Craig Wolfe: The biggest myth for small business owners is that you have to have a background in what you are getting into. That is not true.

May 22, 2023
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Tell us about yourself?

Our company began as an offshoot of my original company, Name That Toon, where we developed the first-ever animation art lines for Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, M&M/Mars, Pillsbury, Campbell Soup, Hershey, and many others.

We took the advertising artwork from their television commercials and developed a whole line of artwork representing some of the most beloved characters in advertising history, including The Pillsbury Doughboy, The Budweiser Frogs, the Coca-Cola Polar Bears, and numerous other characters.

The company grew to become the largest publisher of advertising/animation art in the country. We started developing the CelebriDucks around 1997 as just a little fun side project.

My daughter, Rebecca, a product design major, designed the entire line in the beginning. When the Philadelphia 76ers read about us, they asked us if we could create a rubber duck of superstar Allen Iverson complete with tattoos, cornrows, and earrings for a stadium give-a-way.

It came out extremely well, and I would always joke that our rubber duckie looked more like him than he did! After the 76ers event took place, we began to receive a great deal of national and international attention. It quickly became apparent that I had to let go of one of our companies, so I made a decision to sell off the art business.

We changed our name, and suddenly we became all rubber duckies! Truly the quote by John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” could not have been more appropriate.

What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?

I’ve learned a lot over the years. The biggest myth for small business owners is that you have to have a background in what you are getting into. That is not true. You have to have a passion and a capacity to work with people who can augment your skills to do what you want to do.

Business degrees are overrated, and street smarts will always rule the day. If you look at some of the greatest entrepreneurs in history, so many had modest or no education.

They had drive and passion, and this is key:  surrounded themselves with people a lot more talented them themselves! As Winston Churchill said, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm!”    

Also, What I wished I had known when I began is that when starting any venture, it is best to really come strong out of the gate with as good a product, great licenses, etc., as possible since you often truly do not get a second chance to make a first impression.    

I do a lot of interviews in the media, and I always tell every budding small business owner that you have to set realistic goals and not try to own the world and your niche tomorrow.

Patience is key, and it’s imperative NOT to try to be all things to all people! Find what you do best and the core market that you should concentrate on for what you have to offer.   ….and this is huge for business owners….it’s not how much money you make…it’s how much you keep!….so overhead is key….it takes down more businesses than you can imagine.

Even those starting up working from home should know that you can still bankrupt yourself through ill-conceived overspending…especially in technology!!  

What small businesses have to do is learn to responsibly outsource and focus on what they do best.

You have to know what you can do and what you should not do, and what is the best use of your time. And you have to become a master of communication when you do outsource. It’s the key to making any business work.

So bottom line, you really do have to have a great support staff no matter where they live, but you must know how to responsibly interact with them.     In fact, if you go to my website at www.CelebriDucks.com you will see a link on the top called Made in America you might want to check out.

The rubber duck was invented in America, and now they are all made overseas. I’m returning the whole industry back to Ohio, where it all began this year! How can I do this? Because of one more factor that all small businesses should take note of. Don’t try and be Walmart.

Be different than Walmart. The best thing a company can do is to distinguish itself from its competition by offering something that no one else can, and if it can, make sure that your company can do it better!

If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

You often do not get a second chance to make a first impression. Spend the money to come out of the gate with the best products possible and continue to innovate from there. 

A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?

Being able to run the whole company from home while being outsourced all over the world has made a huge difference in creating a benign work/life balance. 

What is the inspiration behind your business?

To do what makes us happy and makes us laugh. If we’re having a good time and coming up with witty, amusing products….so are our customers!

What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?

I always knew that people would always try and make things cheaper, but the way we beat our competition was to make our products so detailed and with so much wit and humor in their designs that no one would even attempt to knock us off….and also by putting each one in its own individually designed gift box. 

How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?

My answers in number 14 pretty much cover a lot of the lessons…I might add life is short, and if it’s not fun, why do it?

That just means you have to enjoy what you do or find a way to change it so that you do enjoy it. And if all else fails, find a new business where you will thrive emotionally!

What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your business, and how did you overcome it?

Covid! It changed the world. It hit us as the company was in a tremendous growth phase. Oddly, our business continued to increase even during Covid!

But….the bigger problem is with the increased demand, how much harder it is to get things done with Covid, manufacturing, and supply chain issues, shipping problems, etc. But grateful people love what we do!

What can the government do to help grow and support the startup ecosystem in the US?

There are just so many rules and regulations in manufacturing here that it’s not very cost-effective for many companies like ours due to all the regulations and costs of doing business.

That and the fact that there need to be so many more training programs for manufacturing. Wake up, people….the world is not just about tech companies!

The United States has a tonne of great startup ecosystems. Are you part of one? What benefits have you gotten from the startup community you’re part of?

We stay in touch with many startups and share ideas, but we are not in a formal program. It’s important to realize that all of us are in the same industry, and we can share ideas, and that makes all of us better!

What do you think the future holds for American startups?

It all depends on the business….for companies like ours that do small toy items that demand expensive molds and spray masking and a skilled and expensive painting workforce…sadly; the outlook is not good. I make part of my line 100% in the USA because I don’t have to paint the baby line.

But for the complicated celebrity rubber ducks, there is no factory in America that can make them, and I hate that as I would love to make everything here!

🎁 What makes your company stand out as a gift startup/company?

We always tried to be the best in our industry, and I think we have accomplished that as no one really does our level of detail and quality and has our unique and witty design skills.

We pretty much sell out of every store we put them in and don’t even have a sales force. Like Milton Hershey said, “Give them quality; that’s your best advertisement.”

🎁 What excited you most about working in the gifting industry?

I love being able to surprise people by developing a line of their favorite celebrities that put a smile on their faces. People LOVE to gift others with our ducks! It’s great to be in the gifting industry. 

🎁 What are some of the biggest challenges in the gift industry that innovators and other startups often face?

The cost of doing business in America is one of them. And as mentioned above, Covid, supply, labor, shipping, and material issues are really impacting all businesses today. Hope it will get better….not so sure it will work in the short term…..

🎁 Tell us a bit about your culture. What makes your company’s culture unique?

We all have fun! Anyone at any level in the company is the same as anyone else, and everyone has an equal voice to express their opinion and share their ideas. Again, if it’s not fun, why do it? And you have to respect every single person you work with, both in and out of your company. 

🎁 In your opinion, what are the most exciting trends in the gifting industry right now?

I would put reshoring and Made in America right at the top. I just love that!! We just have to wean ourselves off of foreign manufacturing!!!!

And finally, if people want to get involved and learn more about your business, how should they do that?

People can call or write here at any time. We actually answer the phones, return calls, respond to e-mails, etc…you know, the way business used to be done when you could actually speak to real human beings!

We are fortunate to not only have our own line but to be the leader in custom rubber ducks for clients all over the world. And the fact that we are the only one in the industry who will do low custom runs starting at 1000 units for their own design keeps us very, very busy.

But we are happy to help anyone even if they don’t use us, as it’s all about helping others succeed and protecting them from making bad business decisions that could hurt them. 

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