Reviving The Fridge Magnet

Reviving The Fridge Magnet

How Magnetic Poetry beat back a rogue Amazon-based challenge to its business.

In 1993, Dave Kapell was a University of Minnesota graduate with a passion for songwriting limited only by a relentless case of writer’s block. One night, while borrowing a method from David Bowie known as the cut-up technique, Kapell affixed random words to magnets, eventually transferred those to a refrigerator and was stunned to find his friends and roommates spellbound by his creation. Months later, he premiered Magnetic Poetry at a weekend craft show at Calhoun Square and was approached by a buyer from the Walker Art Center’s gift shop. With her help, a business grew, ascending from $30,000 in sales to a peak of $7.5 million by 1997.

So whatever happened to that magnet business?

Today, Minneapolis-based Magnetic Poetry is still piecing it together, generating roughly $2 million in sales, anchored by more than 100 different themed kits such as “Urban Lumberjack” and “Bacon.” Kapell says the themed kits were introduced as a half-price model to serve buyers looking for a lower price point than the $20 cost of the Original Magnetic Poetry kit. The themed kits make up roughly 70 percent of sales, or about 115,000 kits each year. The remaining 30 percent share covers sales of about 30,000 units of the original kit and its fan-inspired spinoff, the Poet.

Kapell says the company recently “reeled in the horrible Amazon situation” that was diminishing the value of its product. For years, mysterious bulk wholesale buyers had been turning around Magnetic Poetry kits for nearly half their retail price; as a result, Kapell saw his once robust sales to the retail market slipping. “We wound up hiring a company to do the detective work,” he says, adding that Magnetic Poetry is solely in control of its Amazon business now. “It has helped immensely, and our retailers are much happier with us,” says Kapell. “Even Amazon sales are up.”

In its 22-year history, Kapell says his invention has inspired songs from Tom Petty, the Rolling Stones and Madonna. In fact, “every lyric in Madonna’s song ‘Candy Perfume Girl’ is in The Poet kit,” Kapell claims, though he’s never received any confirmation from the artist. “I actually hired a mathematician to figure out the odds. In the end, chances were 1 in 4.2 trillion that she used Magnetic Poetry.”