Imagine this: you go to your mailbox one day and find a brown envelope; the return address is a P.O. Box in Ohio. You open it and find a little rubber pig and a card from a French girl named Camille. You smile at the random weirdness, but you have no clue who might have sent it to you.
Now imagine that you’re the wiseguy who sent it to somebody else. You giggle at the thought of your friend being amused and baffled by your anonymous gift.
Welcome to Age Hams.
Recently, my eldest daughter had an ad for Age Hams pop up on her Facebook page. Having been raised by me, she was immediately taken by the site, and sent out about four of them. One was to me, arriving on my 60th birthday. I naturally suspected her younger sister, but as it turned out, she also received one and was similarly baffled. Age Hams became my family’s new favorite thing.
A visit to the Age Hams website only raised more questions. The CEO is a 12 year old; the VP of Sales and Legal Counsel are dogs. Clearly an interview was in order. I reached out to the perpetrators, and we had a chat via Google Hangout. Unfortunately, my audio app crashed while saving the recording, so we’re going to go from memory here.
As it says in the very brief summary on the Age Hams “About” page, the site began as a creation for an entrepreneurship club at then sixth-grader Owen Shakelton’s school. The entrepreneurship club operates somewhat like the Shark Tank TV show: each student presents their business concept in a competition, and the winner gets to move to a competition among all the schools in the district.
Owen won the school contest, and by the time the district competition opened, he’d sold about 50 packets. The reaction at the competition was along the lines of, “Wait, what? You actually did start a business? And you sold some?” Apparently the notion of actually carrying out one of these proposals was something nobody had ever considered before. Owen was surprised that one of the finalists he faced had won the previous year, and now was back with an entirely different proposal. Owen told me that he’s not competing this year because “I’m still doing the one from last year.”
As Owen began formulating an idea for a business, he knew a few things that he wanted it to involve. He knew he wanted to do something online, and he wanted to do something fun and positive, building on his mother’s philosophy of “kindness and laughter.” Owen’s stepdad, Brian Spaeth, a marketing professional, became his partner in the project.
Brian knew, from “having owned about 90 different domains over the years,” that it’s often hard to find available URLs that use actual words, so they began brainstorming random nonsensical phrases in hopes of hitting paydirt. One of these was “Vintage Soups,” which then led to “Vintage Hams.” Once they had the name, a lot of development followed. For example, Brian thought that vintagehams.com looked like “Vint Age Hams,” so the back-story became that the company was “Vint Brand Age Hams,” owned and operated by members of the Vint family. All that remains of this concept are the staff biographies buried in the “About” section, using what Owen called “cheesy stock photos.”
After a bit of tweaking, Age Hams got down to the simple and direct premise they have today, after which they discovered that a straightforward ad campaign on Facebook was ineffective; they needed to be more playful and silly. Finally the whole thing began clicking, and business has been moving steadily forward. Today they get about 10-15 orders a day, and Brian says that’s about as much as they can handle until they “figure out how to scale up.”
Currently, the cards, “ham huts,” and envelopes are printed on the family’s home printer, the pigs are hand-stamped, and the whole family (Owen has a teenage sister) helps to assemble the packages every evening.
A big part of the Age Hams plan is engagement on social media. Brian handles most of that, but Owen wants to do more. He looks at some of the Facebook and Instagram posts, but he’s too young to have an account on either site. That doesn’t stop him from occasionally responding to comments. “Somebody posted ‘this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen,'” Owen tells me, “so I replied, ‘I’m 12.’ And they immediately backed off, apologizing, ‘oh, sorry, I didn’t mean…'”
Brian says that the company’s social media is an important part of their marketing program, and a big part of that is the company’s personality. They’ve created a playful absurdist voice, usually writing in all lower-case with minimal punctuation, and all instances of the word “you” written as “yooh,” something that began accidentally and then became a hallmark. The Age Hams posts are pretty brilliant, like for instance their return/refund policy:
You should definitely follow Age Hams on Facebook and Instagram if you enjoy amusing nonsense. Owen certainly does; he tells me that his favorite books are Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series, and he loves absurdist comedy.
All in all, Age Hams has been a great endeavor for Owen and his stepfather, and they look forward to seeing how they can expand. So do I, because I think the world could use more random silly fun.
By the way, we have a special offer from Age Hams: A promo code! Enter GEEKDAD and receive 50% off any order, unlimited uses; the code expires October 31st at midnight Pacific Time. Isn’t there somebody who needs a little pink pig pal? Yooh know yooh want to!