Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Collateral Damage: Icon Recognition and the crimp in the Wall Street "deal toy" market

There are so many ripple effects to the Wall Street implosion. It's not just all those rescinded MBA offers. All those lay-offs. All those incredibly shrinking bonuses.

It's also the sandwich shops and after-work hangouts. The cigar bars and the car services. The custom tailors and the cufflink purveyors. The bicycle messengers who won't be pell-mell pedaling, and the restaurants that won't be hosting those lavish holiday parties.

And the company that sells the "deal toys"

Like everything else over the last decade of up-the-ante, up-the-spoils excess, the mementos of done deals have gotten more and more elaborate.

Back in pre-history, you may have gotten a framed copy of the "tombstone ad" that appeared in the WSJ to announce that Apogee Industrials had acquired Nadir General, and that the deal had been "done" by Goldman, or Merrill, or whoever brokered and icon medtronic banked it.

Then the framed tombstone turned into a lucite embed.

And if you can embed a piece of paper in lucite, well, there's a lot of other stuff you can get in there as well. Icon - mirage And it doesn't have to be suspended in mid-lucite, it can stand on its own. And the standalones can be pretty darned spectacular.

Icon Recognition, right down there on lower Broadway, did a pretty good business embedding stuff in lucite, and coming up with honeys like the gold-plated Mandalay Bay Hotel shown here (all pictures are from their site).   Icon was written up recently in The New Yorker "Talk of the Town" as yet another victim of the collateral damage that the current economic crisis is inflicting.

“This is definitely a tough time,” Stephen Sokoler, the president of the company, said. He’d been up early working the phones: “You call and ask, ‘Is there anyone who’s announced a deal recently or closed a deal? Anyone you’ve heard of?’ ” He added, “It feels like we’re a ship in the middle of a storm. Not only are you in the storm but there’s no visibility as to whether the storm’s gonna clear.”

I haven't as yet had to resort to these type of calls - 'Anyone you've heard of who needs some product marketing help?' -  to keep my own modest enterprise going, but I do feel bad for anyone who's scrounging for business - especially those whose business is more or less 100% reliant on discretionary spending decisions. (Although if there are any deals going down that aren't complete fire sales, I'm sure people will want to commemorate them.)

Sokoler is a young man - only twenty-nine - but he's nostalgic for the old days, when:

...he made a faux emerald-and-ruby crown to celebrate a deal for Merrill Lynch, and J. P. Morgan ordered up a batch of ten-by-fifteen-inch Lucite blocks with dinosaur heads inside (three hundred dollars each)—a “Jurassic Park” reference—to celebrate a deal involving Universal. “That was just a monstrous piece,” Sokoler said. icon - atlas

Icon has embedded all sorts of things in lucite: a fake banana split for a Friendly's buy out was one of my favorites.

The days of the free-wheeling embeds may be waning. The New Yorker article mentioned that at Goldman, a directive's gone out announcing that employees who want a deal toy have to buy it for themselves, which will likely put a crimp in Ion's business - maybe those retro framed tombstones will take on a new cachet.  Who wants to go out-of-pocket on a miniature banjo that you can actually strum? Or a bronze statue of Apollo shooting a bear - especially when it now seems as if the real story would be a bear mauling Apollo.

If people are going to still go for deal toys, it's interesting to think what they would use, iconically speaking, to illustrate the deals.

  • Pile-up car crash to commemorate the acquisition of one of the Big Three automakers? Or a little toy tow truck hauling away a wreck?
  • A smashed tea-cup for Royal Worcester China (ye olde UK company that announced its bankruptcy last week)?
  • Empty piggy bank on its side for WaMu?

The possibilities, as they say, are just endless, aren't they?

Meanwhile, I'm just as happy I don't have any deal toys made up of cool stuff embedded in lucite.

I know that the inner child in me would want to get the cool stuff out. Just as I tried (as an outer child) to free the tiny little brass elephant embedded in clear glass in a pooner marble I had when I was 9 or 10.

I remember sitting in the back yard, holding the marble on a flagstone surface with one hand, hammer in the other, trying to get rid of the glass imprisoning that cool little elephant, without destroying that cool little elephant.

Needless to say, all I did was wreck the marble, and end up with a not-so-cool little elephant covered with nasty pointy shards of glass.

Not to mention that it was probably my sister Kath's marble to begin with....

No deal tools for me!

Best wishes to Icon Recognition in their attempts to weather the storm that Stephen Sokoler so well described his little company as having found itself in.


Konkins said...

Icon is still there and going strong. I guess your comments were not all well founded.

Maureen Rogers said...

Konkins - Thanks for stopping by, but I'm a little perplexed about your comment that my "comments were not all well founded." My post keyed off an article that suggested that times were tough in the deal toy market. The article included a quote from Icon Recognition's president (included in my post)that reflected these tough times.

I'm always on the lookout for articles on interesting businesses, and this was one of them.

My post concluded with my wishing Icon good luck in weathering their current storm.

Thanks to your note, I now know that this is apparently the case.