Kentucky Fun Mall puts pride on the shelves
LEXINGTON (WDKY)-- The first thing you see at a warehouse in North Lexington is a mural of Kentucky born-actor Harry Dean Stanton. It's big and bold, like the theme running throughout the building known as the Kentucky Fun Mall.
"We like to promote people, places and amazing products, " says co-founder Griffin VanMeter.
His business partner chimes in: "Weird people."
Griffin VanMeter and Whit Hiler are proudly unusual. Hiler is often interviewed wearing a KFC bucket on his head; VanMeter's been known to wear a diaper.
But there's no doubt they love the Bluegrass State. The items they sell are proud and punny, such as a Kentucky Derby shirt that read "Watch me sip, watch them neigh neigh."
Their business, Kentucky For Kentucky, really took off a few years ago when the pair designed a "Y'ALL" shirt-- a spoof of shirts that promote Yale University. And the store took off when they brought in a unique exhibit known as Cocaine Bear.
"We have a chair because so many people come in and want to get their photo taken with the cocaine bear," Hiler said.
It's a long story, (read it here) but the bear died after ingesting a huge amount of cocaine dropped from a plane by a famous Kentucky drug smuggler.
About a third of the company's business is online and its website is also a place to launch public relations campaigns.
In 2011, they tried to raise 3.5 million dollars to crowdfund a SuperBowl ad promoting the state. They fell way short, but still got tons of publicity.
"All of our best ideas have typically started as a joke, "Hiler said. "We'll be sitting around throwing out ideas and somebody says something ridiculous and a couple of weeks later, we'll have a product in hand."
Those products include such things as earrings made from gold-plated chicken bones or fried chicken scented candles. The staff loves it when they see someone wearing their flashy socks or sassy t-shirts.
VanMeter said "It's a lot of validation and I always make sure to go up to them and say 'that's an awesome shirt.' I don't tell them who I am. I just tell them that shirt really looks good."
Recently, actor Bill Murray was photographed in Italy hanging out with Kentucky native George Clooney and his wife Amal. Clooney was wearing a shirt from Kentucky for Kentucky that says "George Clooney is a beautiful man."
The company releases new products all the time and won't likely run out of inspiration as long as the sun shines bright in their old Kentucky home.
The Kentucky Fun Mall has boastful products, but as Muhammad Ali, another famous Kentuckian, said: "It's not bragging if you can back it up."
VanMeter and Hiler are doing their best to back up their belief that Kentucky has uncommon wealth.