Months before President Donald Trump was officially named the GOP nominee in 2016, a 27-year-old project manager who had grown tired of the political put-downs was walking his girlfriend's dog.
Paul (who declined to use his last name) was thinking about how easily Trump attracted attention as he pulled out a baggie to pick up after the pet. In that moment, Paul had an idea — he would channel his distaste by creating his very own dog poop bags emblazoned with Trump's face.
Now, more than a year and a half later, Donald Trump is the Commander in Chief and annual sales of the dog poop bags that bear his likeness are have topped $150,000.
"I never in a million years thought that this would be a business," Paul tells CNBC Make It. "If anything, it was really more of a political art project or a statement to start out."
With no previous e-commerce experience — and just the $800 of his paycheck he was willing to play with — Paul wasn't entirely clear on how to get started.
Research online pointed him in the direction of setting up a Shopify store page for $80 and buying the rather straightforward domain of DonaldTrumpDogPoopBags.com. He went on freelancer site Fiverr and found a Croatian artist willing to mock up a design featuring Trump with a dog pile on his head for $50.
After calling a few American bag manufacturers, Paul realized that finding one willing to make his design was going to be his biggest hurdle.
"I thought I could just call up any manufacturer and they'd print whatever, but some of them were Republican and were not amused," he says, adding that the only willing partner he found required a $25,000 minimum order.
"I'm like, 'I'm not going to drop 25,000 bucks on dog poop bags' so that was a nonstarter for me," Paul says. Instead, he searched Alibaba and found a manufacturer in China that agreed to supply 5,000 poop bags for a comparably cheaper $700.
"Actually, the freight cost to get the bags over from China cost more than the bags themselves," Paul says.
In June 2016, as Mr. Trump was securing the GOP nomination, Paul had secured the last piece of his puzzle. He hired Alex Morgia, founder of New York-based logistics company Monthly Boxer, to handle processing and shipping the bags directly from China.
"It pretty much took off immediately once I got some good pictures up," Paul says, adding that he sold 24,000 bags to customers in just his first 20 days, most commonly in three-roll packs containing 45 bags for $12.99.
But as sales continued and the inventory of his initial run dwindled, he faced the prospect of ordering another batch of bags with less enthusiasm. Emails Paul received from people who found his product offensive were bringing "a fair bit of negativity" into his life, causing him to consider shutting down the business.
But his logistics guy, Morgia, had another solution.
"I was like, 'OK hold up, this is one of my favorite products I ship,'" Morgia, 31, recalls telling Paul before offering to buy the company in a royalty structured deal that paid Paul $2 per order up to an unspecified total, which Morgia says is somewhere above $5,000.
It was a relatively risk-free decision for Morgia until he faced ordering another 20,000 bags of inventory.
"My logic was I went on AmazonBasics and priced it out," Morgia explains. "I have a dog … so I figure if the business is a complete disaster and I sell no poop bags, I've got a warehouse already, I've just saved myself money, like I just bought myself a lifetime supply of poop bags."
Luckily for Morgia, sales continued. Using Facebook ads crafted by an outside consultant, his company targeted liberal dog owners to hone in on likely buyers. Since he took over the company in early 2017, sales have grown to top $150,000, with $40,000 of that coming in the first week of December alone.
"It's a pretty good money machine," he says.
And while Morgia's father might be pushing him to create options a Republican dog owner could enjoy (like "Nancy Poo-losi") or ones that could cross party lines (like "Vladimir Poo-tin"), Morgia thinks the product he's now selling has found unique success by leaning on Trump.
"To be honest I think it's a bit of a stretch to make it work for anyone else," he says. "I think Trump is uniquely polarizing and offensive to people such that they really do get some sort of relaxation out of using his cartoon face to pick up dog poop."
As for Paul, the fact he returned more than five times his initial investment in royalties alone in just over a year pales in comparison to knowing he's made an impact beyond just creating a satirical product.
"I'm glad that I could help be a job creator in this country, give people some work [and] help out the economy," he says. "If people are able to get a laugh out of it that's just icing on the cake."
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