By Kyle Arnold Orlando Sentinel.
When Amber and Alex Babcock got married several years ago, they decided to give each guest a whimsical gift: A mustache on a stick.
Now, they have turned their Sanford home into a center for the mustache-on-a-stick industry.
In an upstairs office and a backyard shed, the Central Florida couple are crafting and molding whimsical facial hair, goofy mouths and even bowties.
The hard plastic props have become a favorite with photographers and photo-booth operators in the wedding and event industries. Last year, their company Whisker Works sold more than 35,000 of the props, more than doubling output from a year earlier.
"It all started with us just wanting to make gifts for our wedding guests," said Amber Babcock, who married Alex in 2009. "But everyone loved the mustaches and wanted more."
Amber Babcock, 32, has a background in design as the former creative director at an ad agency, and Alex Babcock, 36, is an Army veteran who also studies computer programming at Seminole State College. They have a 3-year-old son.
Whisker Works' formation conveniently coincided with a resurgence in men's facial hair, and the playful items let people emulate their favorite mustaches.
The props start at $4 for mustaches and run up to $10 for full beards. The Babcocks say they are making enough of a profit to support their family.
"Lips and mustaches are a must in the photo-booth industry," said Jenn Warrington, a customer and owner of Party Shots Orlando, an Oviedo company that rents photo booths for weddings, parties and other events.
The Babcocks didn't invent the mustache on a stick, but they did create a durable plastic version that could survive rambunctious children and drunken wedding guests.
"Most of the lips and mustaches that are out there are made of paper," Warrington said. "They don't last through one night and definitely not through an entire wedding season."
Whisker Works gets most of its sales through its website and a linked Amazon site, but the products are also available on a few independent retailers' shelves, including Winter Park's Sassafras Sweet Shoppe.
Those first mustaches from the Babcocks were individually made with modeling clay and carefully polished and finished by the couple.
The encouragement from their wedding was enough for Amber Babcock to put the plastic mustaches on micro-entrepreneur Internet marketplace Etsy.
Then the orders started pouring in, mainly from photographers and photo-booth companies. Whisker Works added lips, beards, mustaches, tobacco pipes and other items with customer requests.
After getting a few dozen orders, the Babcocks invested in rubber molds. They use mix-and-pour plastic that hardens overnight. The props are sanded down and a hole is drilled to put in a wooden stick.
With more orders came more mustache designs. They now have more than 20 for the upper-lip facial hair alone, as well as several more for glasses, noses, monocles and other facial props.
Whisker Works even created a snowman kit last year with durable and permanent carrot noses, coal buttons and a corncob pipe.
The mustaches are made at their Sanford home, a large peach-colored Victorian manor built in the 1870s in the middle of a former orange grove turned housing development. They pour the mustaches into molds in a backyard shed and handle shipping from an upstairs office.
They have started working with a Georgia manufacturing company to make some of the basic designs on a larger scale.
The couple now keeps a supply of a few dozen of each design in storage, but it doesn't mean they aren't sometimes caught off-guard.
They once received an order for 3,000 mustaches from razor giant Gillette.
Another time, they received an overnight order of mustaches from a Fox News employee to celebrate the birthday of famously mustachioed newsman Geraldo Rivera. During a morning show, colleagues mimicked Rivera's facial hair with Whisker Works props.
"Our goal is one day to see our mustaches on store shelves everywhere," Amber Babcock said. "But seeing them on TV was a fun place to start."
They loved seeing it on TV so much they called one of their mustache designs "the Geraldo."