Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Custom-tailored gorilla, Bigfoot, and Yeti suits
Founder Frank Coffman is the 800-pound gorilla of custom ape suits.
Relocating from Santa Monica to Boulder in 1974, Coffman "left California the day Nixon resigned," he remembers. "When I got here, Ford was president."
Coffman learned how to make creepy Halloween masks a few years later. At first, it was for fun, but maskmaking became his profession after he sold a few to a store. "My hobby was the business I was looking for," says Coffman. "I'm not good working for other people."
But the nature of the mask business in the 1980s made it difficult to make a living. "I switched to costumes," he says. "Then I started making gorilla suits. I didn't know there was a big market for it until I put a video on YouTube."
As he'd always found it difficult time to sell his masks through traditional retail channels, Coffman has taken a direct-to-consumer approach with the suits. He sold hundreds of gorilla suits on eBay and subsequently launched his own website to market his custom-sewn creations. He found an aptly scary address -- UndeadMonsters.com -- that was available and named the business after it. "The Internet changed everything," says Coffman. "People could find me and I could find them."
The suits filled a gap in the market between cheap, fake-looking imports and Hollywood-level gorilla suits that cost $5,000 or more. After a few years in business, Frank earned a reputation for his craftsmanship.
"Then I decided I needed more than just gorilla suits," Coffman says. "I made a Bigfoot costume. Then I thought, 'Bigfoot has a cousin in Asia known as the Yeti.' That's my trilogy now: gorilla, Bigfoot, and Yeti."
The simian suits avoid copyright problems, he notes, and run $315 to $375, shipping included. Bigfoot now outsells Coffman's gorilla costume. "Everybody loves Bigfoot," he says.
Besides individual customers in the U.S. and countries from Poland to India to Australia, entertainment and corporate buyers include Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Denver's Great Divide Brewing Company (whose mascot is a Yeti), Mentos, and numerous filmmakers, bars, and marketers. "I get a lot of special requests," says Coffman, noting that he made a yellow gorilla suit for Spirit Airlines when they rebranded.
He makes the suits using two prime ingredients: 50-gallon barrels of liquid latex and reams of faux fur. "I've got a workshop where I make rubber parts and paint rubber parts," says Coffman. He pours the liquid rubber into molds he made for faces, chests, hands, and feet, then lets it harden for two hours, and typically goes through one barrel of latex a year.
Coffman then sews the suits together at a home studio to measurements sent by the buyer. "I figured I'm going to have to make them individually, so I figured I could make each one to size," he explains.
Challenges: Gorilla suits aren’t the easiest things to size. "I've made costumes for a guy who was 425 pounds and six-foot-four," says Coffman. "You have to do some thinking of how you're going to fit this guy. You only get one chance, so you don't want to screw it up."
Opportunities: As his menacing Bigfoot is the top seller, Coffman is considering sculpting a "a friendly, happy Bigfoot," he says. "There's some demand for that."
Needs: A change. "I'd like to get out of costumes altogether," he says. "Making the same thing over and over again isn't that creative." So what's the plan? "I'd like to develop a haunted house that would be open year-round," answers Coffman. He even has a working title: "The Alternate Universe."