weird commerce

No More Thanksgiving Fights: Synthetic Wishbones

If you have siblings, you may remember the fights over the wishbones at Thanksgiving. Despite all hopes and wishes of any family, there’s typically a delta between the number of people you’re inviting to Thanksgiving and how many can tug to break and make a wish with the turkey’s wishbone. Not to mention this all comes after carving the turkey, finding the wishbone and allowing it to dry out for weeks — or even months — before the one little wishbone is ready to release a wish.

“I identified that there was a shortage of wishbones in the world,” says Ken Ahroni who invented Lucky Break Wishbones, synthetic wishbones ready for anyone who wants to give it a pull. “The idea is plastic wishbones so there is no more fighting over the wishbone.”

Ahroni, a product development consultant, came up with the business on his birthday which fell on Thanksgiving in 1999. He hatched the full idea five years later in Seattle, and the business seems to be a product of its own wishes.

“We believe this is becoming a family tradition in the country and we’re certainly very proud that the wishbones made here in the United States and locally here in the Seattle area,” Ahroni told PYMNTS.

But it wasn’t a quick snap to success. In fact, he says, there was certainly a learning curve. Ahroni’s product development consulting business had involved plastics but a whole other type. He would contact plastic suppliers who had only been asked about plastics that need to be indestructible. He called them looking for a plastic that could break under certain conditions, but wouldn’t splinter or shatter into tiny pieces.

“I couldn’t put on the packaging ‘Wear safety goggles when playing with our wishbones’ or especially ‘Not to be used by children,’” says Ahroni, who says that after a few months he was finally able to create a secret formula that is still used today.

The wishbones are now made by injection molding with plastic pellets forced into the hardened steel cavity. Once cooled, you’ve got the product: a synthetic and real-looking wishbone, each sold for under a dollar.

How many of these wishbones are sold each year? “Mid to high six figures,” says Ahroni.

Of course, demand is high in the last quarter of the year, but the company notices a drumbeat of need in every quarter. While some people call Lucky Break after they just left their neighbor’s “best Thanksgiving ever thanks to the wishbones,” Ahroni says customers also use them as party novelties and affix them with a bow to office, bridal and birthday gifts

And, vegetarians make up a quirky but natural fandom. Ahroni says the company has worked with PETA and developed a special slogan: “No Fowl, So No Foul.”

Speaking of foul, however, there have been some business feathers that have been ruffled over the years. Namely, a lawsuit.

Back in the spring of 2005, Lucky Break Wishbones was contacted by advertising firm Young & Rubicon looking ahead to the Thanksgiving timeframe to develop a pre-Black Friday promotion for Sears. The plan was for every Sears shopper to receive a wishbone. Lucky Break sent over samples and negotiations began around how much it would be to produce one million, and then two million wishbones. Sears and Y&R said in writing that the plan was moving forward, including custom packaging.

“We were very excited, we were about one year old and we were getting an order for over a million wishbones,” says Ahroni.

It almost seemed to good to be true. Clearly, it was. Sears and Y&R changed course without warning or even communication.

“They went behind our backs and took our samples and went to China. We learned about it because it was a national thing in Sears stores,” said Ahroni.

But the American dream wasn’t about to be squashed then.

Ahroni and Lucky Break Wishbones sued Sears for copyright infringement in 2006 and went to trial in Federal Court in Seattle. It took four years, as well as a lot of time and money.

“We got a unanimous jury verdict. [Sears] appealed it and the ninth circuit but we prevailed,” says Ahroni, who was awarded more than $1.5 million in the suit. “So as for bumps in the road, it was a ‘David and Goliath’ story.”

Of course, the wishbone is iconic, but synthetic wishbones are copyrighted. Lucky Break also sued Kay Jewelers for another copyright infringement related to the jewelry company’s commercials.

But these days, Ahroni says this quirky American dream is alive and well. He says that some people compare the business to the “pet rock” which was tremendously successful for how basic the concept is.

“But I say, I really hope it’s not like the pet rock because I say ‘where is the pet rock today?’” laughs Ahroni.

And just like gathering around the Thanksgiving table with family each year, Ahroni says he wants to carry on that tradition.

“Ultimately, I want to pass this business on to my great grandchildren.”

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