The Obama Souvenir Rush


I talked to the guys at Capsco, Inc., in College Park this morning and asked them how the inaugural souvenir business is going and how they were coping with the inordinate demand for the Obama inauguration.

Capsco, which is short for Capitol Souvenir Company, Inc., has been making souvenirs here since World War I. They are a local institution. Flags, mugs, key chains. Capsco makes them all.

Presidential inaugurations are their version of the Christmas Season.

This year, Capsco created designs for both an Obama-Biden victory and for a McCain-Palin victory. Then as soon as the winner was declared on election night, they told their manufacturers to go at it.

"They knew to start production that night, and that's how we formulated the program," said Jay Goozh, 69, whose family owns Capsco. Jay has been working at the company since the Eisenhower Administration.

He has never seen anything like the demand for Obama merchandise.

"In the past inaugurations, usually things don't start selling until around the new year. Then it dies out after the inauguration. But with this event, there is already a big demand and who knows how long it goes on! For an inauguration, this will be the most we have ever sold. Period."

Because they expected demand for the souvenirs right after the election, Capsco flew in early batches of Obama key chains from China so they could get them to the stores ASAP.

Over 1,440 key chains arrived by air from China, while 12,000 more are coming by sea.

Capsco President Michael Goozh, Jay's son, stopped to take a breath and chat about the thousands of Obama key chains, pens, mugs and bumper stickers that are flying out of Capsco's warehouse and into the local airports, convenience stores, museums, monuments and anywhere else you can sell a souvenir to a visitor.

Michael Goozh said one of his salesmen stopped for coffee in Georgetown this morning and the storeowner asked for 36 Obama mugs on the spot.

I asked Goozh how this inaugural shapes up against past ones.

"This is very historical...off the charts," Michael said of the forthcoming inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. "They are expecting 4 million people on the Mall."

In addition to the keychains, retailing for around $8, the company is selling crystal mugs with the inaugural seal on it as well as rosewood pens with an Obama signature lasered on the side.

All are selling well. Here's one link and another at some of the products.

Capsco said that before the election, they contacted retailers and showed them the items they were thinking of selling, and then awaited the orders from retailers.

Capsco won't say what they pay for their items. They buy souvenirs from factories, mark it up and then sell it at the marked-up price to retailers. Retailers can charge whatever they want. Generally, these items sell for wholesale for a couple of dollars. Key chains might cost $1 or more wholesale and then a retailer can mark it up a couple of times, based on demand.

Mike and Jay said they have several kinds of mugs, including one with a photo of Obama, one with the Oath of Office and a crystal mug that sells for somewhere around $15 at retail. They already sold 2,000 crystal mugs and 12,000 mugs with photos on them.

Business is so busy that Capsco's delivery people are making two runs a day from the College Park warehouse to the local retail outlets.

Mike said there are 120 backorders for all souvenirs from the local outlets, waiting to be filled.

Mike had just returned from a trade show in Tennessee. Tennessee voted for McCain-Palin, and Mike said there were some glum faces on people down there.

From their expressions, "you'd think that I was the guy who had [Obama] elected," said Mike.

By Tom Heath  |  November 18, 2008; 1:47 PM ET  | Category:  Value Added
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