Goodbye Gold: The Future of Wedding Rings
"On a recent ski trip to central Oregon, I noticed something rather surprising: metal wedding rings are apparently no longer en vogue with the outdoorsy set. From ski instructors to brewmasters, I noticed rubber wedding bands in lieu of traditional metal rings on the fingers of athletic and active professionals everywhere around the mountains. It led me to wonder: is the future of wedding rings rubber?
To find out more, I reached out to Ted Baker and KC Holiday, the duo behind QALO, the manufacturer of the rings I saw throughout the trip. QALO stands for Quality, Athletics, Love, and Outdoors, and it turns out the rings are actually made of silicone, not rubber. I wondered whether the rings were a result of a practical need or were in some way a rejection of the current expensive, wedding-obsessed culture. The answer? Well, both.
“The idea that you’re valued by how expensive your wedding ring is or that a more expensive one is supposed to mean someone loves you more? That to me is ridiculous,” says Ted Baker, CEO of QALO, Inc. “We wanted to bring something to the market that costs less but means more.” QALO rings start at $19.96.
Baker and cofounder KC Holiday started QALO, Inc. in 2012. They met in an acting class after both finding themselves in LA under similar pretenses: actors moonlighting as bartenders in Beverly Hills. Their wedding rings were difficult to wear on sets or while working out; metal didn’t mesh with their active lifestyles. They both felt that the commitments they made to their wives and families were their most important priorities in life, yet they weren’t able to wear rings to show those commitments. Holiday often took his ring off and lost it more than once, and Baker confesses that the only time he ever wore his was for a few hours during his wedding ceremony. After sharing their stories and having similar ‘aha’ moments, they decided to officially incorporate.
“The whole thing was as grassroots as you can imagine,” says Baker. The company started - literally - at Baker’s kitchen table. They opened a company checking account based on which bank was closest to their apartments and invested $22,000 in the production process - their entire combined savings. “Other people may think that seems like a risk,” says Holiday. “But since we had the support of our wives, it didn’t feel like much of a risk to us. We believed in it from day one.” He and Baker spent the first six months after incorporation gauging consumer interest and figuring out if similar products already existed.
Though their product is technically simple - a silicone wedding band - production problems caused fulfillment delays early on in the company. On their initial order, they had trouble finding a factory willing to take on such a new, unique product. When they finally sourced a facility and had their first 50,000 rings delivered, they spent days on quality control, trimming excess plastic left from the molds and setting aside rings that were improperly cut at the factory. “My wife and I watched all seven seasons of Lost while trimming rings.” says Baker. “So that tells you how much time we spent fixing them.” They’re now on their fifth production facility, as they’re constantly trying to produce a higher end product.
Though Baker and Holiday have always been confident in the idea, it was a QALO appearance on HBO’s Hard Knocks that gave them their first product-affirming boost. NFL player Andy Dalton wore a ring on the show and spoke about how meaningful it was to be able to finally wear a wedding ring on the playing field. He referred to it as a “rubber wedding ring,” and later that evening, searches for “rubber wedding rings” started trending. QALO was the beneficiary of nearly all the traffic. Soon after, Baker and Holiday met with Google and discussed the development of that search term. For search engines, QALO became a case study in creating a consumer keyword out of what was otherwise industry ‘white space’ - a tech term for ‘nothing.'
Since then, revenue has doubled many times over. QALO has numerous partnerships with nonprofits, fire and rescue organizations, and professional athletes like NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and surfer Shane Dorian. They’ve gone from a revenue of $40,000 in 2013 to a combined five-year revenue of more than $75 million, and are projecting another $25 million growth by year-end.
Though Baker and Holiday are proud of their success, they say that what really gives them chills are the stories they hear from consumers and seeing their rings being worn by well-known personalities across different industries. For them, their product isn’t a ring; it’s a lifestyle. They say they’re building a community of people who value commitment and family. “When you see a guy wearing a QALO ring,” says Baker, “it says more about them. It says they’re married - and. And they care about commitment; they care about an active lifestyle.” Holiday agrees that the message is really what they're selling; the idea of valuing family above all else. “The family you come home to are the most important people in your life,” says Holiday. “And your value as a husband or wife isn’t attached to a value of a ring on your finger.”
Baker and Holiday are currently expanding into other markets. They’re already in Australia and Japan and are finalizing details to go into Germany and South Korea. Baker says up next are more products that support the lifestyle and culture they’re trying to build. “When we first started selling rings, we were two guys who had just gotten married,” says Baker. “Now, we’re two guys who are dads, continuing to develop products moms and dads want.”"
Written By: Suzie Dundas, Forbes