| Canvass clothes: California campaign with T-shirts and placards
Washington, Oct. 8: Arnold Schwarzenegger may laugh his way into the California governor’s office, but it is an enterprising Indian who is laughing his way to the bank as a result of the tumultuous recall election in America’s “Golden State”.
Maheesh Jain, 29, who founded an online store network four years ago with a collegemate from Northwestern California University, became the recall campaign’s leading medium — after TV and radio — in what many consider will be a trendsetter in future US elections in the Internet age.
Jain’s online company, CafePress.com, did roaring business during the campaign selling thongs advertising the candidature of Georgy Russell, a 26-year-old woman software programmer, a Democrat whose slogan was “brains, beauty, and leadership”.
CafePress brought out T-shirts documenting every phase of the recall drama. When Schwarzenegger chickened out of a debate with his opponents, out came “Chickenator” tank tops from the dotcom company’s online shelves.
When Schwarzenegger surprised Americans by announcing his candidature at a TV talk show, CafePress was among the first to tout the event with a souvenir.
The online store allows people to advertise their logo or slogan on about 50 items ranging from clothing and mugs to lunchboxes and computer mousepads.
The way the business works is simple: CafePress will imprint the logo or slogan to be popularised on any of the items sold online through its website.
It will set a base price on the product. But the advertiser — candidate Russell, for example — can mark up the price and sell online at that price. Whatever is the difference between the base price and the marked up price is for the advertiser to keep.
Russell claims to have raised several thousand dollars for her campaign through online sales of not only her signature thongs, but also G-strings, boxer shorts, caps and baby doll T-shirts.
That means, what she and other candidates raised through online sale of campaign items is over and above what the company received by way of revenue on the sales.
That Jain is a trendsetter was obvious when Wesley Clark, the American Nato commander during the war in Kosovo announced his quest for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination last month.
“Draft Clark” mugs, T-shirts and bumper stickers were already on the CafePress website.
CafePress shot into fame earlier this year after Gordon Campbell, premier of the Canadian province of British Columbia, was picked up by the police for drinking and driving during a Hawaiian vacation.
After his arrest, campaigners against drunk driving advertised the incident with Campbell’s photos on T-shirts, aprons, mugs and a thong at the CafePress online shop.
According to Jain, his company “manages every aspect of doing business online, including online storefront development and management, product manufacturing and sourcing, fulfillment, and customer service”
The future, he says, is in “creative merchandising with no upfront cost” such as what CafePress.com offers.
His is a closely held firm and, therefore, does not publish sales figures. But in interviews across the US, Jain, who usually acts as spokesman for the owner duo, has said the company turned profitable in 2001, two years after its founding.
Speculation in the business press is that this year it will ship more than a million items to online shoppers.
The recall election in the “Golden State” has clearly been a golden windfall for CafePress.com, especially since efforts are underway in California to collect recall souvenirs.