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You’re listening to biz ninja entrepreneur radio.
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This show was created for entrepreneurs, business owners, marketers and dreamers who want to learn from the experts of today and drastically shortcut their own success to build a business that supports their dream lifestyle. Since 2011, Tyler Jorgenson has been interviewing business thought leaders from around the world a serial entrepreneur himself. Tyler also shares his personal insights into what’s working in business today. Welcome to biz Ninja, entrepreneur radio.
Tyler Jorgenson 0:41
Welcome out to biz ninja entrepreneur radio. I am your host, Tyler Jorgensen. And today we get to talk to a really cool entrepreneur, fellow California entrepreneur, Craig Wolf, the inventor of the celebrity duck and the proprietor of the special safest rubber duck in America. Welcome to the show, Craig.
Craig Wolf 1:03
Well, thank you so much, Tyler. Really happy to be here, man.
Tyler Jorgenson 1:05
So I grew up on Sesame Street and singing rubber ducky, you’re the one you make bathtime so much fun. Right? Well, how did you get into the rubber duck business?
Craig Wolf 1:18
Well, it wasn’t on my radar. I don’t think anybody gets he says, I want to become a rubber duck magnet. I mean, that’s my goal in life. Rubber. I don’t think anyone’s ever, you know, right. I was publishing or from television commercials. I’ve always been into like iconic like fun things. And I saw a picture Mickey Mouse on the wall and animation drawing I said, I can do that. I can’t draw it. But I love the real drawing screen out in people’s hands. And that expanded to the point where I told Coca Cola, I could take your coat polar bears and Anheuser Busch there but frogs, Pillsbury Doughboy and I can make do with Disney does with Mickey Mouse I could do with your artwork, and we that was my first company name that tune. We were publishing artwork from a television commercial, we largest publisher in the country. And then I start doing the California raisins and the TV character, Gumby, if you remember,
Tyler Jorgenson 2:10
I mean just all of those things.
Craig Wolf 2:11
Yes. So So you see that line. It’s iconic, fun things that make people happy. And it really grew and the Nike contacted us and had us for the Dream Team commercial create the art for the art market once again, and that was my business, a friend at a party, too much alcohol and had this idea. Make rubberwood about it. You make Rubber Ducks that look like celebrities. And I’m convinced 90% of the people 99 would say Yeah, right. I thought it was a great idea. And I call King features who own the rights to Betty Boop. And I still remember this phone call and I’m talking to the head of licensing from North America. So I got this idea of a rubber duck. It looks like Betty but you can imagine and you could feel it over the phone. Once it be polite. Get rid of me as quick as she can. Yeah. You make a little rubber duck, call us and we’ll talk. Yeah, I think she’ll never hear from me. But if I could figure out how to get computer generated images out of computer, do the coat bears and all the other things. I’m working with those studios, I can figure out how to make duck. And I did eventually find someone making one Betty Boop duck and send it to her. And still kid her about it to this day. And I come in one morning light squeaky on the phone. It’s eater. Gotcha. Little Betty Boop duck. It’s really cute. Let’s talk. That was that was the beginning of celebrity ducks. I mean, that was where it all began from there. And we still just one company, but that was it.
Tyler Jorgenson 3:38
Yeah. And so you had been in design and you’d worked in licensing. So you had some knowledge going into this. That helped you all self-taught, because I was Yeah, Major. I had no background in any of it. Yeah. No. So how did you get your first sale of that? of that first duck?
Craig Wolf 3:57
Well, I was, you know, Getting entrepreneur you’re bootstrapping your calling stores. You know, you tell them you got Rubber Ducks or like Betty Boop and Groucho Marx they’re intrigued. They think you’re crazy. You send pictures they go, okay, you know, well the thing you have to see a visual, right when you tell people one thing, then they go to the website go, oh my god. Oh, these are really cool. But anyway, I’m doing press release, right? Like any entrepreneur, you’re bootstrapping it, just sending out, do it all myself, no PR as well. Even computers really much in the early days. You know, with PR agency. You’re doing it yourself. The big books of people to write to I get a phone call one day, the Atlantic City press, and go, why should we do a story about you got your little press release? I go from Jersey. Now I used to always go in Atlantic City. They go good enough. No. And then that weekend here serendipity? Right. The Vice President of the Philadelphia 70 sixers read the article and back then pat Croce on the team. They’re always looking for the most cutting edge promotions that no one else has done yet. Oh, this is beautiful. They call me can you do Ellen Iverson? Can you imagine all the tattoos on his heart? You should see Alan’s tattoos. They are elaborate. I go absolutely i’d No idea. You know, and it flew out here. Let me tell you we got done with that duck. It looked more like him than he did. I mean, it was a hit in the Yankees called the Cubs called Gordon CIF all of a sudden we had a whole new company. I go well, you know, I’m I’m not gonna run two companies you know, I’m not like a big Mr. businessman. I’m not like Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank. I go right, not really the animation, and I took a risk and I became all ducks. And fortunately, it worked. And we became kind of the top custom dock manufacturer in the world. Now we’re doing for you like Harley Davidson, SeaWorld Zappos. I mean, it just really expanded and we just kept progressing those celebrity line that we really found our stride and what really made looks work. It was really learning process people think you get it right out of the gate. But you look at that first Betty Boop. And then you look at the Godfather, or Ziggy star duck, or the duck and later, they look completely different and they’re looking at you.
Tyler Jorgenson 6:13
Yeah, absolutely. So I mean, you’ve gone you went from this idea, a press release, gets picked up, a story gets picked up, all of a sudden you land your first big contract, right? You’re doing promotions for and then you you go all in. What was the first time that you were like, maybe this was a mistake? Maybe I went the wrong direction.
Craig Wolf 6:32
You know, D, my lady friend. This is a funny question. She always says this to me. She says if I seen your first ducks, I would have told you to take behind the barn and shoot them. That’s her comment on them. And she’s the one who actually designed the later part where it really took off where you see like Harry ponder and duck and like I say, all these new ones, you know, to son, you know, I mean, just You know, the crocodile rock that was our new but in the beginning I just look you know, they just didn’t have the look and feel we were going for. We got better and better. And we did the Duxford kiss. I realized we were really starting to find our stride. Jean loved him. I mean, he’s had him on the show family jewels. Many times they were Christmas gifts. They just gave out to people. They really look super cool. Mr. T came out great. Mr. T was on Conan with Mr. T, you know, threatening the guy who made these things. But meshing, he was kidding, you know, with T and we realized we’re really hitting it really well. So we’re working some work. But then when we hit the Like I say what we call the costume lacquer line where they weren’t as much human, but they become more yellow ducks. That gives me the feeling of the character that that was a lot that was Dee’s idea. I mean, that really took it to a whole nother level and then we really became you know in the way and we are considered Like the top in the world it is. No one knew the celebrities in these parody styles for and they really they really been a force.
Tyler Jorgenson 8:09
That’s amazing. So what is your distribution? Do you primarily is your goal to sell wholesale to sell large individual contracts to how did you determine how you wanted to sell it and what are you doing?
Craig Wolf 8:22
Well, I always knew from the start, you know, we do want to get into stores and we are but you know, nowadays, Amazon’s changed the landscape. And you as you’ve noticed retail stores are fading as being left more and more or less gift stores more just a few big box stores. As much as I love to be in a lot of big box stores. I knew we never want to get dependent on that. How many times have you seen if you watch Shark Tank I love the show that Marcus the moment is I’m like addicted. seen every episode. Have they said be careful what you wish for. Because you get in but you’re only as good as your last hit. You have a shelf life and if they’re not moving really quick, they’re gone. And a lot of times People get into deals where they can send them back. If they don’t sell fast enough, I never do that. I won’t do a deal like that. You know. So my thing is get into work with as many stores as you can. For sure you always want that store base. But you have to remember so much is going online, that you really have to have good Amazon orders. And we have people who handle the Walmart side of it on their website, we have people who handle these different things. And yes, we do have distributors for Europe and Canada. And we would have a science only in Australia before the fires you saw. So that’s kind of put on hold. But yeah, eventually we’ll be all over the world especially now. With the good dogs, the ones that the babies, the ones that you were mentioning that we make now.
Tyler Jorgenson 9:46
Yeah, so a lot of your ducks I mean, celebrities by nature are these, these ducks that either are a parody kind of a caricature type of duck of major celebrities, but you guys also have ones that are just inspired or kind of You have a lot of in categories and I encourage everyone to go to celebrity duck calm. Oh, and then what I was saying is one of your other ducks that you guys are doing though is these safe ducks kind of tell us what is a safe duck, doing breed pandemic,
Craig Wolf 10:12
right. And this is fortuitous. This is pre pandemic, you know where everyone’s you know, we’re like addicted to China. You have to be. I go, this just can’t be. This is like Brazil, where you go to Brazil and you go, Well, we don’t make coffee anymore. No, it’s all made in China. I go really, but your Brazil that’s where it started. The rubber duck was invented in America. Not one rubber duck was made here. I couldn’t accept it. And I decided I’m going to try and bring the industry back here. And I had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea how much the industry had left. There was not one rubber duck the name the country word originated and it was really hard. Now you say you like Sesame Street or nice rubber duck. That was my partner to make him in New York at the same factor in the heat earned these rubber And we made these little rubber duck and they painted them and yellow. And eventually the factory couldn’t do business in New York anymore. It’s too expensive to make them here to move to upstate New York eventually folded. So we couldn’t even make those ducks here anymore. And they were my best people who knew how to make. So I said, Well, I still want to make ducks here. And now, I don’t have any investors in the company. So that’s the beauty of it. I own the whole thing. We’re debt free. So I don’t have investors going to me, if you’re not maximizing shareholder value, do you realize the type of RMD you’ll make a duck in America at a food medical grade materials and the expensive the type of mold you’re going to use have to use to make use that type of material. Nobody would fire me or just close the project, but I could do it. So I found people to work with me and we innovated years. I’m telling you, Tyler this to figure out how do you get this good medical group mature aged rated to zero because babies will be chewing on them. 24 seven and not only Can you not use regular rotational molds they used to make regular ducks. This material won’t work in there. So we had these glow moldings, we had that factory that had the exclusion blow molding, and the art product has to flow has to be hallways, there were so many parameters. We had to make them and then we saw, we had to float. And they’d be able to use this material to never been used in this way before. In factories. We’ve never tried making this and here’s the end of it. With babies don’t like them already. 10s of thousands of times when the baby gets them. They don’t want a job. Long story short, we did it. Babies love them. And now we call them the good duck. That’s what we trademarked called the good duck and pink, blue and yellow, safest Rubber Ducks in the world for babies to teeth on. Which is funny because a lot of people think oh, isn’t latex rubber duck natural rubber? No. That means all of our new gift boxes all of our website. latex is not yours. You go to a hospital. There’s signs everywhere. If you’re wearing latex don’t go in this room. No latex allergy. You’re huge if you’re a baby, you know your immune system is not built up yet. It’s very easy to get a latex allergy. Lisa, other allergies and other food products. So no latex is not what you want your baby chewing on. So the good job, really we feel at a certain point we should be selling millions of these it should be the go to for any new mom. And the only reason it hasn’t happened is because we’re just beginning to get our story out there. But if you’re a new mom, and you knew the good debt exists, what else would fight for your baby?
Tyler Jorgenson 13:29
What and what a great gift, you know for baby showers and stuff like that. Very cool. And what a neat story like being not only bringing it back to America where the rubber duck was invented, but also doing it in a way that it is like good for the baby right and good for kids and say
Craig Wolf 13:46
that’s what Yeah, American jobs good to the baby. Good. workhorse america’s got their ducks back again. Now we’ll be exporting to China.
Tyler Jorgenson 13:54
Yeah, right. Now what is uh, you guys have done a ton. I mean, I’m kind of casual. Looking through the site while we’re talking, I mean, you’ve got everything from, you know, the Donald Duck, right? You’ve got all of
Craig Wolf 14:08
these, you know, because a catalog, we did prison Clinton and we were selling with the Presidential Library in Arkansas, the prison Clinton loved him. We did President Obama. And then when Trump got elected, we made a decision yet. And then a Cadillac called is one of the biggest in the country. I won’t even name the name, embarrass them. And he said, let’s do a trumped up and then the debate started. And you know, with Hillary, you could see it, you know, it was wild. And then they called us out there they go, you know what, we’re backing into this, this could be trouble. And I’m already into it. So I go to I go to D, you know, like a What do we do here? I mean, they just back down. We already started She goes, double the order, and do them yourself. Maybe our top selling dump ever. So people who like the president. People don’t like a president it doesn’t matter they will be by it. I mean, Yeah, it’s really
Tyler Jorgenson 15:02
it’s either bought as a, like a kind of a spoof like a being you know messing with a friend who doesn’t like Trump. Yeah, it’s Bob because they love it and so cool and so it’s it’s funny bitdefender is ecommerce play? Yeah,
Craig Wolf 15:15
like, take whack America. You know take lacquer make bathtime Great Again, it’s just one of those. You see Trump in the bathtub the duck on the top it’s really cute. And so we saw thousands we keep selling out and you know have another batch coming in before the election and maybe that’ll be our final one then we’ll retire it you know block go out on top on them.
Tyler Jorgenson 15:36
So and what duck sold really well, other than that one that surprised you?
Craig Wolf 15:42
I don’t know if any of you Well, I’ll tell you one. Ziggy store duck. When I want to do it. I go. I don’t know how we’re gonna get to look. I mean, it’s really hard on a duck in person trying to get Ziggy stuff. I know it’s gonna work. And then D goes pond control to Mallard Tom. I go we’re doing it Like he comes up with the words, and it’s so windy the duck inator Yeah, give geese a chance, you know, spa wars, Mister I, I have to do them, you know, tell or say hello to my little friend I go How you gonna do that? She goes, I know, you create a duck, you know, like, like within the white suit with the gold chain. He’s holding a little yellow duck with sunglasses in a gold chain. And the words are Say hello to my little friend instead of having a machine gun because we’re kind of
Tyler Jorgenson 16:29
his little friend.
Craig Wolf 16:30
Yeah, so everyone gets it. So everyone gets who we’re referencing, with just a funny little slogans. Yes, really? No, but once she said petroleum alikom we did that ZigBee starter kit became one of our best selling ducks.
Tyler Jorgenson 16:44
So in being a manufacturer, you come up with these ideas, you design them, you send them off to a manufacturer, obviously you’ve got to deal with supply chain challenges, importing challenges, you know, ordering and invoices. What are some pieces of advice that you have to entrepreneurs who may be Earlier in the process than you are,
Craig Wolf 17:02
well, I’ll tell you my biggest thing I tell entrepreneurs and they want to hear it. It’s really not how much money you make. It’s how much you keep. And you really need to keep your overhead low. I can’t say this enough. I built my whole company up my animation company. Remember, we were the top in the industry and animation publishing. We are considered the top rubber duck manufacturer in the world and want you to know Tyler, I do all this from home. I am home here. Okay. I didn’t need the pandemic to be here, right here. Yeah. Over 20 years. So in the beginning, a lot Apple computer a lot of companies work from home and even Richard Branson, who actually was kind enough to write us back when we were talking about working together. He works from home. I mean, he’ll virgin. You don’t have to feel bad about working for home. Now more than ever, you can really start your business and keep your overhead your overhead will kill you. That’s my biggest piece of advice. The other thing I always tell people besides that, you really need to focus on your niche, you can’t be all things to all people, people, I want to create a product that everyone’s going to love. That’s impossible. You know as many people who love Coca Cola half the people love another drink root beer Pepsi Anything else? I love the Beatles. You know, there’s just as many people don’t love the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or you can’t be all things to all people and if you do, you know, you’ve heard it said you become nothing to anyone. You focus. You literally have to pick your niche pick your battle and focus like a laser on your niche. Look, I’m not Ford. I’m not you know, GM. I’m not Southwest Airlines. But when you talk rubber ducks, we are the best You know, that’s why the biggest companies in the world come to us because they have is created for trade shows. Conan had us do it. You know, Conan O’Brien so he came away when he moved to tonight’s show, do a show on the Turner network. They all come to us, you know, to create the all the sports teams that were fishermen. I mean, celebrities come to us to create them for them because we’re good. If we became good at one thing, that’s just what McDonald’s did, they pare down their menu to a billion items, they pare that down to Coke, price fries and burgers, and they got really good at it and really fast. And now it’s worth like umpteen billion dollars. So really know what your niches and focus on that niche and that really makes a big difference. And the other thing is, I always tell people don’t compete on price. Always be somebody who can make it cheaper to people. How did you beat China? And these are the masters of knocking you off and making something cheaper. No, I did it Tyler. I made our duck so complex. And I put in gift boxes and every gift block was a new design. And we use so many spray masks or so many different designs and colors and this and that. I knew no one in China would do it didn’t want to spend the money. That’s how you bulletproof your niche. Make it so good that the barrier to entry is really really difficult. And so you really got to move fast. So even when I get the animation. Once I proved the concept with Coca Cola with the coke bears and became with our top selling art pieces, like a laser, Anheuser Busch m&m or stretchy, you know, just boom, boom, boom, boom locked up the niche. Once I had proof of concept is the same with the ducks. Once I did the first one we did by the way of the controller it was spa wars. So once we did spa wars, we move like lightning was coming out Jurassic wack, right dominators coming, you know, we’re just moving like lightning, so nobody would have a chance to knock us off if they wanted to. So speed is really important too, and focus in your particular niche.
Tyler Jorgenson 20:36
That was man a barrage of amazing nuggets of information. I mean, that was a masterclass in product and development in a niche.
Craig Wolf 20:44
Now some women it’s a guy like me who’s an English major who doesn’t have those skills like Mr. Wonderful and all this but I’ll never be that guy, right. Sure. Was anybody it’s it equals to playing You know, it really, you know, levels the playing field to any entrepreneur. can work from home and if they get the right product the right niche can make a lot of money. And here’s the other thing I really some people are very thin skin and can’t take feedback. ie not become not renewer you should know you should work for somebody you should never be an entrepreneur because one of the things I did was I got my everything I kind of put something out I got my most brutal critic usually D to go over every nuance of the design and my orders. Everybody in my organization can say anything to me anything be as critical as a one. You must have that because that’s what you want you live for that so you can make those changes before you come to market. Or no you shouldn’t bring it to market. So if you’re thin skin I know people who are if you criticize your projects, like you’re criticizing them, you’re not going to be successful.
Tyler Jorgenson 21:49
Yeah, really good advice. That’s good point makes a ton of sense. And I mean, again, if you go to celebrity comm if you go check it out. I mean, I guarantee you, you’re going to find one that matches a niche that you You love whether it’s a movie or a music or food themed or, you know, man, I mean you guys have college mascots, all kinds of things. Have you done all of the licensing work all of that just yourself with your idea?
Craig Wolf 22:13
I did do that all myself. And you know, I mean, I, back in the day we did all the colleges, you know, and we licensed it and did everything. I don’t do it. Now I do the colleges. Another company came with the rubber tubers. They said, when you make these college mascots, we’ll get the license. And we’ll do the college mascot on Enter to Auburn, Alabama, USC. Oh, they look fantastic. And the rubber tugging on the rubber tubers calm, they’re really cool. places you can do the licensing. I don’t want to do it anymore. I’m getting a little old. You know, I don’t want to do that licensing for the Blues Brothers because I do it to the House of Blues. I’ve done those for a long time. I kept that license so few we keep but mainly we do the parody of mine. Yes, we let the licenses go over time but in the beginning, they were all license Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges kiss, you know, yeah, like very cool. I applaud like, you know, if you get into licensing, you do have those advanced fees, you do have those royalties. So you want to have some money behind you. You want to have a distribution network. Otherwise you pick on big debt, and you have nowhere to show him. You’re still having to pay those royalties.
Tyler Jorgenson 23:21
Yep, absolutely. It’s really neat to see all of the things that you guys have built and what you’ve done. What are some of the next things that you want to do? Are you still addicted to innovation and inventing? what’s next on the horizon for Celebrex?
Craig Wolf 23:34
Well, as far as celebrity ducks, I mean, it’s endless. You can see the list of things, you know, picking nine to five, you know, you can just see the duck in black. You know, I love the line. I mean, it’s endless. How many ideas you have conjured Jovi. I mean, the problem here is with a pandemic here, we kind of put the brakes on because there’s all the stores where and everything changed. So we’re just kind of sitting in Wait here, we’re just about to release we just been discussing Squat This way, you know, or the play parody on Tyler, you know, but Steve Tyler, but you know, it’s just kind of one of these things that now, I don’t know, maybe it’ll come out a little bit slower. I still waiting for the phone call. I mean, I have a lot of other projects. I was like, dude, I’m working on an album. I mean, I am the music writing projects. I mean, there’s only sold. I have Yeah, I can’t wait for the phone rang. Go. Okay, we’re taking over celebrity. Listen, I have no doubt I could get on Shark Tank. Sure. No, I had a competitor get on there. And the ducks were just a poor man’s comparison. Ours, every shark wanted in on the deal. Unfortunately, the person’s company, you know, and kind of went bankrupt when the deal kind of fell through with a divorce. But I know in a heartbeat we could get on there with our story. It’d be so entertaining. And I have no doubt. But I don’t know. I don’t think it’s the point where I want partners. If somebody wants it, they can just take the business. I think that’s just my temperament either. I’m doing it all myself where you can do it.
Tyler Jorgenson 24:59
I think That’s where most entrepreneurs really truly thrive. They’re either it’s either they’re driving the ship or they’ll or somebody else can drive it, but it’s hard to hard to move from pilot to copilot. That’s for sure. Right? Yeah, yeah. Well, my last question for this segment is, for me, business is about creating the lifestyle that you want. I know you’ve recently moved to a really cool part of the world and you work from home so you obviously share some of that. What is one thing in the next 12 months? That is on Craig’s personal bucket list? What’s one thing that you’re going to do you mean as far as
Craig Wolf 25:33
relative to the business or just personal? Yeah, about really, I can’t tell you how much I really want to work on my music more. And you know, honestly, I I you know, it’s you really really as you get older, there’s just how few hours there are in a day and the company keeps expanding and I really do within the next 12 months want to see the good duck worldwide. I want to see you get and it is business related, but I would love the good ducks become the thing. That becomes our legacy that we bring back to America. And we create a safer rubber duck. And I will say this nicely, I don’t want to say anything bad about China. But we took something back from them that they took from us. You know what I mean? And I don’t think I’m not grateful I work with really good people there. I mean, you have to do there’s China, there’s a government and then there’s the people that you’ll get on the boots on the ground of you work with who are totally different. There’s like apples and oranges. And people are great. And we have a wonderful relationship very trusting work together for so long. God, do I want to do this USA thing. Bernie, everyone, so use that pipeline over there. But if I could fly over the next 12 months, well, that would mean the world to me with these good books.
Tyler Jorgenson 26:48
That sounds really amazing. Craig, thank you so much for coming on the show telling us the celebrity’s journey, and what your hopes and dreams are for your next steps to all of our businesses out there in whether you live Listening on ABC News Radio whether listening on podcasts catching this on YouTube, we appreciate you and it is your turn to go out and do something.
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