The World's Largest Resource for the Cart, Kiosk, and Temporary Retail Industry

Spring 2007 Unique Concepts Spring 2007

A Fresh Perspective

Rockcycle turns old record albums into one-of-a-kind purses, notebooks, coasters and other products. Selling nostalgia in the form of useful products, the company is giving a second life to a nearly limitless supply of records while drumming up big sales.

Sock Popits, socks with clip-on fashion accessories called Popits (and their hairclip cousins, Clip Its), are a new fun and functional—and patented—product that’s taking off in the children’s market.

Leal Vineyards offered holiday shoppers a break with wine tastings at its in-line store as well as selling bottles, gift certificates and wine club memberships. The holiday store not only landed the sales but also helped the company expand its customer base.

Happy Hippo Bath Company manufactures crowd pleasers like soothing bath bombes and bubble baths, imagemerchandises them in mix-and-match batches and offers bulk pricing to keep sales volume high.

Stuffed Innovations is bringing its animal-stuffing business to malls, but what makes this company stand out from other stuff-and-fluffers is its start-up program, which allows entrepreneurs to get started for no money down.

Although every company profiled here has a different product line and selling strategy, all of them are using cart, kiosk or in-line space to their advantage. And each company except Leal Vineyards has a turnkey start-up package that independent entrepreneurs can buy into.


Rockcycle is turning everyone’s favorite album art into trendy purses, notebooks and other fun accessories.

Instead of gathering dust in the basement, old Beatles, Pink Floyd and Johnny Mathis albums are now morphing into one-of-a-kind purses, notebooks, coasters, key chains, locker magnets, luggage tags and more.

image“There’s a lot of great album art that’s going to waste because of the digital age, and we’re recycling that art and keeping it out in circulation,” explains Jeff Wagner, who along with Dan Redmond started Rockcycle, a company that buys old albums and turns them into all sorts of fun and useful products. “We’re like a dog shelter for records. We take what has been abandoned and give it new life.”

Headquartered in a former Trailways bus depot in Muncie, IN, the company opened its first kiosk in the Muncie Mall in early October 2006. The kiosk looks like a cedar shack with a metal roof. A flat-screen TV plays old concert films.

Rockcycle has plans to move to an in-line store in the mall this spring, and several large developers have expressed interest in having Rockcycle locations throughout their properties, Wagner says. In response to the consumer demand for the products and the developer demand for the unique kiosk concept, Redmond and Wagner are launching a franchise.

With billions of albums on the market and multiple final product options, the Rockcycle inventory is nearly limitless. “Anyone who recorded a record with any notoriety sold at least 300,000 copies,” says Wagner. “Kiss alone has sold 100 million albums.”

Rockcycle gets its album stock from many sources. “People come in and drop off boxes of them,” says Redmond. “We buy records on eBay and at auctions.” And when college kids from the local university go home on break, they can make money by buying old records in their hometowns and bringing them back to Rockcycle.

Albums from The Beatles, Elvis and Kiss are among the best sellers, says Redmond, but fan loyalty isn’t limited to the mega-groups. “People are not hung up on getting a Beatles notebook,” says Redmond. “They’ll see a notebook and say, ‘That’s a cool cover. I’d rather have that than go to Staples and buy a plain notebook.’ Or someone might see an REO Speedwagon bag, and while it might not be their favorite group, it might have been the first concert they went to, or the concert where they met their wife or husband.”

The partners marvel at the sheer variety of artists that are in demand. “I’ll be making a Metallica purse one minute and a Carpenters purse the next,” says Wagner. At Rockcycle—the beat goes on.

Sock Popits

Sock Popits began selling its sock sets with removable fashion accents in 2004 through gift shops and then over the Internet. But it wasn’t until the Paramount, CA-based startup opened its first kiosk in Downtown Disney in Anaheim this past September that sales really took off.

image“The kiosk has done phenomenally well, much better than the other methods,” says Business Development Manager Jim Lin. “When it sat on the shelves [of larger retailers], it just looked like a pair of socks with ribbons on it.”

Lin says Sock Popits turned out to be “the perfect kiosk business” because kiosk operators can easily catch the shopper’s attention and demonstrate how Popit zoo, marine or baby animals can be attached to Popit socks or the company’s Clip-It hairclip. Because the fashion accents can be easily moved around, mixed and matched, or traded with friends, kids love them. “The interchangeability is the key selling point,” Lin says.

Designed for kids ages 2 to 10, the products are sold individually or packaged as sets. A full set ($10) comes with a pair of Popit socks, a Clip-It hairclip and a pair of Popits. A smaller set ($4) contains one Popit and one Clip-It. Popit socks sell separately for $4 a pair, and a Clip-It is $1.

“To everyone’s surprise, the Clip-It hairclips are being well received by boys in addition to girls, because they allow them to clip Popits to their hats, jackets or shirts,” said Lin, who notes that Clip-Its look more like generic oversized clips than hairclips meant for girls. The product “doesn’t ‘scream hairclip,’” he says.

The company chose to launch its first kiosk at Downtown Disney because the location draws “a lot of kids and a lot of tourists,” Lin says. “The tourists have helped us get Popits out to the rest of the world, instead of keeping them in a local area.” Sales have been so strong that the company has developed a turnkey start-up package for specialty retailers nationwide and is currently negotiating a product line expansion that includes licensed characters.

The company’s specialty retailers can also earn a commission from online sales. At the kiosk, each Sock Popits customer receives a discount card for ordering additional products online. The card is tied back to the kiosk operator, who receives a commission on the subsequent online sales.

“The main thing we’ve found over the last two years is, people have to ‘get it,’” says Lin. “Once they understand the full functionality of the product, they say it’s the coolest thing.”

Leal Vineyards

Last December, shoppers at Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara, CA took a break from shopping to taste wines from a local vineyard. Leal Vineyards, located 40 miles away in Hollister, opened an inviting upscale temporary in-line midway through the holiday selling season, offering tastings for $10. Enthusiasts could sample several bottles and take home a trendy stemless glass. Bottles sold for $24 to $50, along with gift baskets packed with wines, candies, fruits and oils. Gift certificates to the vineyard and wine club memberships were also offered.

image“Our customers loved it!” says Melanie Vasquez, the specialty leasing manager for the upscale mall, who noted that Leal was the mall’s first winery tenant.

Leal Vineyards was equally excited about how its first mall store turned out, lined with wine barrels and featuring three large photos of the vineyard, including one showing a bride and groom, to market the vineyard’s wedding packages. “The idea was to promote our vineyard itself in addition to our wine,” says Chris Walker, tasting room and wine club manager. Plus, “We thought [a mall holiday store] would be a good way to introduce our wines to a lot of new people.”

Vineyard owner Frank Leal, in his mid-30s, “isn’t afraid to try something new” like a holiday in-line that more staid vineyards might not consider, says Walker. Leal is “a true entrepreneur,” he adds. “He doesn’t see the obstacles—he just makes things happen.” And happen they did.

Not only did the company make new sales it wouldn’t otherwise have landed but since then has seen “a steady stream of people who first saw us at the mall, who are taking the drive out to our vineyard,” Walker says. “We’re planning to do [the store] again this holiday season.”

Handmade bath products company has a new turnkey start-up package for carts.

Happy Hippo Bath Company

Happy Hippo Bath Company draws shoppers to its Canadian cart and kiosk locations with sensational scents and boldly colored displays. But according to owner Jodee Prouse, the company’s low price points and “mix-and-match merchandising” are what really land the sales.

During the holiday season, the company’s Mix & Match Program accounts for more than 80 percent of Happy Hippo’s retail sales (the company hand-makes its products and wholesales as well as private labels). Happy Hippo shoppers can buy any combination of 10 products—from bath bombes and milk baths to bubble baths and Epsom salts—for $22, or $2.20 each (regularly $2.50 each).

imageThe mix-and-match/buy-in-bulk strategy has served the company well. “Our biggest sale day ever was $5,888 at the West Edmonton Mall,” says Prouse. “That’s an enormous amount of units when most of your sales are only $2.20 items.” Shoppers “will buy 10 or 20 items because they make great stocking stuffers and because they feel they’re getting a great deal.”

Based in Sylvan Lake, Alberta, Happy Hippo Bath recently introduced a new turnkey start-up package for cart-based specialty retailers in the US that’s based on the success of its two year-round and nine seasonal specialty retail locations in Alberta malls. Three of the seasonal locations are run by independent owner/operators under the company’s Retail Partner Program, which is now launching in the US market.

Through the Retail Partner Program, independent cart operators who purchase $5,000 in product as part of an initial turnkey start-up package are eligible for discounts of 25 to 30 percent off wholesale, which brings the markup to 300 percent, Prouse says. There are no franchise fees or other start-up fees, and retail partners receive corporate support as well as a listing on the company’s website as a retail location for Happy Hippo products.

The Happy Hippo product lines have expanded to include gift baskets, candles, shower gels and other personal-care products. “Every year we add a few new items,” says Prouse. “Our biggest selling feature besides price is the fact that the main ingredient in almost all of our products is pure Epsom salt, an all-natural ingredient that soothes and relaxes as well as relieves tired, achy muscles.”

New products for 2007 include lipgloss, natural soy candles, and a hair powder that absorbs extra oil while imparting a delicious scent to the hair.

Happy Hippo is a huge opportunity for cart and kiosk entrepreneurs in the US and Canada, says Prouse. “Customers are looking for that unique, high-quality and delicious-smelling bath-and-body product—but everyone also wants a ‘great deal.’ We believe we have the concept that offers both.”


Stuffed Innovations introduces its new Animaland start-up package with no up-front costs.

What Build-a-Bear is to malls, Animaland is to amusement parks, zoos and entertainment centers, according to Josh Allen, president of Stuffed Innovations, which initiated and manages the cart and kiosk program for Animaland. The company is currently in more than 600 parks and entertainment destinations worldwide. But the interactive animal-stuffing retailer is now focusing on the US mall market.

imageStuffed Innovations, based in Augora Hills, CA opened an Animaland kiosk in Westfield Topanga in Canoga Park, CA last October. Since then, close to 20 independently operated kiosks have opened in malls, selling make-your-own bears and other stuff animal friends.

Allen says the company’s financing program makes it “incredibly affordable” for independent entrepreneurs to open an Animaland cart or kiosk. For no money down, Stuffed Innovations provides entrepreneurs with all equipment needed to operate the business (and a comprehensive warranty) along with $1,000 in product for $289 per month for 36 months. “By the time [the retailers] work through that much product, they have generated $3,000 or $4,000 to reinvest in inventory,” says Allen, who adds that markup ranges from 300 to 400 percent.

Allen says his company and Build-a-Bear are the only two companies in the animal-stuffing business that carry licensed animals (a full list is on the company’s website). Animaland features 180 high-quality animals in all, each priced at $17.99, or $29.99 completely dressed.

The company recently introduced a line of mini animals priced at $8.99, or $14.99 with a complete outfit. According to Allen, Animaland’s retail prices are about 40 percent less than Build-a-Bear’s. Stuffed Innovations recommends that retailers stock a cart or kiosk with a selection of 25 to 40 animals and outfits.

Beyond appealing to the impulses of shoppers who happen by, Stuffed Innovations has also developed two revenue-producing programs to draw customers from outside the mall. The first is birthday parties, which take place at the kiosk. (Allen notes that the mall might restrict the number of party guests.) Kids choose and stuff an animal, dress it and get a birth certificate, and then pose with their friends for a group shot. “The commotion around the kiosk draws traffic, as well,” says Allen, who adds that retailers should aim to book three to four birthday parties every Saturday and Sunday.

The second revenue-producer is a local fundraiser, typically staged Mondays through Thursdays. Retailers team up with local organizations that promote the fundraisers, getting the word out that on a certain day 20 percent of sales will be donated to the organization. “It draws traffic to the kiosk” during the weekdays, says Allen. Animaland expects to build brand recognition as it opens in malls around the country. “Build-a-Bear has done a remarkable job of building the idea of interactive animal stuffing,” Allen says. Now that the retail concept has taken hold and Build-a-Bear is only in a small percentage of malls, he adds, opportunities abound for Animaland and independent specialty retail entrepreneurs nationwide.

Bernadette Starzee

Starzee, a Long Island, NY writer who covers business, sports and lifestyle topics, is a senior writer for SRR. She can be reached at .

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