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商业 - 消费品

橡皮筋编织游戏造就百万富翁

Iris Mansour 2013年08月16日

日产汽车的一名前碰撞试验工程师从两个女儿的橡皮筋编织手链游戏里获得灵感,自己组装发明了一款简易编织机。结果,全美的小姑娘都迷上了这种古老的手艺,这位马来裔的工程师也因此成了一夜暴富的最新典范。

    吴昌俊与妻子和两个女儿在一起。

    今年夏天最热门的既不是哪一支男子乐团,也不是价格昂贵的美国娃娃玩具,而是编织。

    全美国九岁的小女孩们都被一种几个世纪以前的工艺所深深吸引。她们在一台临时编织机的帮助下编织着七彩的手链。只是这一次她们要用的是橡皮筋,很多很多的橡皮筋。

    从八月份的第一周开始,手工艺品零售商Michaels Stores便开始引进17美元的彩虹编织机(Rainbow Loom)。如今,Michaels品类管理高级副总裁费罗•帕帕斯称,这款产品的热销程度是该连锁店第二畅销产品的十倍。

    据该产品45岁的发明者吴昌俊(音译)透露,这款橡皮筋手织机在多家零售店已经卖出了100万件左右。不久之前,吴昌俊还是底特律日产汽车公司(Nissan Motor Co.)的一名资深碰撞试验工程师。

    三年前,吴昌俊的两个女儿——12岁的特蕾莎和9岁的米歇尔——正在家里的小房间用橡皮筋做手链。这个画面让马来西亚长大的吴昌俊想起了用橡皮筋做跳绳的场景。吴昌俊希望能用编手链的水平来打动孩子们,于是他抓起一些橡皮筋,努力想把它们编织成图案。结果他的手太大,而橡皮筋又太小。

    于是这位工程师来到自己的车库,拼装出了一台样式古老的织机——其实就是一块旧木板上面钉了几排图钉。凭借这个简单的工具,他开始把橡皮筋缠成手链。最初,他的两个女儿并不感兴趣。但后来,她们看到他飞快地织出复杂的花纹,她们改变了之前的看法。

    特蕾莎发现了将这个小东西变成商机的可行性。当时她们邻居家的孩子们都开始迷恋爸爸组装的织机。就是在那时候,吴昌俊信心大增——虽然有一点负罪感——他决定把攒出来供女儿上大学的10,000美元拿出来,打造一款可以上市销售的产品。

    他花了六个月时间改进设计。(目前店铺内销售的是第28代。)然后他开始在中国南方省份寻找供应商,并于2011年6月拿到了第一批货。当时,橡皮筋早已到货。他还记得当时与妻子站在车库里,忐忑不安地看着那个巨大的板条箱:箱子有2,000磅重,相当于一辆小汽车的重量。

    最初的销售非常缓慢。他去参加贸易展和儿童夏令营,推销自己的塑料编织机。那时,吴昌俊亲自去商店推销,但却经常被店铺经理轰走。

    2012年7月,他终于迎来了转折点。当时The Learning Express Toys连锁店的一家店铺看中了吴昌俊的发明。这家位于乔治亚州阿尔勒特的店铺专门推出了手链编织课,介绍这款廉价织机的功能。吴昌俊说:“突然,他们给我打电话说,一周卖了24件。后来,一周卖了96件。”接下来,孩子们开始带着织机来到学校,于是网络效应开始发挥作用。

    The hottest tween frenzy this summer isn't a boy band or an excessively priced American Girl doll accessory. It's, well, weaving.

    Nine-year-old girls across the U.S. have apparently fallen head over heels for a centuries-old craft form, threading together colorful bracelets with the aid of a makeshift loom. Okay, this time, rubber bands are involved. Lots of them.

    Michaels Stores, the huge, private arts-and-crafts retailer, began stocking the $17 Rainbow Loom in the first week of August. The kit is now selling ten times better than the chain's next kids bestseller, says Philo Pappas, Michaels' Executive Vice President of Category Management.

    Already, a million or so of the rubber-band hand looms have sold through various outlets, according to Cheong-Choon Ng, the product's 45-year-old inventor, who until recently was a senior crash-test engineer for Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY), in Detroit.

    Three years ago, Ng's two daughters—Teresa, then 12, and Michelle, then 9—were sitting in the family den making bracelets from rubber bands. The process reminded Ng, who grew up in Malaysia, of making jump ropes from rubber bands as a child. Hoping to impress his kids with his bracelet-weaving skills, he grabbed a few tiny elastic bands and tried to mesh them into a pattern. They were too small for his fingers, however.

    So the engineer went to his garage and cobbled together a primitive loom—an old wooden board lined with rows of pushpins. With that, he began looping rubber bands into bracelets. At first his daughters weren't impressed. But once they saw him weaving intricate patterns in breakneck speed, they changed their mind.

    It was Teresa who saw the potential for transforming this into a business, when other kids in their Novi, Mich., neighborhood began obsessively playing with the looms Dad was assembling. That was when Ng decided to take a leap of faith—guilt-ridden though it was—staking the $10,000 he managed to save for his daughters' college fund on building a marketable product.

    He spent six months refining the design. (The kit that's in shops today is the 28th iteration.) Then he set about finding suppliers in Southern China, getting their first shipment in June 2011. By then, the rubber bands had already arrived. He remembers standing with his wife, staring fearfully at the giant crate in their garage: it weighed 2,000 pounds, as much as a small car.

    Sales were glacially slow at first. He went to trade shows and children's camps to show off the plastic loom. When Ng went to pitch store managers in person, he was often asked to leave.

    That changed after a single store in The Learning Express Toys chain picked up Ng's invention in July 2012. The shop, in Alpharetta, Georgia, offered bracelet-making classes to show off what could be done with the inexpensive loom. "Suddenly, they were calling us, saying they sold out 24 products in one week," says Ng. "Then they sold out 96 pieces within a week." Then, when kids started taking their kits to school, good old network effects kicked in.

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