Road rage dolls become a smash hit
By Julie Howard
BOISE, Idaho Leslie Bishop has a cure for road rage: Bop your buddy on the head. Smack him against the dashboard. Squeeze him until he growls.
Last month, more than 400 buddies sold nationwide in the product's first week out, and the three Boise women hope thousands will sell through the holiday season.
The idea came from Bishop who, frustrated in traffic one day, grabbed a stuffed animal and started banging it against the dashboard. When her son asked her what she was doing, she replied, "beating my road rage buddy."
That was about a year ago. Since then, Bishop has been busy. She recruited two close friends, Cori Barrera and Heather Morgan, and the three formed BB&K Enterprises Inc. to market the dolls.
Then the three embarked on the long process of learning how to become toy tycoons. They scoured books at the Boise Public Library for information on incorporating and researching trademarks. They read business and marketing books and learned how to write a business plan. They found a toy manufacturer willing to work with an untried product from novices. They picked the comments the dolls make as they are squeezed or smashed.
The cost of launching such a business, they figured, would be about $50,000. So they filled out loan applications and visited the Small Business Administration.
"We were turned down by every single place," Morgan said, and Bishop explained that "everyone said it was a good idea but too risky."
But the three did not let that stop them. They dug into family savings accounts and persuaded the toy manufacturer to take a payment plan. The three set up headquarters in Bishop's basement laundry room, clearing away a space where they could pack the dolls and affix mailing labels.
Morgan handles incoming orders, Bishop helps pack the dolls as they arrive from the toy maker, and Barrera takes care of the accounting and customer service.
The business has no fax machine, no formal business address, and no telephone number. An Internet site facilitates orders.
"If you want to do something, just do it," Bishop said.
The instant response when the company officially launched in early November shocked the business partners.
"We've had orders from Hawai'i, Kentucky, Alabama, Pennsylvania and even Australia," Morgan said.
The partners say they will break even once 3,000 buddies are sold at $14.95 each. Encouraged by the initial public interest, they now hope to sell 15,000 by the end of the year.
There are three versions of the wisecracking buddy: the Businessman, the Redneck and the Punk Kid. Each fits nicely into a clenched fist, according to the company's marketing material. Other versions could be on the horizon if the company is successful.
"People have asked for a woman doll, a bus driver, a taxi cab driver," said Barrera, who monitors the company's customer service e-mails. "But one step at a time."