Anyone read about this craze, I didn't know about it until about 2 months ago, reminds me of every single trend that comes and goes. Its funny how some think these trends can last for months and even years, Mr. Croak is even hiring people, hundreds of them from the US to China, anyone working for this company better research the word "trend" and remember that anyone that has a job with silly bandz will most likely not have one with this company in the next 6-12 months, maybe even sooner. The Man Behind the Bandz by Susan Berfield Monday, June 21, 2010 Robert Croak went from promoting concerts in east Toledo to the center of one of the hottest kiddie crazes in years. Here's how he did it. The UPS truck rumbles down Main Street in Toledo most mornings, past the boarded-up Cloud 9 bar, the abandoned Masonic Temple, the car wash, the tattoo parlor, and the payday loan shop. It stops at the small warehouse of BCP Imports (Brainchild Products), where a dozen young men, recently hired and plenty eager, rush to unload, sort, and repackage hundreds of boxes of Silly Bandz. They are this year's kiddie rage -- brightly colored silicone bands shaped like the outlines of animals, letters, princesses, and more. Kids, and a few notable parents such as Sarah Jessica Parker, stretch them out to wear like bracelets. When taken off they revert to their original shapes. Kids also trade them, count them, and fling them, which is why they've been banned in some schools around the country. A pack of 24 costs about $5. Robert J. Croak, the 47-year-old founder of BCP, says he has sold millions. Croak is sitting behind a desk covered with piles of paper and four computer screens, halfway through a bottle of chocolate Yoo-hoo. He's wound up and blustery, his voice raspy from late nights in the office. Croak has been a bar owner and concert promoter in Toledo's gritty east side for years. He grew up in the neighborhood, earned a degree in marketing from Owens Community College, then took over his grandmother's Main Street restaurant after she died and turned it into a rock club called Frankie's Inner-City lounge. For the past several years he has been selling custom t-shirts, dog tags, mugs, and silicone bracelets made popular by Lance Armstrong. Nothing in his background suggested that he would find himself at the center of one of the biggest successes in modern-day toy selling; Croak is an opportunist who has found the greatest opportunity of his life. "I'm the luckiest guy alive right now. I don't think you're going to find anyone who has a reason to be happier than I am," he says. "I have the hottest toy, the hottest fashion product on earth. All the right people like Silly Bandz. Everyone asks who my publicist is. I don't have one. We don't advertise. All we do is viral marketing. This is happening on its own." It might also end on its own, its energy exhausted, once kids' attention turns elsewhere. "This isn't a cultural phenomenon, it's a schoolyard fad," says Christopher Byrne, an independent toy consultant. "It's tracking the way a lot of fads do. The product is out there for awhile, it hits critical mass, then kids get tired of it." On the fad hierarchy, Silly Bandz might have reached the level of Kooky Klickers and scented erasers, but it has a long way to go before achieving the status of Beanie Babies. The products are also easier than most to copy -- already, cheaper-looking imitations are widely available. Croak says he's not concerned about any of this, although he is trying to establish Silly Bandz as a brand that resonates beyond the bands themselves; after all, they have no logos, no characters, no stories. "We've been planning some new products that will make Silly Bandz a household name for the next 5 to 10 years," he says. As with many aspects of his company, he declines to get into specifics. "I'd love to share some details, but I can't." About three years ago, Croak and the manager of the factory that produces his silicone bracelets visited a trade show in China, where the manager spotted stretchy animal shapes that were sold in Japan as rubber bands. "I liked the way they looked, and I thought if they were done correctly -- larger and thicker -- they would make a great fashion accessory," says Croak. "It's like any entrepreneur: If you see something you like and have the capability to develop it differently, then the sky's the limit. You know the Dyson vacuum guy who says in his commercial that he had 180 prototypes before he got it right? With Silly Bandz, we got it right the first time." The animal bands were hardly new. The Japanese creators had been recognized with a national design award and had been selling them in America in a limited capacity since 2002. The Museum of Modern Art Design Store carried them, as did the Japanese department store Takashimaya. New York magazine singled the animal bands out in October of that year, noting that they could be worn as bracelets. But what Croak saw in China "wasn't Silly Bandz," he says. "We trademarked the name. We created them. We created the craze." Croak saw potential in the bands that the original designers didn't: If they were offered in a greater variety, kids might want to collect and trade them like Pokemon cards. It could be a $100 purchase made $4.95 at a time. Slowly and unpredictably, Silly Bandz began to draw kids in with its website, which Croak launched late in the summer of 2008. He also took full advantage of the new social order in promoting his product. The Silly Bandz Facebook page now has nearly 255,000 fans, and on YouTube (NASDAQ: GOOG - News), some 2,000 videos have been posted about the bracelets, including a rap song that has been played almost 24,000 times. "Silly Bandz are a great toy, a fashion accessory. There doesn't need to be a reason," Croak says when asked about the way his product took hold. "Why take the fun out of it?" BCP is a private company, so sales figures aren't available. The bands clearly are a financial bonanza, however. Sean McGowan, a toy industry analyst at Needham & Co., estimates that a package of 24 bands probably costs nickels to produce at BCP's factory in China. Even after including packaging and transportation expenses, the profit margin could be close to 75%. As for Croak's marketing strategy, he prefers to keep the details secret, lest he surrender another profit opportunity: "I'll save that for a book deal, O.K.?" he says. BCP went from obscurity to the CBS Evening News in a matter of months, and the pressure on Croak is intense. "It's chaos every day," he says. Still, he tries to maintain a relaxed office atmosphere: Music is constantly playing, and the dress code is casual -- Croak wears jeans and untucked shirts, and many of his young employees are in shorts. Competition emerged months after Croak launched Silly Bandz. An entrepreneur named James Howard introduced Zanybandz in Birmingham, Ala., after testing the product out on his nieces. It could be that Silly Bandz and its competitor are actually helping one another: The greater the awareness of the product, the more sales for everybody. "Very often a second company ignites the whole market," says McGowan. Kids and stores don't necessarily care which brand they have. The bands spread to Tennessee, Florida, New Jersey, Connecticut. By the summer of 2009, "it started to get crazy," says Croak. "We thought we were ramping up enough then, and we've grown four times since then. It's a learning curve every week." Croak says BCP has gone from shipping 20 boxes of Silly Bandz a day to about 1,500. (The boxes contain anywhere from 24 to 500 packs.) He says Silly Bandz are carried in approximately 18,000 stores in 25 states.