The Winter Olympics in Sochi may seem like a distant memory, but Keir Kurinsky is still reveling in his experience – even though he was nowhere near Russia in February. Kurinsky is the creator of promotional foam hats – nicknamed rockheads – which starred in the stands during curling matches throughout the 2014 Games.
“Curling is exciting in real life, but on television it can be boring to watch,” says Kurinsky. “The cameras frequently break away from the action and cut to the stands to show fans cheering on their teams. The foam hats at Sochi showed more personality than the athletes did.”
Shaped to look like the heavy granite curling stones that players slide across the ice, the hats are curling’s version of the Wisconsin foam Cheeseheads worn by fans of the Green Bay Packers. The rockheads were worn during the Olympics by both fans and athletes, including Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo as he cheered on his country’s curlers, and forward Jonathan Toews, who was spotted wearing the novelty hat in the stands of the USA-Russia hockey game. The rockheads generated plenty of television airtime, press coverage and photo Tweets, particularly during the curling gold medal match between Canada and Great Britain.
“Curling fans are a really fun group of individuals who have built a good time around a quirky sport,” says Kurinksy, who has also developed silicone curling stone ice cube trays.
Kurinsky himself became a passionate curling fan after attending the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. After he developed the first rockhead foam hats, he presented samples to the U. S. Curling Association in Green Point, WI. The president of the organization pronounced the hats “a home run,” and promptly placed an order. “They sold the hats faster than we could produce them,” says Kurinsky.
Over the years, Kurinsky has promoted the foam hats at curling events, and once distributed 200 rockheads to the crowd at Rockefeller Plaza when the U.S. men’s team appeared on the Today show. “I gave a lot of hats away in those days, but I built my name and product recognition,” Kurinsky says. He advertised in the Curling News prior to Sochi, and his years of relationship-building paid off when NBC placed an order for the hats to be shipped to Sochi.
Kurinsky sent 10,000 hats over to the Olympics, and completely sold out of his entire inventory of hats and ice cube trays. “Curling started televising on the first Tuesday of the Olympics,” he says. “My wife and I were out to dinner, and as soon as it started, I had 300 e-mails from people looking to order hats.” He estimates he’ll sell some 50,000 hats this year. “Going forward, my hats need their own Twitter account,” Kurinsky says.
What’s one of the biggest lessons Kurinsky has learned? “Give away as much product as possible,” he says. “It will come back tenfold. If anyone called, I donated to their events to promote my product and remind people of my brand.”