Amid the millions of dollars poured into branding each year, comes this story of how of a tiny business with little sex appeal -- or even appeal for that matter (who likes to think about cracks in the basement?) -- managed to achieve national recognition, half a million dollars in apparel sales, appearances on "The Tonight Show," Fox News and ESPN radio, all without hiring a single ad agency, focus group, brand consultant or PR adviser. Instead, the owners just did what entrepreneurs with nothing to lose tend to do before they get big and worried about losing what they've got--they went with their gut.
In November 2001, Bob Kodner was stuck in St. Louis traffic and thinking about ways to expand his father's local foundation-crack repair business. The residential-services industry has a less-than-pristine reputation and the younger Mr. Kodner hated ads that promised reliability and on-time service because he knew most people didn't trust that. The company's official name, Crack Team USA Inc., already got a lot of chuckles -- "Dad named it before society went to hell" -- but the son had dreams of franchising. He just needed an identity that would make a good sell out of the business of injecting epoxy resin into basement cracks.
Mr. Kodner, who admits he is his "own best audience," says that in the car that morning he imagined a logo featuring a cartoonish, smiling gray piece of cement with feet and hands and a crack running down his head. That's when the phrase, "A Dry Crack is a Happy Crack!" popped into his head. His dad balked a bit, but Mr. Kodner, the company's president, forged ahead. A few weeks later, 34 buses in St. Louis sported the final logo penned by Mr. Kodner's cousin and the accompanying slogan; phones rang off the hook from callers wanting T-shirts and hats, and a brand was born.
Today the Crack Team has 10 franchise offices in eight states and says it's on track to have 25 by year's end and 150 in North America by close of 2007. A Web site -- mrhappycrack.com -- gets 350,000 Web hits a month from consumers looking to buy T-shirts, boxers, bobblehead dolls, women's thong underwear, baby clothes and golf balls emblazoned with the logo. A traveling Mr. Happy Crack mascot spreads the company gospel at festivals like the Taste of Chicago and has thrown out the opening pitch for a Major League Baseball team.