OFF THE WALL
Hey Mike – I just saw your Bobblehead selling online for $39.95? Said it was Made in China? WTF?? Are they gonna be in Wal-Mart now?? I thought the whole point was to prove that a Bobblehead could be made in the USA with American labor?? Did I miss something???”
Hi Jeff. I think it’s fair to say you’ve missed a few things, though question marks are clearly not among them. Allow me to explain the true purpose of my long and winding odyssey through the smoking crater of America’s tchotchke industry, and address a few of your concerns.
A few years ago, someone on this page suggested I sell a Mike Rowe Bobblehead to raise money for mikeroweWORKS. I liked the idea, but I had some conditions.
1. I wanted my Bobblehead made from the best possible material. (None of that cheap plastic crap from China.)
2. I wanted it reasonably priced.
3. I wanted a quantity sufficient to give everyone on this page a chance to buy one.
4. I wanted it to talk.
5. I wanted it made entirely in the USA.
Seems reasonable, right? I mean, if America can’t make a miniature version of my giant head, how can we expect Detroit to make a car?
For the next year or so, I talked with dozens of companies who said they could meet my requirements. Alas, there was always a catch. Companies that could deliver on quality, couldn’t deliver on quantity. Companies that could deliver on quantity, couldn’t deliver on quality. And companies that could deliver on price, couldn’t deliver on quality OR quantity. I was also hearing from a lot of companies who were under the impression that “Made in the USA” was the same thing as “Made ‘Mostly’ in The USA.” (WTF, indeed!)
Then one day I got a call from Warren Royal, owner of Royal Bobble in Alpharetta Georgia. Warren didn’t mince words. “To make the venture worthwhile,” he said, “a Bobblehead manufactured to your specifications entirely in this country would need to retail for at least $250.00. Probably more.”
I was stunned. “It’s just a frickin’ Bobblehead!” I said. “How the hell can it be so expensive?”
“Well Mike, we could talk about the economies of scale at play in your request, or I could walk you the through the realities of competing in the global marketplace. But really, the simplest way to explain the cost is to show you exactly what it takes to make one of these things in person.”
Warren probably didn’t expect me to stop by with a film crew, but suddenly, my Bobblehead conundrum seemed like an interesting way to explore America’s larger relationship with making things. So I flew to Atlanta with my crew, drove to Alpharetta, and turned the whole excursion into a segment for Somebody’s Gotta Do It. Warren introduced me to his artists and graphic designers. I met Rachael and JoAnn, two very patient and talented women who helped me make my own mold, cast my own head, and paint my own face. It was painstaking, time-consuming, detailed work, and before too long, I started to see why a modestly-priced, hand-made Bobblehead might be a challenge to produce in significant numbers.
Along the way, Warren explained his model. All the design work is done in Georgia, where his people create the prototype. After weeks of tweaking, each prototype is eventually approved and shipped to China, where hundreds of local 08bobbleheadartists replicate it by hand, one at a time. For me, that was an eye-opener. Like most Americans, I prefer to believe that everything made in China is crap. The truth is, that’s wishful thinking. The Bobbleheads that come back to Warren look an awful lot the original. The only real difference between the two is cost. And therein lies the rub. Reproducing my giant cranium in America is ten times more expensive than reproducing my giant cranium in China. Think about that. Ten. Times. As Freddy might say, “you don’t have to be an economist to understand…that dog won’t hunt.”
Point is Jeff, I didn’t set out to “prove” that America could mass-produce a high-quality Bobblehead at a reasonable price – I set out to see if such a thing were possible. Sadly, I learned it’s not. At ten times the cost, there’s just no market for American Made Bobbleheads, even when The Biped is accompanied by precocious pets. And that’s where the story would have ended had Warren not made me a most interesting offer.
With Rachael and JoAnn’s help, Warren agreed to produce 100 American Made Bobbleheads and sell them to me at his cost. I’ve since been selling them at auction. Each American-Made Mike is numbered, signed by me, and shipped from my office in a Somebody’s Gotta Do It tote bag, (usually filled with some additional swag.) So far, we’ve sold five, and raised over $23,000. Number 6 is available right now, and no doubt feeling the pressure. You can bid here.
In return, I allowed Warren to replicate my Bobblehead overseas, and make those versions available on his website at a price most of the people on this page can actually afford. These versions aren’t signed or numbered by me, but the quality is excellent, and they’re a great way to support mikeroweWORKS. You can get one here.
Again – both options benefit the foundation. When someone buys an “American Mike” at auction, 100% of the money goes to mikeroweWORKS. When someone buys a “China Mike,” 100% of my profit (the license fee) goes to mikeroweWORKS. With luck, we’ll sell enough this year to replenish the $400,000 we’re about to award in Work Ethic Scholarships.
Is it a perfect solution? Hardly. I’d much prefer to tell you that every Mike Rowe Bobblehead is Made in USA, and available at whatever retail outlet you find least objectionable at a price you believe to be fair. Alas, the world isn’t perfect, and from what I can tell, the global economy doesn’t give a shit about what I prefer. In this case though, I’m not losing any sleep. In fact, there’s something very satisfying about using the proceeds of a product made in China to train American workers for jobs that still exist in this country. Personally, I enjoy the irony, and hope you will as well.