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by Bruce Horovitz
USAToday.com

Toledo, Ohio — For all the kids who live to have Silly Bandz dangling from their wrists — and for all the grown-ups befuddled by the rubber-band bracelets that have taken over pop culture — here’s the news: It’s only the beginning.

Silly Bandz and its gaggle of copycat rivals aren’t taking a summer vacation.

Instead, they’re spending the summer rolling out related products — such as Silly Necklaces that can hold gobs of the bands and Silly Bandz that change colors in the sun. That’s even as Silly Bandz and competitors Logo Bandz, Crazy Bands and Zanybandz prepare for a back-to-school onslaught.

No one is more blown away by Silly Bandz mania than Robert Croak, 47, the Silly Bandz man and CEO of BCP Imports. He talked and hawked with USA TODAY in his first substantive interview about the serious business of Silly Bandz.

“My dream was to be a pro baseball player — or an inventor,” says the quasi-punk-haired, bespectacled Croak, who thrives on acting zany — much like a Curious George with business savvy.

He says his clearest memory of his childhood here is taking apart toasters to see how they work. Now, he’s taking apart Toyland with a $4.95-a-24-pack fad some retail experts say will leave Beanie Babies and Webkinz in the kid-trend dust. Bandz and imitators are estimated to now be a $200 million-a-year business — with $1 billion a future possibility.

Silly Bandz are basically rubber bands that hold shapes such as a cat, fairy princess or — coming soon — SpongeBob. Annual sales of the Silly Bandz brand alone are north of $100 million, Croak says, vs. $10,000 just two years ago.

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