Though skaters with the names of Lipinski, Lemieux, Yamaguchi and Gretzky are among the greatest to take to the ice, the most famous name on the slippery surface belongs to a slow, clunky, 53-year-old.
Nestled in the sunny backlot of Los Angeles is Paramount-based Frank J. Zamboni Co., maker of the boxy ice resurfacing machine called the Zamboni that's been smoothing dings, ruts and gouges on ice surfaces and entertaining crowds while it does so.
The tight-lipped and closely-held company is sliding along a particularly slick streak now. Interest in ice sports typically spikes after the Winter Olympics, but lately ice sports are enjoying an unusual popularity.
Beyond that, however, Zamboni finds itself in the position of being able to capitalize on something rare: Its brand. Its image. In short, its famous and funky name.
Zamboni has about two dozen licensing agreements, including a children's book, ice scrapers, hockey jerseys, remote control toys, infant clothing and even a 1:18 scale die-cast model bearing the logos of the 30 NHL franchises.
And the pace is picking up. Some Zamboni goods are found on Target's shelves, Zamboni Happy Meal Toys were in Canadian McDonald's last fall and a biography of Frank Zamboni and his eponymous machine is due out this fall.
All those licensing agreements mean the Zamboni name is one cool commodity though the company is not disclosing exactly how cool.
"I can tell you that if they're not making in the high six figures annually for each licensing agreement, they're doing something wrong," said L.A.-based branding expert and consultant Rob Frankel. "Licensing is a cash cow; but when you combine the high-profit, low-cost nature of the licensing business with the strength of the Zamboni brand; it's more like a cash farm."
In fact, Sasha Strauss, director of brand development for L.A.-based Brand Sense Partners, said the name could generate more for the company's bottom line than sales of the machines.
"This is as close to a perfect brand as you can get," gushed Strauss. "It's taken on rock-star status with hockey fans and has taken on an eclectic yet dependable image with everyone else I'd bet my job they're making millions a year off of the name alone."
The fact that one of his father's greatest ideas was putting his own name on a boxy machine is an irony that doesn't escape Richard Zamboni, now the chief executive of the company. Had Frank Zamboni named it the "Slick Willie" or the "Ice-O-Nator," it likely wouldn't have resonated with the hockey faithful and become the symbol for an entire industry.
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