It takes a certain brand of optimism and foresight to make a small-market concept work, a certain drive and, of course, the essential ability to recognize a need and fill it. Before a savvy, upward mover even begins to address such concepts as outsourcing, retrenchment and severe lower-pricing to shed high-cost capacity, he must be able to pick the right product at the right moment.
Such a man is Rod Jakubik.
His product is fangs.
Jakubik is a dental technician and the owner/operator of Phoenix-based dental prosthetics and appliance manufacturer OrthoDent. Just prior to the final quarter of fiscal '95, Jakubik became bullish on the well-proven, high-marketing concept holiday, Halloween.
Thus was born his offshoot venture, Fang Master. "I started off just making some fangs for a few friends," says the Michigan native, outlining his initial marketing strategy. "And then I made some fangs for this vampire role-playing group [similar to Dungeons and Dragons], and every one of those people wanted my business cards and they handed them out to their friends."
Along with more elaborate Halloween evergreens such as "ghost," "witch," "pussycat" and, of course, "vampire," Jakubik's fangs are easily franchised into generic favorites including "madman," "wench," "zombie," "giant rat" and "anything that sucks blood."
"Word of mouth spread the word," coins the astute technician and horror-film enthusiast, "and we started the Fang Master. It's actually become a secondary business."
Retail shelves around the country are well-stocked with fangs ranging from the basic "Bleeding Fang" by Clown Alley, selling at $1.99, to the more ostentatious, glow-in-the-dark models by Scarecrow and Fangtastic coming in at $13.93 and $9.98 respectively. While effective in short-term use, these brands have been known to become uncomfortable and cause drooling, a serious setback to most fright-oriented efforts.
What Jakubik offers is a fang for the discriminating shopper, whether his costuming precepts veer toward vampire or undefined holiday freak. Prices, however, may top out at $75, clearly an investment that puts usual mass-targeted consumers defined by a monthly allowance out of buying range.
"I'm not knocking any of the rubber teeth or the dime-store fangs," stresses Jakubik. "If that's what somebody wants, fine. All the local costume shops have been super nice to me, and they want to advertise my thing for the person who really is more serious about their vampire fangs."
Jakubik is clearly not out to parry blows with the larger producers catering to a conservative, low-risk buying public. Here, he elaborates on the differences that make Fang Master worth the relatively high asking price:
"You can wear 'em all day, wear 'em all night at a party, drink with 'em, talk with 'em, smoke with 'em. But I tell people if they're going to eat, I don't want 'em ripping into a steak with these 'cause they are acrylic, which is plastic. It's strong, but you can still break 'em.
"My fangs are only going to fit you. They won't fit anybody else in the world; they are just like a custom dental appliance, except that you don't actually need them. The acrylic we use is completely American Dental Association approved material, and we also take your shade. Which is the color of your teeth."
Simplicity is the handmaiden to realism, a truth that Fang Master holds as gospel, Jakubik reveals.
"If your teeth are yellow, your fangs will be yellow."
During last year's initial growth period, Jakubik heeded the urgings of a colleague and began branching beyond the fang-only sphere into new, fright-oriented dental appendage windfalls.
"A friend of mine is a big Star Trek fan, he's a Native American, about six four and he wanted to be a Klingon, so I made him a set of Klingon teeth. They were all crooked and gnarly and yellow. That was kind of fun."
Kind of fun indeed, especially when fun translates into profit. And profit means growth, and growth means income.
"I've made werewolf teeth, demon teeth; if somebody wanted nerd teeth, all kind of bucked out, I can do that," offers a humble Jakubik. And he's not afraid to reveal two vital design elements:
"It's a combination of things. I use my imagination, and I'll kind of copy magazines."
The master of Fang Master also welcomes consumer input. Working closely to achieve exactly what an individual wants is part of the Fang Master pride in production.
"If a person really wants something custom, first thing I ask them is, can they put it down on paper. Even if you're not an artist, I can make that."
But just what is the range of Fang Master's loyal, expanding clientele? As you might expect, it is diverse.
"I've had some pretty strange people come in," admits Jakubik, who enjoys specializing in specialization. "I think they really wanted to bite each other. They were a couple, and they wanted the fangs just as sharp as I could make them. They were just about poking holes in my thumbs when I was polishing them. So I know they were sharp."
Other satisfied buyers have included a woman who offered a personal stratagem for "cat teeth," a significant number of students at Apache Junction High School who tapped Fang Master for nine pairs of Dracula snappers for an upcoming stage production, demon teeth for a possession of the character Marlena on television's Days of Our Lives, and a topless dancer who raised her nightly investor's midlevel portfolios by including a realistic pair of Jakubik-crafted fangs into her act.
But not every order is smooth sailing.
"I would say the most difficult order I've had was two guys last year," Jakubik estimates. "I made both of them nerd teeth, and I didn't want to make them look the same. I'd say they were probably one of the more challenging things that I've done."
Craftsmanship plays no minor role here at Fang Master, and it is those small touches that spur the big reactions.
"I have a staining kit," says Jakubik, "which can really make 'em look like backwoods, nicotine-stained, make-you-vomit-lookin' teeth. I really like the staining kit; it's pretty cool."
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"Pretty cool" is one way to describe the Fang Master operation, one that, with an upcoming Web site offering the product line worldwide, may soon make these high-impact, stylized fangs, nerd teeth and demon teeth viable year-round items.
A business? Absolutely. But to Jakubik, an individual providing a rare, hand-crafted commodity in today's assembly-line wasteland, it's a little something more.
"I've had friends tell me I would make a pretty good sculptor," he says openly. "I kinda sculpt fangs . . . they're real rough and lumpy when I start out, and I finish them down to a nice point. I think it requires a certain amount of artistry, the eye-hand coordination. And repair is free. I've had some people come back to get 'em sharpened. Whatever you want to do with these things, I don't ask. Once you walk out the door, you can do whatever you want."
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