To wrap up 2011, a year of budget cuts and continued high unemployment, WHQR is taking a look at some of the people, places, and products that have thrived.
Despite a difficult economic climate, it’s been a good year for Freaker USA, a Wilmington-based start-up making bottle insulation a national trend.
WHQR’s Laura Hunsberger stopped by Freaker head-quarters to take a behind-the-scenes look.
At the office of Freaker USA in Wilmington, the walls are painted bright orange and sea foam blue. While Lauren Krakauskas and a team of staffers are hard at work, a scruffy dog lounges on a threadbare sofa.
“That’s Nelson Mandella… And these are our Freakers!”
A guy listening to headphones is tagging a huge pile of Freakers, the newest batch of knit cuffs that stretch to fit any size bottle. Each sports a different pattern or woven picture.
“So, it’s kind of like a glorified koozie, but that word has become kind of a curse word around the office.”
Lauren’s been with the company from the beginning when her friend Zach Crain got the idea from a failed attempt at knitting.
“He went to a knitting group when he first moved to Wilmington. He was living in his car travelling around. And then he was horrible at knitting, he just really didn’t like it, so he started cutting up old sweaters and sewing them together and then giving them to all his friends. And people really liked it.”
Zach started selling the original freakers at a local store and found a hosiery mill in Troy, North Carolina to make them. He also gathered a team of artists, writers, film-makers, and other entrepreneurs to create a business strategy incorporating the media of a new generation. Lauren says the unifying theme in Freaker marketing is that everyone is having fun.
“A Freaker’s a hard thing to sell if you don’t know what it is, and it’s a new product so nobody knows what it is. Well, you can’t market the product because it’s a knit obscurity. You can market how much fun you’re having though…”
And the team really does make fun of marketing. They’ve created dozens of videos as part of their ongoing web presence. Lauren says the videos comment on cookie-cutter advertisement schemes.
“We were watching a bunch of informercials and they would all smile and tilt their head to forty-five degrees to the right. And this is so silly! But it sells it! And so we tried to mock these informercials. That particular Christmas video was obviously a mocking of typical jewelry commercials.”
Freaker USA got off the ground this spring with Kickstarter, an online funding platform. Freaker made a video and set a goal to raise nearly $50,000 in three months. Hundreds of backers pledged more than $62,000. Kickstarter’s Justin Kazmark says less than half of all projects make their funding goals.
Freaker also went on the road, travelling across the country in a box truck redesigned as a house. Zach Crain and the team hosted grilled cheese parties as a part of the tour.
“Oh I don’t know how many grilled cheese sandwiches—probably like 5000 grilled cheese sandwiches got made on the trip. So we would go around to coffee shops, you know, wherever we were at, as we were traveling, and go around acting silly and talking to people and giving them freakers and spreading the word…”
Freaker is now carried in about 50 US stores and has distributors in several countries. And despite competition from national retail chain, Urban Outfitters, which recently produced a similar knit bottle cover, the team is confident the brand will remain unique.
“I think that we’re also exporting and boxing up so much love. Because for each box that we send out, no matter if they buy one if they buy thirty, we always include a handwritten love note that tells them how special they are. We put so much effort and emotion into every package that we send out.”
No matter how big the company grows, Lauren says Team Freaker will continue to add a personal touch to every product they sell.