Fathead grows business by thinking big

"We basically just kind of stuck our big toe into the retail waters, and we've had some success," Chief Executive Officer Brock Weatherup says. "We're going to be expanding that substantially."Carlos Osorio / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

It hasn't taken long for Fathead to squeeze itself into the pop culture pantheon.

Thanks to offbeat commercials that feature memorable images such as a fire-breathing bear wearing a Chicago Bears No. 54 Brian Urlacher jersey and a unique and ever-expanding product line, the 2-year-old company that produces oversized wall-hangings is becoming, well oversized.

Fathead LLC's business model is simple: connect fans with their passions.

For devotees of everything from LeBron James and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Hannah Montana and the Simpsons, Fathead has a Fathead for you.

High-definition photographs are blown up and printed on vinyl lined with a patented adhesive backing that the company says won't damage walls if they're moved. Fathead prices range from $9.95 to about $100, depending on specials.

Martin MacKay is a Brett Favre guy.

A Fathead of the Green Bay Packers quarterback adorns the living room wall of MacKay's Costa Mesa, Calif., apartment.

The 57-year-old who works for a real estate firm bought the Fathead after seeing commercials every few hours on the NFL Network.

It fits perfectly in his apartment, MacKay says.

"My living room is basically my man cave."

Fathead executives say people such as MacKay — the sports fanatics who want more than a lifeless jersey to show team pride — will buy into the product.

And consumers no longer have to rely only on a mouse-click to secure a Fathead. The Livonia-based company has entered the retail world. Its products now can be found in national retail stores including Dick's Sporting Goods and Target.

"We basically just kind of stuck our big toe into the retail waters, and we've had some success," Chief Executive Officer Brock Weatherup said. "We're going to be expanding that substantially."

Retail purchases accounted for 15 percent of the company's 2007 sales, and Weatherup says he expects it to account for half of its sales this year. The private company would not provide dollar figures, but said overall sales doubled in 2007 from its formation in 2006.

"It's mostly a function of our marketing, where we've spent and how effectively we've spent — and letting people know that Fathead exists," Weatherup said.

Carl Willis, of Alexandria, Va., bought his John Elway and Jerome Bettis Fatheads online in 2006 after seeing a commercial during a football game on ESPN. There was a "buy one, get one free" special that attracted him to the graphics. The 29-year-old business analyst and his wife stuck them in the living room of their apartment — front and center.

"They're good conversation pieces because when people come into the apartment they're not expecting to see something like that," Willis said.

One analyst says Fathead's model of adding retail presence increases exposure and isn't too different from a designer having a special display in a department store.

"Even though they may get an awful lot of eyeballs on their products online, off-line is still where most of the sales happen," said Patti Freeman Evans, senior analyst at market research firm Jupiter Research in New York.

Fathead has contracted with stores that have large traffic and sales volume, which helps them build a broad customer base, she said

Stocking shelves with Fatheads also gives them credibility as decor, says Linda Castillon, the company's vice president of licensing and a member of the original Fathead team.

"The name Fathead is kind of like tissue paper and Kleenex," she said. "Now when people talk about big format printing they don't call it `Oh that's a big wall graphic.' They say `Fathead.'"

The Fathead brand was launched in 2005 in Ohio by a couple of sports fans who Weatherup says "got it going, but didn't have the ability to grow it."

They had a license for an NFL product line and later added NBA and NASCAR products.

Camelot Ventures, owned by Dan Gilbert, the Quicken Loans founder and Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner, and business partner David Katzman, purchased the license agreements that Fathead Inc. had established. After forming Fathead LLC, Camelot set a staff in place to add more licensing agreements and expand the product line by more than 300 items, pushing the total number of offerings above 400.

Today, Fathead maintains license agreements with major sports leagues including the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL as well as NASCAR and even the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. There are some college licenses. On the entertainment side, Fathead has deals with Lucasfilm, Twentieth Century Fox Film, Disney, Gracie Films, Marvel Characters and Columbia Pictures Industries.

Weatherup says people sometimes request a custom Fathead with pictures of themselves or children, but he says the company hasn't yet discovered a way to make such a thing "Fathead worthy."