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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014

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In Marketplace

Olympus Group's Brian Adam at its Brown Deer headquarters.

In Marketplace

Mascots in production.

In Marketplace

Every mascot is a handmade work of art.

Brown Deer's Olympus Group makes mascots worldwide


Brian Adam knows a thing or two about mascots, and not just because he was Bucky Badger during college at UW-Madison.

Rather, the young president of Olympus Group oversees the production of mascots recognized around the world, from Ronald McDonald to the racing sausages to Bucky, himself. And it's all happening in Brown Deer, the headquarters of the 109-year-old family business.

When Adam tells people about his business, most want to know about the sausages.

"It's really cool," says Adam. "We do Tony the Tiger, Snap Crackle Pop and Bucky, but the sausages are what people ask about the most. Especially in Milwaukee, they're the most iconic and have a huge following."

Back in 1893, Olympus wasn't making mascots, of course. Its main products were pennants and flags, and eventually it evolved into manufacturing corporate apparel for companies like McDonald's. Then, when the fast food giant asked Olympus if it could make them a clown suit – and then Grimace and Hamburglar – the company's mascot division was born.

Now, the apparel business is mostly overseas, so when Adam's father bought the business in 1992, he consolidated operations into mascots, custom printing and U.S. flags. Printing makes up about 50 percent of sales, while flags comprise 30.

"(American flags) have to be 100 percent domestically manufactured, all of them," says Adam, "including all the raw materials that go into them."

Of course, take a tour of Olympus, and the most fun part to watch is the construction of the mascots, which make up about 20 percent of sales. Foam heads, bins full of arms and legs – you can tell each mascot is a handmade work of art by the several of the company's 105 employees. You can call up Olympus right now, too, and have them build you a one-off mascot – just be prepared that an average suit costs about $3,000.

For this part, Adam didn't plan on working for the family business after college. Adam worked in consulting in Chicago before rejoining Olympus when his father retired six years ago. He purchased the company from his dad three years ago, and Olympus just had its best year ever, around $18 million in sales in 2011.

Adam, however, says that the family business didn't give him a leg up on getting the Bucky gig, though it's still his personal favorite mascot – you may have seen the clip on YouTube when he got tackled by a Michigan State cheerleader.

Moving forward, Adam says his company's mission to keep investing in new technology. It opened a manufacturing facility in Orlando to better service the amusement and entertainment industry.

And Adam says Milwaukee is still the perfect place to headquarter his business.

"A lot of our customers are surprised when they hear we're a domestic manufacturer," says Adam. "When you tell someone that, 'Hey, we make Ronald McDonald suits for across the world,' and we're located here in metro Milwaukee, they hadn't thought about it."

Olympus is targeting new regional business, too.

"There's still a lot of opportunity to grow in Milwaukee and in the Midwest," says Adam.


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