According to Crorey, the brick-and-mortar locations have a different name than the company so they aren't in direct competition with the retailers who already sell Choose Friendship Co. products.
The Friendship Factory hires a counselor once a week who hosts self-esteem workshops for young girls, mostly local Girl Scout troops. Mary Jo Ciani-Gaddie, a child and family therapist, uses friendship building role play to communicate with the girls and explore their feelings of friendship and self-esteem.
“This company is a nice platform to do nice things,” Crorey said. “It's not all about making money. What we find is mothers trying to get their kids off electronics. The beautiful part about this is when you make a friendship bracelet, you're making it to give to someone else.”
Crorey projects $3 million in revenue by the end of 2014. The company has 18 employees. Soltman was an operations manager for Auburn Hills-based Spectrum Composites before joining with Crorey, who is a former executive vice president at Clinton Township-based Norgren.
The Choose Friendship Co.'s products were on the shelves of Hobby Lobby and Michaels stores in 2009 within its first year of business. In 2010, it traveled from the basement of Crorey's house to the basement of the New York City International Toy Fair.
“We went and of course we did everything wrong; we didn't really know what we were supposed to be doing. We just had this little booth in this startup company section,” Soltman said. “But before you know it, there was a huge crowd at our booth; you couldn't even get around our booth. It still gives me chills five years later.”
In the summer of 2010, the company secured a spot on "Gifts for your Grandkids," a holiday show on the QVC shopping network. QVC placed an order for 4,500 units.
“In six minutes we oversold by 2,000 units,” Crorey said.
Today, the Choose Friendship Co. sells its products in Michaels, Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft Stores, A.C. Moore, Meijer stores as well as on QVC. The products are also sold in 700 different specialty stores around the world. The company has been featured on the cover of Mindware, an education toy catalog, for four years in a row. According to Soltman, the company has sold more than 1 million products since 2009.
In good bracelet-making company
Crorey knows he isn't the only former automotive worker to reinvent the wheel of crafting accessories. Cheong Choon Ng, owner of Wixom-based Choon's Design LLC and inventor of the Rainbow Loom, an ABS molded device for weaving rubber band bracelets and other accessories, is a former Nissan crash safety engineer.
And Sheila Wright, founder and president of the Bloomfield Hills-based Ann Williams Group LLC and inventor of the Loopdedoo, a spinning friendship bracelet maker, was a mechanical engineer at Chrysler for 15 years.
The Rainbow Loom uses small rubber bands to craft accessories, while Ann Williams products focus more on yarn and thread to create scarves, bracelets, necklaces and headbands.
“I think it's quite common. Most people in this region are related to the automotive industry. I guess our background helped us to get something started quickly,” Choon said. “Engineers and family life, it's a good combination to come up with good ideas.”
While their products may seem similar to outsiders, Crorey, Choon and Wright each agree they are not in direct competition with one another and that their products are quite different.
“I like to make things. I think it kind of goes with the mechanical engineering brain that I have,” Wright said. “It's remarkably interesting that three ex-automotive people came up with these ideas to make bracelets.”
Alexa Crowe, a buyer for national retailer Learning Express Toys, agreed there is a difference in the products. She said she believes there is a silver lining for The Choose Friendship Co. and Ann Williams, which haven't seen as much success as the Rainbow Loom maker.
“Moms are going into stores and looking at shelves and saying: My kids love Rainbow Loom, so what else is out there?” Crowe said. “There's a huge opportunity for Choose Friendship to have a boost to sell their product. Rainbow Loom's spike has happened and they're trending down, and we're seeing general sales in arts and crafts going well. I think 2015 is going to be an exciting time for crafts.”