By The Letter

Magazine Contributor
8 min read

This story appears in the October 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Just say the word--or words, as the case may be. It's that simple. Or at least that's what businesses are discovering as products as disparate as Magnetic Poetry for the refrigerator and jewelry strung together with lettered beads are being snapped up by communication-conscious consumers.

Who can explain this collective impulse to make a statement with such seemingly innocuous household items as, say, throw pillows? Why do folks need words on photo frames when a picture is supposedly worth a thousand of them already? Well, if we had to guess, we'd say it stems from a desire to stand out from the crowd--to proclaim one's identity, if you will. As for businesses, it's a chance to get a word--er, leg--up on the competition.

Card Sharp

With tattoos leaving their mark on scores of teens and twentysomethings nationwide, perhaps it was inevitable that greeting card manufacturers would eventually get into the act, too--albeit in somewhat of a different manner. Seeking to make an impression on card buyers everywhere, trend-savvy manufacturers such as Beverly Hills, California-based Marooner's Rock are putting tattoo art on their cards.

"Tattoos are so popular today and are only getting more so," observes Anthony DeMasi, editor in chief of the monthly gift industry magazine Giftware News. "The designs that are being used [on cards] are making social statements in and of themselves."

In DeMasi's view, this new venue for tattoo art is reflective of the enormous popularity of rubber stamps--indeed, he thinks of the artwork as interchangeable. "Rubber stamping is one of the oldest forms of decorating," he says, "but, at the moment, it's also one of the most popular."

Speaking of popular, the tattoo art that DeMasi says he sees most often on greeting cards includes such perennial favorites as teddy bears, angels and flowers. What can we say? Whether it's on skin or on paper, folks still care enough to put on the very best.

Haiku 101

Entrepreneurs seeking a novel way to market to customers need search no more--provided they're daring enough to put poetry into motion. As English teachers rejoice, the Japanese verse form known as haiku is cropping up in the unlikeliest of places, most notably on the Internet.

"It's fun to do," says the Haiku Society of America's Lee Gurga. "[Haiku] is one of the easiest kinds of poetry to begin writing. Although to write good haiku is quite difficult."

To Gurga's way of thinking, the numerous haiku Internet sites that wax poetic on such pop culture fixtures as, say, Twinkies, don't necessarily fit into this latter category. And yet, couple this haiku hyperactivity with the growing membership in Gurga's own organization, and you've got a mainstream audience for what is typically thought of as three-line, 17-syllable verse. To wit: Here we sit thinking/pondering haiku's secrets/brain overload feared.

"Haiku [is proof] that people want instant gratification," says Gurga, speculating further on the resurgence of haiku in today's society. "It's instant poetry."

A word to the wise, however: Gurga insists that the 17-syllable structure is an anachronism. "Haiku is characterized by brevity--but not length," he explains, adding that a reference to nature is also customary. Hmmm . . . not 17 syllables? That's not what our English teachers told us.

Touch Of Class

The year: 2000. The event: the millennium. The marketing concept: Introduce a line of merchandise targeting individuals graduating at the turn of the century. The anticipated return: big.

"We think that by June 2000, we will have done $100 million in sales," says Rich Soergel of the San Diego-based licensing and marketing company Class of 2000 Inc. "That's our prediction."

The 37-year-old Soergel expects he and his partners will score with all sorts of licensed products--apparel, jewelry, linens, foods and the like--emblazoned with their Class of 2000 trademark. "We wanted to come up with a product line that tied into the year 2000," Soergel explains. "And this not only encompasses `2000,' but `the class of' as well--which is a whole group of people."

Lest you wonder, this doesn't prevent schools from issuing their own merchandise for students. "We're going to defend our mark in the retail market--stores, clothing shops, gift shops--anything outside of the school market," Soergel clarifies. Class of 2000's target audience? The graduates themselves, as well as their parents and loved ones shopping for gifts.

Although some Class of 2000 merchandise is already in stores, Soergel says many more products are slated to be released next spring. "By fall of '98," he promises, "everything will be out."

Hot Wheels

Why are so many Americans hitting the road these days in recreational vehicles (RVs)? Aren't these virtual houses on wheels sort of, well, déclassé?

Hardly. "Our image has improved remarkably," says Gary LaBella of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). "We're cool--there's no doubt."

Consider us convinced. Fueled by the surge in aging baby boomers, the RV market is enjoying a renaissance. "We're on a strong upward trend," says LaBella. "In terms of annual sales, it's better than any time since the mid-1970s."

The numbers drive home the truth: According to RVIA estimates, there are now 25 million RV enthusiasts nationwide. On average, these "RVers" travel nearly 6,000 miles a year--no small distance by any means. And, just to show how these numbers add up, RVIA calculates the entire industry's sales--including RV rentals--at more than $15 billion.

"We're optimistic about our future," says LaBella, pointing to a current industrywide national advertising campaign targeting those aforementioned baby boomers. These prospective buyers are already passing through--or getting close to--the peak RV-buying years of ages 45 to 54. "We have a lot of wind at our back," says LaBella.

Just don't buy into those déclassé stereotypes of old.

On A String

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that string. Say what you will about today's toy-toting kids--they know the value of tradition. Want proof? Yo-yos are back in demand.

As president of the American Yo-Yo Association, John Stangle isn't surprised. "One of the big things about yo-yos is that it's a virus," he enthuses. "I've seen whole towns take off [with it]."

Stangle's observations jibe with the sales of major yo-yo manufacturer Duncan Toys Co. in Middlefield, Ohio. In the past three years, the company's yo-yo sales have risen more than 30 percent each year. Similarly, the American Yo-Yo Association has seen its membership expand. "I don't know what the limit is," says Stangle. "Hopefully, we won't find one."

Although more than a few nostalgic parents have the yo-yo virus, Stangle still considers kids between the ages of 7 and 14 the prime players--or, rather, the most stricken. But do perennial yo-yo tricks such as The Gravity Pull and Walk The Dog still pull at the strings of this new generation of yo-yo fans? Yes, we hear they do. As we said, these kids know the value of tradition.

Rock On

The generation that maintained they knew it was only rock and roll--but they liked it--is living up to its credo by turning up the volume at attractions such as Las Vegas' Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

With memorabilia from rock icons Elvis Presley and The Beatles featured in a $2 million collection of musical artifacts, the consistently popular Hard Rock Hotel has drawn the young and the forever young alike in its first two years of operation. Similarly, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recorded more than 1 million visitors in its first 12 months--from September 1995 to September 1996. Clearly, the recently opened Elvis Presley's Memphis nightclub in Memphis, Tennessee, hopes to capitalize on this burning love for rock and roll.

The latest attraction to top the charts is a riff borrowed from the sports world: rock and roll fantasy camps. We wonder if a lifetime of playing air guitar prepares you for this.

Contact Sources

American Yo-Yo Association, (707) 542-YOYO,

Class of 2000 Inc., (619) 281-1640,

Duncan Toys Inc., 15981 Valplast Rd., Middlefield, OH 44062, (800) 356-8396

Giftware News, P.O. Box 5398, Deptford, NJ 08096, (609) 227-0798

Haiku Society of America, c/o Japan Society, 333 E. 47th St., New York, NY 10017

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, 4475 Paradise Rd., Las Vegas, NV 89109, (800) HRD-ROCK

Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, P.O. Box 2999, Reston, VA 20195-0999, (703) 620-6003

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, (800) 349-ROCK,


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