How whimsical home essentials brand Staff is making light of dirty work

As the world ground to a halt in 2020, Charlie Weisman got to work on his whimsical home essentials brand, Staff.

In March 2021, Staff introduced its smiley plungers and coat hangers to the world. (Photo: Thingtesting)
FOUNDER INTERVIEW

Cooped up at home during the pandemic, we found new ways to entertain ourselves. Some of us baked bread. Others, like Charlie Weisman, created alternative realities.

In his New York apartment, he imagined what it would be like if he had a team of happy, smiley staff to help him stay on top of the housework — a bit like the chatty teapots, clocks and candelabras that star in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

It would certainly make tasks like cleaning the toilet or hanging up clothes go by a bit quicker. “If you need a plunger, it’s probably not the best moment of your day,” he says, explaining his reasoning for giving these products a bit more personality. “So if we can add a bit of levity to that, that’s what we’re aiming to do.”

In April 2020, he took a doodle of a toilet plunger with a smiley face on it to a product designer. A year later, they launched in four bright colors under his new home essentials brand, Staff.

What might sound to some like an absurd premise for a business — Weisman readily admits that not everyone understands the need for his products — is now his full-time gig. He says he invested “about as much as a compact car” of his own money getting the business up and running, and has now sold “thousands” of plungers since launching nine months ago.

“Fortunately, it was a good investment. But back then I figured even if nobody buys one, I'll at least learn a ton and it's more affordable than [going to] business school.”

The making of Staff

This is not Weisman’s first wacky work idea. In 2012, he packed in a three-year stint at the legendary ad agency Mother to become a Guinness World Records judge.

He spent two years helping brands to organize record-breaking attempts, which he would attend with a clipboard, adjudicating on whether they had made history or not.

Weisman says Staff presents an opportunity to learn the craft of entrepreneurship and forge a career more grounding than pitching marketing plans to big corporations, and that things like barcodes, insurance, accounting and economic nexuses are all things he is happily trying to get his head around. Mistakes have been made along the way: the first time Weisman used a shipping container to transport Staff’s products from their manufacturer in China to the U.S., he booked the entire thing — rather than just the portion of the container he needed.

There have been nitty-gritty questions to answer when it came to developing the products itself, too. Weisman says it took three attempts to “optimize the rubber density” of the plunger (too thin and it doesn’t work, too thick and it could send you flying across the room as it pings back into shape), while the drip tray has been designed with air flow in mind so it can dry between uses.

“We’re not Dyson. We’re not reinventing the technology here — but we do want to start with the best version of [what’s available] and then we can make it look colorful and fun,” Weisman explains.

Even the goofy, somewhat vacant-looking smiley face that adorns Staff’s products has a serious purpose to it: it is trademark protected to stop Staff from being ripped off by another brand.

The serious business of smiley faces

Perhaps the biggest challenge Weisman faces is getting people to take his venture seriously.

“It [has] resonated with an audience; people who care about self expression,” he says. Within a week of launching, Weisman says Staff started being approached by homeware boutiques and design stores who wanted to place wholesale orders, many of whom have gone on to reorder stock in larger quantities. “[But] this is not for everyone”, he concedes. “A lot of people didn’t get it, some family members included.”

One family member who is a fan of the product is Weisman’s grandfather — a former plumber. “He got a kick out of it. But first and foremost, he wanted to test it out and make sure it was up to his quality standards.”

The Staff plunger passed the test, and now Weisman’s attention has turned to expanding the range of products his brand offers. A limited run of acrylic coat hangers quickly sold out, while in October Staff launched a pair of mismatching oven mitts, with the smiley face positioned on the palm so it looks like the thumb is a hand, waving at you. In 2022, Staff will get down to some real dirty work: it's launching a toilet brush.

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