, he sold the creamy white stuff -- which he called Armor All Protectant -- to McKesson Corp. By the time they finished punching in all the numbers on Rypinski's five-year earn-out arrangement, he had $49.6 million in cash and a burning desire to do it all again.
"I did a lot of thinking about what my success meant, and I realized nobody else can do what I can," states Rypinski, adding that he felt he almost had an obligation to America to come up with a second product, and to grow it big.
Wrinkle Free will give him that chance. If you've not yet heard about Wrinkle Free, you soon will. Very Incredible Products, Rypinski's Costa Mesa, Calif., company, is about to launch a $5-million advertising campaign that claims the aerosol "removes wrinkles from clothing without ironing."
And indeed it does. You pull a wrinkled area of your clothing taut, spray on Wrinkle Free in a circular motion, count to 10, and then smooth the fabric with your hands. The wrinkles vanish.
"Very few products can revolutionize the way we live. This is one of them," Rypinski says with characteristic understatement. "Think of it. It's a little iron in a can! It eliminates the task of touch-up ironing! It really is an incredible product!" (The exclamation points, and Rypinski often talks in exclamation points, are his.)
Les Bayer, buyer for the notions and closet shop at Bloomingdale's, agrees that the hype is warranted. Rypinski has been using the nation's department stores as his test market. For the past year, Wrinkle Free has been available at such places as Bloomingdale's, Marshall Field's, and Nordstrom, and buyers like Bayer couldn't be happier.
"We sold more than 20,000 cans between August and January," says Bayer, "and the response has been fantastic. I haven't heard of anyone who has returned it because it hasn't worked. It is just one of the most incredible products I have ever sold. It's amazing. You hate to say that it is going to be like penicillin, but . . ."
Wait a second . . . penicillin?
Perhaps a little perspective is called for.
True, Wrinkle Free is an intriguing product. But so are Ginsu knives, bamboo steamers, and the "amazing" Veg-O-Matic that slices, dices, and does just about everything except explain Vanna White's popularity. Yet nobody -- at least nobody who is living safely outside a rubber room -- has compared any of those inventions with penicillin.
And for all its attributes (among other things, Wrinkle Free removes odors and static), Wrinkle Free ain't cheap. A three-ounce "portable" container, which retails for around $5, will smooth 24 men's shirts if used stingily. So you're talking about 21? per job at best, and a lot more if your finger lingers on the spray nozzle. Professional laundering costs around $1.
And becoming a Wrinkle Free devotee won't mean your local cleaner will forget you. Wrinkle Free doesn't clean clothes; it only removes the wrinkles. "Your cleaning bill will be reduced by only a third if you use Wrinkle Free," Rypinski concedes.
But that's still significant, and he is quick to list other attributes. "You can take it with you," he says. "If you get out of the car and have those seatbelt lines, you can spray them away. When you check into a hotel, you can use it on the clothes that got wrinkled during your flight."
And from a financil perspective, the idea is even more attractive. Unlike Armor All, which is purchased largely by men, the appeal of Wrinkle Free is gender-free. And while studies show that people use Armor All about 4 times a year, Rypinski can see Wrinkle Free being purchased a minimum of 10 times as often. That's where he gets that $1-billion market. Armor All sales last year were $107 million. Multiply that by 10, and you indeed show better than $1 billion in revenues.
You also have the potential for making a lot of money. Rypinski won't say how much, other than to comment that "the specialty chemical business is a very good business to be in." An educated guess would put net margins at about 15%.
That's impressive. What's even more impressive is that Rypinski pictured exactly how Wrinkle Free could make him his second fortune the moment Jeff Jacobson walked into his office and put an early version on his desk.
"Alan's eyes just about popped out of his head," recalls Jacobson, who also invented Blind-Brite, a patented method of cleaning venetian blinds. "I guess he was looking for something that could equal Armor All." Mr. Jacobson has no shortage of confidence either.
Jacobson sold Rypinski 80% of Wrinkle Free for cash and turned sales and marketing over to Rypinski. "My forte is developing products the public needs and wants, before they know they need and want them," says Jacobson, 36. "Alan knows how to make a major event out of it."
That he does. In addition to the $5 million in advertising, Rypinski envisions tie-ins with the airlines. He says that hotel chains are already offering Wrinkle Free as part of their amenities kits, and some rental car agencies will give you a can when you turn in your keys. Other deals, he says, are pending. "We will do $15 million the first year -- I guarantee it. And that's conservative; $20 million is realistic. I can see $100 million within 3 years and $1 billion within 10. You watch me."
Think what you will about Rypinski's boasting -- the fact is that he's putting his money where his mouth is. The $4 million it cost to develop the product came out of his pocket. So will the additional $5 million for advertising. And while people have called him many things, nobody has ever called him dumb.
His product is unique, patented (the paperwork finally came through in May), and does pretty much what he says it does. But there are still unanswered questions, not the least of which is why the big consumer-products players have never created anything like Wrinkle Free if demand for it is so great (Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Clorox would not say). Still, his situation is similar to his Armor All beginnings, except that now he doesn't have to spend time learning about distribution and independent reps. "I can do that stuff better than anyone."
Wrinkle Free's success depends on how well he can back up that claim, as well as how effectively he gets the claim heard. And, shades of Victor Kiam, Wrinkle Free's spokesman may be none other than Alan Forman Rypinski.
"This will truly change the way people live," he says, practicing his spiel.
As Dizzy Dean once explained, "If you can do it, it ain't braggin."