By Katherine Yung, Detroit Free Press
DETROIT -- Ads are everywhere, from jet bridges at airports to movie tickets. Now, Jordan and Bryan Silverman are aiming to take advertising where it's never been before.
Their Ann Arbor, Mich.-based startup firm, Star Toilet Paper, recently started selling ads and coupons printed on sheets of toilet paper.
"It takes advertisers a couple of seconds to wrap their heads around advertising on toilet paper," said Jordan, who acknowledges his business elicits plenty of snickers and long pauses.
The tag line on the company's website advises people, "Don't rush. Look before you flush."
The company plans to distribute free, ad-supported toilet paper to public restrooms at restaurants, offices, stadiums and other venues. These locations can save money on a basic necessity in exchange for providing Star Toilet's advertisers with a captive audience.
Amid all the laughs, Star Toilet was recently named one of five finalists for Entrepreneur Magazine's College Entrepreneur of 2012 contest.
"Advertising is about having people read about your product and this seemed the ideal place to do so," said Jordan, a philosophy major who graduated from the University of Michigan this spring. "So far, people have loved it."
More than 50 companies have bought ads. Earlier this month, the ad-supported toilet paper began rolling out at three Ann Arbor locations -- University Towers Apartment Building, the Bel-Mark Lanes bowling alley and Dance Theatre Studio.
For advertisers, the minimum order costs $99 for 20,000 ads, or about half a cent per ad. They select the locations where they want their ads to be seen.
"We thought it was hilarious," said Barby Checchi, a manager at Fish Doctors, an Ypsilanti, Mich., tropical fish store that is one of Star Toilet's advertisers. "Everybody uses it. Who doesn't need it?"
The ads have generated a few new customers for the store. "So far, so good," Checchi said.
Another advertiser, Northside Grill in Ann Arbor, said it's too early to judge the results. "It's just getting rolling," said Jim Koli, Northside's owner. He took a chance on the new concept because "it was unique and at a certain level it was absurd enough that it would be interesting to do."
Star Toilet aims to get its toilet paper in venues frequented by large numbers of people, such as stadiums, offices and bars. Marc Smoltz, manager of the Bel-Mark bowling alley, said his business has been using the toilet paper for a week but he's waiting until more time passes before making any judgments.
"It seems good," he said. His staff has told him that "it's a little bit different."
The toilet paper ads feature coupon codes that consumers can redeem on Star Toilet's website, startoiletpaper.com. The company's two-ply toilet paper is made of 100 percent recycled materials and an Illinois company prints the ads using a soybean-based ink. The brothers promise that their toilet paper is safe for both users and septic systems.
For Jordan, business inspiration came in the likeliest of places -- on a toilet at a University of Michigan library.
Now 22, he splits his time between Ann Arbor and his parents' home in Westchester County, N.Y. His 19-year-old brother, Bryan, works on the business in between his classes at Duke University. The three-person company includes Jason Rak, a University of Michigan graduate student who serves as chief financial officer.
"I really did think Jordan was a little crazy at first," Bryan said. "But I love working with him."
Jordan wants to keep the company in Michigan, where he has received lots of help from Ann Arbor SPARK, an economic development organization. It helped Star Toilet obtain a $3,000 grant to pay for its patent expenses. Jordan also received a scholarship to attend one of SPARK's two-day entrepreneurial education boot camps last fall.
The brothers used their savings to launch Star Toilet. But they have approached some of Michigan's wealthy individuals about investing in their company and hope to obtain additional capital this fall.
"No one has ever tried to do this," Jordan said.