On Sundays during football season, a group of Woodberry neighbors gather at Josh and Valerie Griffin's house to watch their beloved Baltimore Ravens on television.
Lately, the neighbors — Nick Schauman, the Griffins and Jason and Marcy Daly — have been buzzing about quarterback Joe Flacco's new Fu Manchu mustache.
And now, as the Ravens prepare to battle the Houston Texans in the AFC divisional playoffs, the diehard fans are not only friends and neighbors, but business partners, too. They've started their own online enterprise, making and selling "Fanstaches," fake, Fu Manchu-style mustaches made of purple felt with adhesive backing.
The $5 mustaches, marketed as "the original Fanstaches" on the website fanstache.com., also can be found by searching on facebook.com for Fanstache. at http://www.facebook.com/Fanstache?sk=photos#!/Fanstache?sk=info — They are also sold at area stores and restaurants, including Poor Boy's Garden & Hearth, a Ravens-obsessed garden and home center with locations in Dundalk and Parkville.
Other participating retailers are The Dugout Zone, in Ellicott City; the Ravens Zone, in Towson; Wells Liquors, in Cedarcroft; Rocket To Venus, a restaurant in Hampden; the Blue Moon Café, in Fells Point; Home Gamers, in Westminster, and Pit and Pub, in Ocean City, where a digital sign announces, "Fanstaches available here."
A dollar of each sale is donated to one of Flacco's causes, Living Classrooms, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that gives youths hands-on education and job training using maritime resources as "living classrooms."
As of Jan. 8, the neighbors had sold about 4,500 Fanstaches, said Marcy Daly, 40, a veterinary saleswoman, and Valerie Griffin, 35, a skin-care specialist, who are keeping the Fanstasche's financial books.
They sold 3,000 in 10 hours after WBAL-TV reported on the business. The neighbors have also taken turns giving interviews to news outlets ranging from Fox-45 to ESPN Radio. The Dalys' daughter, 13-year-old Zoe Spadaro, has modeled the Fanstache in several interviews.
Effective business model
Gathering at the Griffin house on an off Sunday for the Ravens, the neighbors appeared peaked but excited by their early success.
"It's been a wild ride," said Schauman, 39, a freelance photographer.
"It all kind of came together," marveled Josh Griffin, 34, a tattoo artist.
The mustache idea grew out of a general consensus that they liked Flacco's Fu Manchu and were impressed that he'd called on his teammates to shave their beards into Fu Manchus, too.
"A lot of great teams, they always have their signature thing that they go through a season with, and we're just trying to create one," Flacco told The Sun Nov. 25.
That gave the group something to 'chu' on.
"We thought we'd do it just for fun and how nice it would be if the entire city did it, too," Schauman said. He and Josh Griffin, who were already bearded, began sporting "chus," and the clean-shaven Jason Daly, 38, owner of a landscaping and home repair business, began to grow and shape his own mustache.
"He's got it going now," Josh Griffin said.
The same can be said of the Fanstasche. In a few short weeks, they've pooled $4,000 to $5,000 of their own money and put together an efficient business model. They began by buying sheets of felt from Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft stores in the area.
"We've been to all of them," Schauman said. "Now we're dealing directly with the warehouse."
'Wear at your own risk'
By the end of last week, they'd bought 150 yards of purple felt, enough to make about 40,000 Fanstaches.
The felt is cut into mustaches by Technigraphics in Hunt Valley and the art and packaging in small plastic bags is done by Peabody Press in Baltimore. Inserted into each plastic bag is a card with instructions on how to apply Fanstaches and disclaimers such as "Wear Fanstache at your own risk," and "Fanstache is not for human consumption."
The neighbors trademarked the word "Fanstache," and the familiar letters "TM" appear next to each reference. They've also deleted early references to the Super Bowl, a name owned by the National Football League. They've even made a promotional You Tube video ("It's silly," Josh Griffin said) and printed posters and T-shirts with the slogan, "Chu want one!" to promote the fake Fu Manchu mustaches.
"We're trying to get (customers) to send in pictures of themselves wearing their Fanstaches, to create some team spirit here in Baltimore," Schauman said. "The goal is to keep it going all the way to the Super Bowl."
Customers, from as far away as Florida, are heeding the call, buying Fanstaches for playoff parties and tailgating events, and emailing photos of themselves wearing the mustaches. One sent a photo of a cloud in the shape of a Fu Manchu. Another shows a dog wearing a Fanstache.
One wag sent a doctored photo of Hines Ward, a star receiver for the Ravens' division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, "wearing" a Fanstache, Josh Griffin said
Kim Meagher, a volunteer for the Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore, sent photos of seriously ill or injured children wearing Fanstaches, Griffin said.
Shoutout to customers
Josh Griffin said he emails "a personal shoutout" to all buyers, thanking them for their business and for supporting the Ravens and Living Classrooms.
Invariably, the customers write back, and many say they're planning to wear their Fanstaches at the game or parties.
The $5 selling price is about $4.50 more than the cost to make each mustache, Schauman said. The notion of making a little money is appealing, he admitted.
"We've worked hard on this," Schauman said. "We've had a hard time sleeping at night — and eating during the day."
Josh Griffin envisions keeping the business going with other teams and sports and supporting other nonprofits and charities, such as Ronald McDonald House.
But the partners said their business is less about making money than it is about supporting a good cause, Living Classrooms, and fostering Ravens fever for what they hope will be a successful run for the home team through the playoffs — and beyond.
That quest begins Sunday, Jan. 15, when the Ravens, who earned a bye last weekend, will host the Texans at 1 p.m.
"If we can write Living Classrooms a nice check, that means more," Jason Daly said.
"And it would be nice to win the Super Bowl," Schauman said. Then, he corrected himself.
"I mean, the Chu-per Bowl."