Businesses using purple to make gold

With the Ravens in the NFL playoffs, the rush is on to earn a big payday

January 12, 2007|By Stacey Hirsh and John-John Williams IV | Stacey Hirsh and John-John Williams IV,Sun reporters

Bill Foltz ducked out of work for a few minutes this week and headed to a tent on the side of Belair Road to snag a must-have item for his wardrobe: a purple Ravens T-shirt.

For Foltz, a season ticket-holder, the shirt is a splashy addition to the other purple tops and 46 strands of beads he has at home for game days. But for Andrew Hacke and Jeff Fiorucci, who were selling the shirts, the sale is one of thousands that mean extra profit this football season.

"We're really rooting for the Ravens," said Hacke, a die-hard Ravens fan. "You could say this is the calm before the storm. With each game, the better it gets."

Fiorucci and Hacke own separate screen printing and distribution businesses in Baltimore and Perry Hall, respectively, but are working together for the playoffs. They are two of many small businesses in the area turning purple mania into gold.

Specialty items from quirky T-shirts to Ravens sweets to purple light bulbs are proving to be a hot commodity as the Baltimore team heads into the playoffs, and local businesses that make them are cashing in. For these entrepreneurs, a winning local team means opportunity that they wouldn't normally get.

Ray Artigue, executive director of the MBA Sports Business Program at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business, said that particularly for small independent businesses, a team in the playoffs "makes all the difference in the world because that business is staking its hopes and opportunities on that particular team during that particular season and the building excitement from the adoring fans."

Sweet Fixation in Honeygo Village Center in Perry Hall is so convinced that Ravens fervor can outsell love that it's put Valentine's Day on the back burner.

Instead of the traditional reds and pinks for Feb. 14, it's busy coating chocolate-covered pretzels with purple and white sprinkles and drizzling gigantic strawberries and cream-filled candies with lavender-tinged chocolate.

"I knew that there was a chance [the Ravens] would be playing, and I knew that we had to go into overdrive," said Debby Sullivan, who owns the store with her husband, Wayne Sullivan, and her sister-in-law, Kellie Cully.

"We moved all of our Valentine's Day displays to the side," said Debby Sullivan, who estimated that the process took five hours. "This was more of an urgent issue."

The Sullivans and Cully hope to ride their own wave of success - along with the Ravens - into February.

Regular customer Rick McIntire rated the purple chocolate truffles a winner.

"The Ravens theme was definitely cool," said McIntire, 25, who plans to attend tomorrow's playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. "Oh, absolutely."

Capitalizing on fans' feelings can be a key to selling merchandise tied to passing events like a winning season.

"Fans are emotional, and they vote with their wallets and their purses," said James Kahler, executive director of the Center for Sports Administration at Ohio University.

Certainly that's what Fiorucci and Hacke are playing to, with T-shirts bearing messages like "BEAT INDY" and "FEAR THE RAVENS."

From tents on Belair Road in Perry Hall, Boulton Street in Bel Air and Pulaski Highway in White Marsh, and through sales to local stores, the pair, who also teamed up in 2001 when the Ravens won the Super Bowl, estimate that they have sold more than 2,500 of their $10 to $20 T-shirts - boosting their business by an estimated 25 percent.

And if the Ravens win the Super Bowl on Feb. 4, Fiorucci and his employees will be spending the night at his shop, churning out new championship shirts ready for the next morning. (Hacke will be at the game.) If it's anything like the last time - when the pair had so much business that Fiorucci slept at the shop for a week while Hacke ran around town delivering shirts and selling them at their tents - a victory in Miami will mean they score.

The Ravens' success has also boosted business at Annapolis-based Innovative Analysis Inc., which has seen a 1,000 percent increase over last year in its sales of purple light bulbs in the region.

The company, which sells its imported light bulbs at Wal-Mart and Ace Hardware and on its Web site, has thousands in stock and has customers calling, ordering online, even driving out to the warehouse, said Kathryn Goetzke White, founder, president and chief executive of Innovative Analysis.

The company has had to bring in additional workers - sometimes up to 10 a day - to help pack the bulbs for distribution, White said.

Innovative Analysis, which operates under its brand Mood-factory, is a maker and distributor of organic teas, scents and light bulbs based on the effects of tastes, smells and colors on mood. Purple is known as a color that fosters creativity, White said. Luckily for Innovative Analysis, it is also the color lighting up office buildings from Columbia to downtown Baltimore and beyond as local businesses show support for the home team.

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