How to Handle Crazy Demand
As told to Issie Lapowsky
Robert Croak, creator of Silly Bandz, remembers life at the center of a craze.
Robert Croak, founder of Brainchild Products, maker of Silly Bandz (pictured, top)
Robert Croak founded Brainchild Products in 2003. In 2006, the Toledo, Ohio-based company started a national fashion phenomenon with the introduction of colorful, shaped rubber-band bracelets called Silly Bandz.
It's funny. Everyone wants to take people like me and say, "That guy got lucky." In reality, it took 20 years to get where I am today.
It all started when I was 23 and took over my grandparents' restaurant. During the '90s, I opened two more. I also started a concert promotion company and a custom apparel company, and had some minor success selling custom silicone bracelets online. I always believed I'd have that one big hit, because I had so much going on, but nothing ever really took off. I remember my mom saying once, "I don't understand why you don't just go get a job." I said, "Mom, people like me don't just get jobs." I'd been working for myself for so many years, it'd be odd to punch a clock.
Then, the lid blew off. I went to a trade show in China around 2006 and saw shaped rubber bands created by a Japanese designer. Months later, the idea came to me to make them bigger, thicker, and more detailed. So Silly Bandz was born.
It was an insane few years. At our peak, in 2008, we were selling more than a million packs of Silly Bandz a week. We had people driving to our offices from Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, you name it, because they couldn't get through on the phone, and they needed Silly Bandz for their stores. One day, we were so overwhelmed with shipments and phone calls, we ran an ad on Facebook saying if anyone was looking for work, we'd hire them on the spot. We had a line down the sidewalk. Our warehouse was full, so we set up tables outside the building and had people packing orders right there.
Every day presented a new challenge, but every challenge was a great one. Out of necessity, I moved into a loft above my office, and at one point three of my managers were living there with me. But it's nothing you can complain about. When your company goes from obscurity to national news, it's a good problem to have.
Silly Bandz put me in a category of wealth that most people have never imagined, but I've been cautious. You hear stories of people who hit the lottery and go broke a year later. I want to take this wealth and create more success.
Our U.S. sales started to slow during the summer of 2010, and we expected it. The craze in the United States is over, and that doesn't offend me at all. That's why we're so vigorous about adding new products to go with the brand. Once you've had a big hit, it seems people are willing to give you more chances, because they think maybe, just maybe, your luck will strike twice.