The king of the bobbleheads has jumped in the "Shark Tank."
Jeff Wolsky, a Pasco County resident who sells custom-made bobblehead dolls, will be featured on the season finale of ABC's "Shark Tank" at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Wolsky, who's HD Design Center LLC, already has sold more than a million bobbling headed dolls worldwide, says he wants to take his business to the next level by opening kiosks in shopping malls.
He and his wife Christine sell bobblehead dolls on the Internet - every kind of bobblehead from those designed by people who want bobbling replicas of themselves or their friends and loved ones to bobbleheads of the rich and famous.
The Barack and Michelle Obama bobbleheads are big sellers at the moment. But much of the business is from ordinary citizens who want one or more as gag gifts.
"We get all kinds of orders from people in nudist camps who want full frontal bobbleheads to people who want a whole wedding party," says Wolsky. "We even made one that was over seven feet tall of a professional basketball player."
The orders are taken via the Internet at the HD Design Web site where customers can help design the doll themselves. The dolls are made in China.
Wolsky says he wants to open bobblehead shops. "That's why I agreed to go on this show," he notes. He taped his segment months ago.
"Shark Tank," which airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m., features a panel of investors with deep pockets. They are ready to invest their money in products and concepts pitched by entrepreneurs such as Wolsky.
"I was contacted by the producers who had seen our Web site," says Wolsky who started his online enterprise in 2006
"I taped my session in Los Angeles before anything had aired," he adds. "After seeing what some of the people have gone through, I'm not sure I would have done it, if I had seen one."
Wolsky can't reveal the outcome. On previous episodes, some entrepreneurs have over-valued their product or concept and lost out on potential investments. Others have balked at taking on partners and giving up control.
Wolsky, a veteran businessman who used to own a security business, says he knows what his product is worth.
"This is a fun business because people can be so creative and we get to meet a lot of interesting people," says Christine, a stay-at-home mother of three children ages 7, 12, and 14.
Jeff Wolsky says he learned a lot from the experience, including what happened to a celebrity bobblehead of Jay Leno that he made years ago.
"When I was first starting out, I sent out some celebrity dolls to see what would happen," he says, "I never heard from him. But one of producers on 'Shark Tank' told me he used to work for Leno and that bobblehead is on the desk in Jay's office."
The Wolskys have supplied bobbleheads to sports teams and corporations. They make a series of political figures for the U.S. News & World Report Web site. They also sell the political bobbleheads on their site.
The custom bobbleheads run about $89 but can be more expensive depending on the design.
Among the more unusual bobblehead orders was one for a woman's head on the body of a dog. "And in the photo sent in for the head, the woman had a grimace on her face," says Christine.
They've also received orders from celebrities such as Ted Danson and Jimmy Kimmel.
Wolsky has designed some bobbleheads himself, including an Obama bobblehead bank modeled after the Lincoln Memorial but instead of Abraham Lincoln, the president is sitting in the chair.
Sculptors at the factory in China study photographs e-mailed by customers. They make clay molds of the heads, which are subject to approval by the customer. "They might want the head a little bigger,
or the chin narrower, or whatever," says Jeff Wolsky.
After the customer approves the head, body and anything else to accompany it, the dolls are baked and filled with polyresin, painted and baked again.
The Wolskys say their bobblehead business grew out of a part-time business that they started in 2004, selling cake toppers, wedding favors and guest books.
"People kept asking for wedding cake couples with bobbleheads so we started making them," Wolsky says. "It's led to a really successful business that's a lot of fun. We are only limited by the customer's imagination."