Vuvuzelas Sound Pretty Sweet To Ala. Business

Soccer fans may be sick of hearing the sound of the vuvuzela, but a small business in Birmingham, Ala., is cashing in on the popularity of the noisemaker. Last year they predicted the horns would be a hit, and now they've sold nearly 30,000 of them.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Yeah, I think I will blow my vuvuzela.

(Soundbite of vuvuzela)

SIMON: The plastic horn is the signature noise of the 2010 World Cup. Some people love them...

(Soundbite of vuvuzela)

SIMON: ...some people hate them...

(Soundbite of vuvuzela)

SIMON: ...some people are making a lot of money off of them. NPR's Carolyn Beeler reports.

(Soundbite of vuvuzela)

CAROLYN BEELER: Work stopped at a small company in Birmingham, Alabama Friday morning. Employees gathered around the big screen TV in the common room to watch the Netherlands beat Brazil 2-1. The requisite vuvuzelas were floating around.

(Soundbite of vuvuzela)

BEELER: They don't just blow the horns here. They sell them, lots of them. Bernard Fry is the CEO of 365 Incorporated. In addition to the usual sports gear, he's sold 30,000 vuvuzelas in the last eight months. But he admits he's no expert at playing the thing.

Mr. BERNARD FREI (CEO, 365 Incorporated): It's not actually that easy. You need you some lungs. Perhaps with a shandy(ph) it would be easier.

BEELER: Frei first heard about the long plastic horns from a friend, who'd seen them at a rugby game in South Africa. Frei thought there was no way they'd be popular here.

Mr. FREI: He called and said these things are awful. They're going to ruin the game. They've got to ban them. They've got to ban them. And pretty much a week later, Jeff Stephens, our head of marketing, came in and said these things are going to be huge. We need to buy them.

BEELER: Stephens knew the horns would be a hit with American sports fans because they like to be loud.

Mr. JEFF STEPHENS (365 Incorporated): When he told me that he thought these were annoying, my reaction is, Americans are going to love this, because it's more along the lines of what you would see at an NBA game or at a Major League Baseball game.

BEELER: And so if Americans were going to buy these things, 365 Incorporated wanted to make sure they bought their vuvuzelas from them. The company bought Google search word ads using terms like South African horn and World Cup horn to drive traffic to their site. They started selling the horns in November and sales took off.

Mr. STEPHENS: We thought it would be a popular item. We thought it would sell well. But to the extent that it's performed, I probably never would've expected that to come, you know, in 100 years, or 100 World Cups.

BEELER: They've sold so fast, the company's supplier ran out of vuvuzelas. 365 and their parent company have enough horns stockpiled to last until they can find new producers. But at one point they were worried their inventory wouldn't keep up with demand. So far the vuvuzelas have brought in more than a quarter of a million dollars. Part of the reason sales have been so good, Frei says, is that this World Cup has attracted far more attention from Americans than the last one.

Mr. FREI: We've definitely seen a significant difference in the amount of interest in this World Cup. In the past we were heavily focused on the German fans or the Italian fans or the Brazilian fans who live in the U.S. Now there's no question that we've become an American company.

BEELER: An American company selling horns made in China to people watching Brazil and the Netherlands play soccer in South Africa.

Carolyn Beeler, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of vuvuzela)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of vuvuzela)

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