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Breathing life into products


“Cactus” Jack Barringer got his nickname as a little boy, due to his obsession with dressing up with a cowboy. The name, given by his father, spread across the neighborhood. As an adult, when he started a marketing company, he decided the colorful moniker, paired with Western duds — custom-made by a Hollywood costume designer — would make him more memorable.

“I thought, “‘Cactus Jack?’ What better way to get people’s attention?” Barringer said. “You want to know some of my philosophies? The more flash, the more cash. Gaudy is good. Here’s another: It ain’t done until it’s overdone. Too much of a good thing is a very good thing.”

Barringer is known to some for his Alka-Seltzer-style cleaning tablets and his fishing lure (Cactus Jack’s One Shot Catch A Lot Fishing System) that he sells on the QVC cable TV shopping channel. He has sold millions of dollars worth of his products on QVC, according to his Web site (www.realitysportsent.com). He is known to others for his motivational and marketing seminars and for mechanizing the sport of arm-wrestling.

“I’ve been involved in arm-wrestling since 1978,” Barringer said. “I had the largest arm wrestling business in the world in the late 1980s.

“I was an arm-wrestler as a kid, and I was very, very good at it, not because I was tough, but because I figured out the technique. That technique is what causes arguments. People fight about grips and arm lengths. I’ve always believed that if you want to make a million dollars, you’ve got to find a need and fill it. I decided to make a machine that would take the controversy out of arm wrestling and make it good, clean fun.”

Back in the 1980s, he created the Monster Armwrestling Machine. Suddenly, competitors grabbed the device’s rubber handles instead of each other’s hands. Later models enabled left handed contenders to compete against right-handed opponents.

Two years ago, Barringer and World Championship Armwrestling –a unit of Reality Sports Entertainment, of which Barringer is chief executive — launched The Enforcer, a version with more bells and whistles.

“I designed it to be just like a Las Vegas slot machine,” he said. “When someone wins, there are lights and bells and sirens so that everyone in the room knows something exciting just happened. With the machine, teams can arm-wrestle. You can even do mixed doubles.”

He launched the product at the Iowa Venture Capital Forum in 2002, and said the response was “very good,” with more than $1 million raised in the Des Moines and Ames areas. His product concept goes beyond the machines, however.

“I came up with the idea while watching pro wrestling on television,” Barringer said. “There were all these dynamic characters like Hulk Hogan and The Rock…. I thought I could invent a new arm wrestling machine, hold tournaments and take characters from local, regional, state and national competitions and make them stars.”

He says he’s already seen interesting characters cropping up, like The Wedge, The Locksmith, Wrecking Ball, Crazy Reed, and Trouble and her mother, Hot Chocolate. Most of the competitions attract standing-room only crowds.

Barringer decided to spread his brand of entertaining arm-wrestling through franchise operations. Franchisees get an Enforcer arm-wrestling machine, an exclusive territory of 1 million people (Iowa has three territories) and a full training program. They come to the headquarters of WCA in Ames to learn the tricks of the trade. The franchisees then conduct local arm-wrestling competitions, generating revenue through fees from venues, contestants, sponsors and sales of WCA merchandise.

WCA recently entered into an agreement with Mesa, Ariz.-based Sunbelt Business Advisors Network, a large franchise broker. Sunbelt has 360 offices and 2,000 brokers, according to Barringer, and will represent WCA to sell franchises nationwide. Barringer said he’s received a proposal from ESPN to film five to eight 30-minute television programs featuring WCA arm-wrestling tournaments.

“My ballgame is taking a product and breathing life into it,” Barringer said.  

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