78.6 F
San Fernando
Sunday, Sep 25, 2022
-Advertisement-

Personal Touch

By CHRIS COATES Staff Reporter The two fax machines inside UBU Products’ cavernous Agoura warehouse rarely stop humming around Christmastime. “It’s our busiest time of year. It’s so crazy with the holidays,” said Cindy Rotberger, who founded the company out of a bedroom of her Agoura home 12 years ago. Today, the 15-employee company does a million dollars worth of business selling UBU’s quirky line of no fewer than 25 personalize-able items including, but not limited to: stationery, note cards, stickers, pillow cases, aprons, memo pads, t-shirts, lunch bags, blank checks, luggage tags, tote bags, rubber stamps, recipe cards and address labels. There are even made-to-order cookies. “It’s a fun product,” said Leo Rotberger, Cindy’s husband for the past 18 years and a former healthcare consultant who also handles the business side of things. “People really like it.” UBU’s trademark is a little smiling stick figure that customers can tailor to suit an interest, occupation or trait. There are 386 stick figure poses in all, from a flexing stick figure fitness enthusiast with barbell in hand to a reclining stick figure mermaid with seaweed lei. There are teachers, optometrists, accountants, wedding couples, schoolchildren, tennis players and guitarists even priests and rabbis. Customers can then choose among 200 heads with myriad hairstyles, hats and skin colors dozens of font styles and even more colors before picking a product on which the image will appear. The items range from $19 memo pads to $45 self-inking stamps. Twenty-five color note cards cost $39, lunch bags go for $37 while cookies with a customized figure start at $2.70 each, plus shipping. Address labels are the company’s biggest seller. The company gets several hundred orders a week from a variety of customers even some with celebrity cache. They’ve created custom-made works for the likes of Bruce Willis, Star Jones and Michael Jordan, Leo said. With that amount of attention, the Rotbergers have trademarked their little stick figures, but that hasn’t stopped copy cats from capitalizing on it. “Just change one little thing like an ear,” Cindy said. “But we were the first and we’re still the cutest. It’s like 100 percent cute.” Stick to It The idea for UBU started more than a decade ago when Cindy, 50, received a friend’s personalized holiday card sporting hand-drawn figures for each family member. “There was a little picture of her husband and her husband had a briefcase and her daughter had a boom box,” Cindy recalled. “It was really cute.” Cute enough to convince Cindy, who was working in real estate and raising three kids, to ponder a career switch. “I was looking for something to get out of that business,” she said. “So that’s what I did.” With some savings, in 1994 she created a company called UBU (which means, “You be You and Me be Me,” Cindy says) and initially focused on personalized rubber stamps. “I drew these little stick figures into the computer with a mouse,” she said. “I didn’t even know how to work a computer.” Eventually, she found a small manufacturer and created samples to pitch to retailers. One of the first clients was the Paper Post, a paper supplier and gift store in Oak Park, which said they would feature the stamps. “They started getting orders immediately for it,” she said. “Then we realized we had something.” From there, Cindy secured booths at trade shows, expanded the product line and secured sales people. They eventually moved into space on East Thousand Oaks Boulevard in Westlake Village and three years ago into their current headquarters in Agoura Hills. Leo became involved full-time about six years ago after about 30 years as a consultant for Kaiser Permanente. “I gave that up when it really expanded,” he said. “I saw how much people really liked it.” Now Leo mans a desk in UBU’s jam-packed warehouse handling financials and marketing while Cindy works the creative side in an upstairs office. Cindy estimates they do about 75 percent of the company’s distribution and manufacturing here, although some, like the company’s line of rubber stamps, is outsourced. 1,500 outlets UBU products are sold at 1,500 licensed dealers made up of commissioned sales people, online outlets and traditional stores. Cindy said many of the salespeople came to her after hearing about UBU products and today are scattered across the country. UBU also does a swift trade in conventional outlets such as Hallmark stores and other smaller retailers across the country. For years, the network of sales people and retailers were UBU’s only method of sales; the company did sell wholesale to the public. But that changed as the company, like many small businesses, turned to the Internet. In May, the UBU reintroduced its website, which now allows customers to order directly. Even with the technology, however, brick-and-mortar stores still win out. One of the company’s biggest sellers is in Norwich, Conn., where for the past 10 years, Marcie Goldberg has sold the entire UBU product line at her Personalized Print by Marcie G. store. Goldberg said people just keep coming back for UBU gifts, of which the most popular are the line of family stamps and pillowcases. Goldberg thinks the reputation is due to both the quality and novelty of the products. “UBU is consistent every single year,” she said. “But they’re also always pushing themselves to do something different.” Cindy said that’s the trick to building and maintaining a small business: always come up with new ideas. It was a lesson learned after the company initially limited itself only to rubber stamps, she said. “It was real touch and go there for a while. It took us a while to figure out our market,” she said. “You can’t just stay the same. We’re always adding stuff.” Leo credits his wife with much of the success. “It’s not that she wants to make a quick buck,” he said. “She brings a lot of heart into it,” he said. UBU Products Year Founded: 1994 Core Business: Custom stationery and gifts. Employees 2006: 15 Employees 2005: 10 Revenue in 2005: $1.1 million Projected revenue in 2006: $1.25 million Driving force: Demand for unique personalized paper products and wearables.

-Advertisement-

Featured Articles

-Advertisement-
-Advertisement-

Related Articles

-Advertisement-
-Advertisement-