Honey, he shrunk the shirt

By Lorna Collier
Published February 1995, Sales and Marketing Strategies & News

A bar of soap? A deck of cards? A jewelry case?

When Bruce Mack, wholesale marketing manager for the Mopar wholesale sales division of Chrysler Motors, asked attendees at a recent trade show to identify his newest incentive item -- a small rectangular block, about 2 1/2 by 4 inches -- the guesses came fast and furious.

No one, however, came close to figuring out what the item really was: an extra-large, heavyweight T-shirt. When Mack would reveal the answer, he says, people were stunned, exclaiming, "I don't believe it! No way! Get outta here!"

But it was true. After the little block was unwrapped from its cellophane, then tugged at here and there -- voila! a shirt unfolded; a little wrinkled, but a shirt nonetheless, emblazoned with Mopar's name and promotional slogan.

Because the shirt giveaways have been so enthusiastically received at shows, says Mack, Mopar plans to sell customized versions to its dealers. These shirts will be imprinted with the dealer's and Mopar's names, so that dealers can use them in their own promotions.

Mopar is just one of many companies using "compressed" T-shirts made by Three Strikes Custom Design, a Stamford, Conn. firm headed by Mark Kaufman, who has been creating promotional items, such as the Joe Camel beach towel, for 15 years.

Kaufman introduced the shirts -- which are compacted into small rectangles or cylinders by a machine bearing 30 tons of pressure -- last summer, as a shelf giveaway for Malibu Rum. Coca-Cola then used them stuffed into Coke cans for its "Monsters of the Gridiron" campaign last fall.

Through March, Kaufman had sold about 200,000 shirts, with gross sales in excess of $1 million. And this is just the start, he says; a wide variety of companies are clamoring to use his "T-Paks."

"You show it to people and they freak out, they're calling people from all over the place in the organization," says Kaufman. "Any human being who has seen this has gone, 'Wow, this is incredible,' from a little kid to David Stern, commissioner of the NBA."

The National Basketball Association, in conjunction with Footlocker, used Kaufman's T's during the All-Star weekend in Minneapolis, says Kaufman. They were sold directly to the public as a retail item.

Other Kaufman clients include Zotos Corp., a hair-care products manufacturer, which is shrink-wrapping Kaufman's T's along with 7-inch bottles of its products. Because Kaufman can place the shirts inside bottles, he's had beverage manufacturers sign on. Greeting card companies see the potential of the shirt as a mailable, wearable greeting card. Fast-food chains are "very interested," he says, as are such retail outlets as Kmart and JC Penney.

So far, most of Kaufman's clients have used the shirts as part of promotional campaigns. After all, T-shirts and other wearables are tops with marketers, making up 22.4 percent of sales for the $5.2 billion promotional products industry in 1992, according to Pam Fields, manager of external communications for the Promotional Products Association.

Kaufman says his product is "a no-brainer" for companies, many of which use T-shirts anyway; the compression adds fun to a functional part of a campaign, and for "very little" extra cost.

"People are excited about wanting to use [compressed T-shirts] in conjunction with their products," says Kaufman. "If a client is planning to take the T and package it with their product, to create a dual package on the product shelf, that gives the consumer more impetus to pull it off the shelf."

Shirts aren't Kaufman's only compressed product, either. He has added terry cloth beach hats ("Hat-Paks") to his line. The hats come in even smaller containers -- about 1 3/8 by 2 1/2 inches. Swimmers and sunbathers can pop the hats out of their cans, dip them in water to remove the wrinkles, then plop them on their heads.

"We've only really started to scratch the surface" of applications, says Kaufman, who is enlarging his production capacity to keep up with demand for the product, which only he sells and which he is patenting. "It's a developing business being expanded as quickly as it can. We're in the early stages of the cycle...It's really a very, very exciting thing."

© Copyright 1995, Lorna Collier

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