Pro-Wrestling Road Warriors/Zubaz Page
Last updated 16 September 1999
Michael Hegstrand and Joseph Laurainitis travel about 230 days a year in their regular line of work. Mostly, they toil at night, sometimes in small-town arenas filled with flush-faced men and children who yell and scream as Hegstrand and Laurainitis perform their deeds: body slams, over-the-top-rope "clotheslines", and head butts--all applied to equally nasty opponents.
Known to most folks as Hawk and Animal, Hegstrand, 32, and Laurainitis, 30, do this as an act called The Legion of Doom for the World Wrestling Federation (Forbes, Oct. 17, 1988). They each earn a comfortable $300,000 or so a year for their efforts.
But wrestling is not a business to grow old in. "You can take only so many body slams before it's over," notes James Sippl, Hawk's financial adviser. So, three years ago, the fellows pondered less violent careers. As often happens, they settled on something involving personal need.
Neither Hawk (6-foot-2, 275 pounds) nor Animal (6 feet, 300 pounds) can walk into, say, Brooks Brothers and slip into an off-the-rack 42 long. Colleagues in the wrestling and bodybuilding world had similar problems.
So it happened that, in 1988, Hawk and two friends were hanging around their Minneapolis gym when Animal walked in wearing a pair of very baggy pants he'd picked up on tour. Everyone saw the light bulb at the same time. Flipping through ski and fashion magazines, they figured baggy pants were making a comeback. And to make them distinctive, shy not add crazy, vivid leopard, zebra and snakeskin patterns?
Thus was conceived the idea for Warrior Distributing Corp., sole manufacturer and distributor of Zubaz pants. Zubaz, Animal patiently explains, is gym lingo for "in your face," an oft-used sports put-down.
Hawk and Animal knew as much about the garment business as Ralph Lauren knows about sleeper holds. But they were quick studies, and besides, the rag trade isn't all that complicated. Their friend Robert Truax, the former prison guard and bodybuilder who is now president of Warrior, went to local fabric stores and picked up supplies. Another gym member who had garment experience cut the fabric and stitched up the first few pairs of pants. Selling just to gym members, they moved $13,000 worth of pants in the first month. They started visiting other health clubs and put a couple of mail-order ads in Muscle and Fitness magazine. The orders began to pour in after the manager of the local J.C. Penney store saw two kids wearing Zubaz pants at a hockey game.
Hot stuff, thought he. Within 60 days, the Zubaz line was in Penney's St. Cloud, Minn. and Minneapolis stores. Six months later Penney went national with Zubaz, followed by Foot Locker and Macy's, among others.
Truax worked out distribution. Daniel Stock, the fourth partner, signed up a mill in North Carolina to handle production. Hawk and Animal did promotion, wearing the garish garb wherever they went and flogging the duds to anyone who would listen. "We're in a different city every day," Animal says. "We wore the pants on the plane, we pushed them around the country, we had friends that ran, like, 14 wrestling magazines. Whenever they took a cover shot, there were Hawk and I wearing Zubaz shirts or pants," Animal notes.
Things really took off when former Chicago Bear quarterback Jim McMahon, along with most of the Bears, started wearing the pants.
There quickly followed a licensing agreement with the national Football League to put NFL team logos on Zubaz gear. Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino has an endorsement contract. There are plans for TV ads.
Zubaz burned through its initial $60,000 equity in about two months; to keep expanding the partners had to raise another $500,000 from Sippl and his friend, Minneapolis businessman John Castro. Sippl concedes it was rough telling his wife he was chipping in "that much for those funny colored pants."
Zubaz pants will, in their third year of existence, book sales of slightly over $20 million (wholesale). Zubaz licensed caps, made and distributed by A.J.D. Cap Co., were introduced in November. They have already moved $500,000 worth.
Nobody at Zubaz thinks its flashy pants will be stylish forever. So they want to diversify into longer-lasting "quality active wear," garments like more dressy pleated pants and baggy pants without designs, for example. Meanwhile, Hawk and Animal have no plans to quit wrestling anytime soon--it's too good a promotion for their pants. But they rest somewhat easier knowing there will be life after they leave the "squared circle."
As Hawk puts it, wrestling and business aren't all that different. "It's making sales pitches or whatever you're doing," he says. "I put on a wrestling face, but I can put on a pretty good business face, too."
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