The rubber gorilla
I first found out about the rubber gorilla when I moved my shop from the Carson Valley to Virginia City, Nevada.
Our reasons for moving really didn’t have anything to do with the shop location but Virginia City is a tourist town and I figured I could just as easily run my custom furniture business from there and maybe get some more business. There were a lot of shops in the area that offered expensive art, jewelry, glass, ceramics and other art/craft work.
At first, I did get a lot of walk in activity but no sales. So I started talking to some of the other shop owners and that’s when I learned about the rubber gorilla. OK, you’re asking, what the heck is a rubber gorilla? It’s an inexpensive item that you can sell a lot of. A good rubber gorilla has to be something that gets noticed and can easily be carried home by a traveler. Obviously, a custom made dining table is not going to qualify.
Every one of these shops had a bunch of lower priced items, most of which were made elsewhere. For example, one of the jewelers had a prominent display of what looked like silver and turquoise Indian jewelry. But it was all made in Mexico out of pewter and some turquoise-like substance. It was very cheap and poorly made but it met all of the requirements of a good rubber gorilla. The owner told me that he sold a hundred of these for every one that he actually made.
I never set out to come up with a rubber gorilla of my own. But one day a couple was in my shop and the guy picked up a small hand plane I had made. He wanted to buy it but I told him it was not for sale. He kept offering me more until I finally sold it to him. I made another and sold that one too and then I started making them in batches. These were very simple planes with irons ground out of 01 steel. I could easily make several in a day so from then on I always made sure there were a few laying around. I also started making things like small knives and marking gauges that people seemed to like. The tourists kept my shop alive for the rest of the summer buying my rubber gorillas.
Later, I created another rubber gorilla of sorts when I started making solid wood chessboards. Some of them were very expensive but I had a line of less expensive boards that sold well.