weird commerce

Weird Commerce: Custom Billboard Hats, Featuring Patented Dry-Erase

As Frank Sinatra once said: “Cock your hat — angles are attitudes.”

That attitude can also be expressed through a quirky baseball cap called a Custom Billboard Hat, fit with a dry-erase board on the front of the hat’s crown and detachable marker for writing on the board.

“It’s hard to explain the reaction you get from people unless you’re wearing it,” said Jay Alger, inventor of Custom Billboard Hats. “It’s a conversation starter.”

The caps are now sold under the Billy Bob Products umbrella for about $15. But that’s not where the hats started. Alger came up with the now-patented baseball caps in 2009 when he heard about a teenage boy who kissed a girl for the first time. The next day, the kid put a sign on the hat saying, “World’s Best Kisser.”

“After hearing that story, I thought it would be cool if you could just write whatever you wanted on the hat and change it whenever you want,” said Alger, whose main profession is medical surgical technology. “That’s why I thought of dry-erase.”

Alger made a rough prototype of the hat and shopped it around to family. Eventually, he started making the hats himself with the help of a local embroiderer. Soon after that, in April 2011, he applied and received the patent related to dry-erase boards on hats.

“At that point, it was just me,” said Alger. “I was calling it ‘Unscripted Lids’ and sold about 3,000 of the hats at local festivals in southeast Wisconsin.”

After demand started to pick up, he reached out to Jonah White, host of the Discovery Channel show “Billy Bob’s Gags to Riches,” which aired for one season in 2014. He’s also the guy behind the Hillbilly Teeth gag gift.

“I had seen that show.  It’s kind of a hillbilly version of ‘Shark Tank,’” said Alger. “So, I sent them samples of my hat, and they liked them.”

Billy Bob Products called him about a licensing deal in Jan. 2015, and by late July 2016, the first container of 30,000 hats from China arrived.

To date, thousands of hats have been sold. Alger said he isn’t sure how many, but they are available in a few retail specialty stores, as well as online.

“You can be as weird as you want with the hats depending on where you stand on social acceptability on what you want to write on the hats,” said Alger. “There are no absolutely no boundaries.”


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