As cold weather begins to nip at ears, Hank Ridless, 27, and Bill Rayman, 29, have a hot idea that could put Deely Bobbers into winter storage. Not that earmuffs themselves, which date back to 1877, are anything new. But by marketing muffs in more than 10 alluring colors, ingeniously packaging them (they pop out of silvery cartons resembling toasters) and dubbing them Ear Muffins, the pair have created, as Rayman notes, “the only consumer-recognizable earmuff in the country.” To date, Ridless and Rayman have sold one million pairs at $6 each, even ringing up receipts in torrid climes like Texas, Florida and Arizona.
A mutual gift for entrepreneurship drew the partners together about a decade ago when they met at Yale. They later got their MBAs (Rayman from NYU, Ridless from Harvard) and wound up in white collars at NBC-TV (Rayman) and Bloomingdale’s (Ridless). Extracurricular brainstorming two years ago led to their first creation, Jammies, men’s pajamas folded into large jam jars. Rayman left NBC in 1980, and after Ear Muffins began to look like their bread and butter—Rayman, with his financial backer, Oh Dawn! Inc., earned $250,000 from them last year—Ridless joined him full-time. This season the lobe fellows are diversifying with Shearlings (muffs in sheep-shaped boxes), Bear Headed Ear Muffs (muffs with ursine faces) and Hear Muffs (made to fit over Walkman-type headphones). But smile when you call Ear Muffins just a novelty a la pet rock. The muffs are “exactly the opposite,” Rayman argues. “This is a basic item that people do use.” Adds Ridless: “They should sell until the tundra melts.”