I’m Ron Gayer. My buddy, Rodney, who owns a precious metals business, and I partnered to produce and market the official medallion for the Oregon Trail Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary.) We produced the medallions in 1oz silver, 1/10oz gold, hand painter silver, bronze, key chains in bronze and antiqued bronze and myrtle wood boxes in the shape of the State of Oregon and a covered wagon (with the bronze medallions inset as wheels.) We put together an offering of one product brand after another.
Vision: I was doing all the selling, and while we had a bunch of products, I thought it would be cool to have other, non-medallion, products to sell into this niche (souvenir outlets). So I started reading about the Oregon Trail experience – discovered it was quite dusty, actually making the journey west a lot more uncomfortable than it was already.
A geologist from a local university told me that the dust was unconsolidated volcanic ash from Mount Mazama (now known as Crater Lake) that had rained down over the entire northwest. He told me where, more or less, I could find it. I took a very long (about 11 hours) drive out to the eastern edge of Oregon, took a turn into the middle of nowhere, south of Ontario, and eventually found the stuff.
I had been told that Oregon Trail trail dust looks like and has the texture of a light brown baby powder and I found myself in the middle of a huge area of light brown “sand.” I filled a number of containers with the stuff but the texture seemed too grainy to be “dust.” Having spent so much time getting to it and not feeling confident that this was what I came to find I drove on and stopped at another random place in this vast inland beach.
I walked around wondering how I could determine what trail dust really looked like, thinking that I needed a sign before the branding could begin.
Out of frustration, I petulantly kicked the toe of my boot into the earth. A cloud of light brown dust rose from the ground right up to eye level. I thought “If that's not a sign I don't know what would be.” I dumped the previously filled containers and refilled them with what I now was confident was the genuine unconsolidated ash – Oregon Trail trail dust. (I actually had to go back later that year to get a truck-load of the stuff!)
Persona/Packaging: We found some small bottles, corks to fit them and wrote the story for the hang tag. We invented the product brand as we went along.
I asked the major merchandiser for the Sesquicentennial celebration, Made In Oregon, if I could use the beautiful six-color labels they wanted placed on all of the official celebration product containers. They said OK.
I had a pretty cool product without having to spend the thousand-plus dollars on design and production of labels – which I eventually had to do for branding all the subsequent products.
Line extensions: A number of the products following trail dust failed, some right out of the blocks, some over time, but a few did quite well.
I had the workforce at Goodwill doing the filling, labeling, putting the hang tags on the Trail Dust product. The workers seemed to enjoy having a project that they could do all of the work on, start to finish, as opposed to doing something over and over again to a single part. We sold thousands of Trail Dust bottles during the run of the celebration. It was a great product brand.
Spin Tools/ PR: I even got all four local Portland TV stations to do stories on this “pet rock” type of branding. They featured my teenage girls in these TV stories as my work force, which they were for a little while after Goodwill decided to take on on a more lucrative project.
Mount St Helens ash came next. It's the only reason I still do this bottle business. To date I've sold about 150,000 of these bottles. It's still one of the best-selling items in most of the visitor centers around the mountain. My products are also carried by Made In Oregon and Made In Washington. Beyond the small ash bottles I also produce and sell a larger ash/timber/pumice product called Blowdown; it speaks to the rebirth of the once devastated area around Mount St Helens. I also have a four-ounce potpourri bottle product that helps me get rid of the roses I grow.
I enjoy creating new products but have yet to hit a home run with anything. It would have been great to create a product brand that lets me retire. On the other hand, these helped put my girls through college and every year thousands of people purchase products that I created and I get to work with some really nice people at the visitor centers and other stores.
Time In A Bottle is not a big money maker. It does, however, give me the opportunity to watch TV, have a drink and make a little money all at the same time as I package the product for new orders. Oh, and I get to expense part of my home for tax purposes.
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