Billboard Bands WristbandsBillboard Bands Wristbands



The Advocate

Wrist branding: Norwalk firm gets VIP admission for advertisers

By Richard Lee
Assistant Business Editor

Published February 1 2007

When it came time to start a business, Danny Epstien really put his wrist into it.

The 19-year-old Weston resident, a recent transfer from the University of Michigan to Cornell University, got the idea that the wristbands worn by patrons of nightclubs would make ideal spots for advertising.

"I was at the University of Michigan, and when we'd go out they'd give us wristbands. There's nothing on them. I thought that it's the perfect place for an ad. It's like an article of clothing," said Epstien, now enrolled at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, where his concentration is finance and real estate.

Epstien told his father, Fred, who liked what he heard. He told his son to research the idea and report back. Danny spent much of last summer visiting management at nightclubs to obtain their opinion about his idea.

"They wanted to sign up right away," he said.

Thus emerged Billboard Bands, a South Norwalk business that distributes four-color wristbands complete with a message from a national advertiser to 150 clubs in the nation's top 20 markets.

"We formed the company in June and went into production in October," said Fred Epstien, a former cable TV industry attorney. "We started the company in our house, working in our basement."

Advertisers have been receptive, he said, adding that they buy bands to distribute in large metropolitan areas and see them as a way to attract the lucrative, "young and upwardly mobile," 21- to 34-year-old market.

"It's a very important demographic for advertisers," said Fred Epstien, the company's chief executive officer. "Whether used for admission, re-entry or special VIP access, wristbands are a requisite part of the nightclub experience, but one that has been curiously unexploited by marketers to date."

Using wristbands to target upscale clubs frequented by young adults is a good strategy for corporations, said Andrew Hampp, a media reporter at Advertising Age.

"It's definitely a captive market. It's the latest extension of youth target marketing," he said.

Billboard Bands contracted with a manufacturer to produce the wristbands. Lead time is about three weeks, and the factory makes 1 million wristbands a month.

Options include two-sided printing, bar codes, tear-off coupons, drive-to-Web sweepstakes, and scratch-and-win and scratch-and-sniff.

"It's a $200,000 advertising buy for 1 million bands. The nightclubs get the wristbands for free. We remove a fixed expense from their books. We view the nightclubs and vendors as our partners," said Fred Epstien, who works full time at the business.

He credited his son for his initiative.

"Danny is an entrepreneur by nature," Fred said. "Clearly it was my son's idea. I'm a proud father."

The Epstiens plan to expand to college communities this year, but they first must sell more advertisers and companies on the idea. They have hired a staff of 10 full-time and contracted employees.

Danny, president of Billboard Bands, took the fall semester off to get it started.

"Everything is moving so quickly. I'm working every day while at school. When account executives have questions, we e-mail back and forth," he said.

In January, Billboard Bands orchestrated two campaigns, one at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where GFH Boards, a maker of surfboards and skateboards, bought wristband ads for its hospitality events at Harry O's dance club.

"In any crowded entertainment venue, it's important to stand out amid the noise, and we're confident that Billboard Bands helped us do that," said Justin Shaw, GFH co-owner and president.

The second was a campaign for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an international public-private partnership.

Danny said he plans to devote his attention to the business after he graduates. He plans to eventually expand the business to other countries.

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