‘Silly Bandz’ raise serious question

If you know a child of middle school age, you’re probably familiar with the fad of Silly Bandz sweeping the country among that peer group. Now that school is out, the classroom bans imposed on kids who brought those colorful accessories to school to show off or trade are no longer in effect and thousands of “tweens” proudly sport their collections on their arms, a belt clip, or a necklace. With dozens of different shapes based on animals, fantasy characters, sports themes, and the like they appeal to the collector in every child and at about $5 for a pack of 24, Silly Bandz are an inexpensive hobby. Thousands of kids spend part of their allowance to get the latest styles.

Robert Croak, the creator of the brand, is a former bar owner and concert promoter who’s simply changed his target audience from young adults to their younger siblings and children. His company, BCP Imports, fills thousands of orders a day from a warehouse in Toledo, Ohio, where the product is brought in from a Chinese manufacturer.

And the people in Toledo are grateful for the jobs Croak provides. His distribution warehouse now hums with the activity of well over 100 employees, with more being hired every week. In a city where unemployment is 12 percent because the auto industry it depends on is sluggish, anyone who’s hiring can be pegged as a hero and indeed Croak is being treated like one. As he points out in a local television interview, “This is proof that the American Dream can still happen. The sky is the limit right now.”

All told, the success of Silly Bandz, even if fleeting, would seem to be a nice feelgood story. But there’s a question to ponder.

If these silicone bands cost 20 cents apiece at the retail level, one has to ask how it can be profitable to manufacture them at a plant thousands of miles away, ship them overseas, and truck them from port to distribution point. What prevents the manufacturing process (and those jobs which could be created) from being done in Toledo? Undoubtedly there’s plenty of available manufacturing space around the city which could be utilized and a lot of workers who are looking for job openings.

One answer could be the prospect of labor strife, as Toledo is one of the most heavily unionized cities in the country. Placing a Silly Bandz factory in Toledo without paying inflated union wages may lead to a serious picket at the plant gate.

Even if labor relations somehow go smoothly, though, there’s still the prospect of overtaxation and oppressive regulation to consider. With practically any small business, governmental entities make success more difficult than it should be. As one example, building a new factory to make Silly Bandz may require extensive site review by local government, while renovating an existing facility could lead to expensive modifications not necessary for the actual manufacturing process.

Localities often try to create a “one-stop shop” where red tape can be addressed with the least possible hassle. But not as much thought seems to go into making the burden easier by eliminating the redundant regulations and lowering the tax burden on these companies. Instead of making life better for job creation, the government seems happier to hire even more bureaucrats to try and help navigate the labyrinthine maze of their own creation.

As with all trends the Silly Bandz craze will fade away, but thinking up needless laws and rules is one fad which never seems to fall out of favor with government.

Michael Swartz used to practice architecture but now is a Maryland-based freelance writer and blogger whose work can be found in a number of outlets, including Liberty Features Syndicate. In truth, I didn’t know the distributor hailed from my hometown until recently, but that made this piece much more fun to write after I found out that fact. It debuted June 21.