Updated: Monday, 05 Jul 2010, 11:20 AM EDT
Published : Monday, 05 Jul 2010, 7:41 AM EDT
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - It all started with the hogs, of the clay variety.
"I was known as the Pig Lady for several years because that is all we made, little pig heads with different hats," Rebecca Bollinger said.
Now, decades later Bollinger's Clay Critters come in every shape and size and can be found in souvenir shops across the U.S. and Canada.
"I hear stories of people who go to Alaska and get a totem pole and get home and turn it over and it says made in Lafayette," Bollinger said.
Her small staff hand-makes over 500,000 critters every year.
"We did $2 million in sales back in the busy days when we had 85 employees, but with 18 employees we are doing $1.2 million in sales. So, we are a lot more profitable and efficient," she said.
It takes a steady hand and a commitment to carefully craft each critter. Employees are all part of a profit share program and have flexible hours. In turn, Bollinger said there is a very low turnover rate.
"We've developed ways to make them faster and better and it's more pleasant with a smaller number," Bollinger said.
Swaraski-crystals add a special touch to each creation.
"We decorate with three or more. Some of them have seven. People recognize it. They like that added quality," she said.
Nearly every critter is laser printed with a name or saying before it leaves the warehouse. And, it's no wonder the beach-themed critters are the most popular.
"Our number one critter has been for years, and it is a non-critter, is the flip-flop," she said.
Clay Critters' latest creation is a state collection and the cherry blossom magnet for Washington, D.C.
So, the next time you waiting for your flight to take off, check out the gift shop you might be surprised to find a little piece of home.
For more information on Clay Critters click here.