University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 2/1996
Marketing Man of Letters

     Styling along Harrison Street in Wilmington, Del., R.
Richard Roat Jr., Delaware '87, pilots his customized 1976 Chevy
van through traffic. On the cel phone is Ed "Big Daddy" Roth,
king of hot rod chic and creator of the Rat Fink character, who
is concluding a major deal with Roat for a new product called
Fink Fonts.
     Roat is creative director for the '90s-something firm, Brand
Design, headquartered in a plush, glass and chrome office on the
36th floor of a downtown office building. Clients include Time-
Warner, Saab, MTV and major league baseball.
     Or, that's how Roat might tell it. And, minus a few creative
marketing touches, the story is true.
     Roat is creative director for the three-year-old graphic
design concern, which includes partners Andrew Cruz and Allen
Mercer and the subsidiary, House Industries, through which the
partners create and market fonts, or typefaces.
     From the outset, the partners understood graphic design to
be a "tough racket" and were looking for steady income to support
the fledgling company. They had completed some hand lettering for
other projects and knew there was a ready market for new
typefaces. Basically, Roat says, they decided the font business
"is cheap, we can do it and we have some good stuff."
     They designed and printed a card advertising such fonts as
Housebroken ("great for labeling the boss' parking space"),
Warehouse ("ideal for cratework, garbage cans and curb
numbering"), Playhouse ("recommended for ages 3-12") and
Housepaint ("appropriate for window soaping").
     A mailing was directed at record companies, which, Roat
says, have very busy art departments that "crank out a couple of
CD jackets a week" and are constantly searching for fresh ways to
letter products.
     As an added marketing touch, Roat, a communication graduate,
says, "We cooked up this scheme to sell the fonts. We came up
with a story, that this was the typography division of a large
firm located on the 36th floor of a building on Harrison Street.
Everyone knows there are no buildings over 20 floors in
Wilmington. It got us some national attention."
     Rolling Stone and Ray Gun magazines ran stories on the
fledgling company and, with the exposure, Roat says, the
typefaces "were an instant hit."
     "Clients called up and said they had to have [the fonts]
tomorrow. We said, 'Uh, we don't have them.' "
     In fact, they had created just enough letters to post the
marketing flier and hurriedly had to get to work finishing off
the sets of letters. The first two weeks were a panic, Roat
recalls, laughing, with the partners creating the letters, then
digitizing them for the computer.
     Roat says the eclectic clientele is attracted because "what
we're putting out there is is unique, organic. It sort of has
that 'look.'"
     The Roughhouse typeface, a scrawly design, appeared on the
CD jacket for Green Day's multi-million selling album Dookie.
     Saab later used House Industries lettering in its "Find Your
Own Road" advertising campaign, and MTV began using the fonts in
its on-air titles. That led to further work for the flip side of
the business, Brand Design, developing a promotion for MTV's Buzz
Clips, which boosts hit videos. Aired last fall, their Buzz Clip
featured music by the Foo Fighters, the Presidents of the United
States of America and the Goo Goo Dolls, and had a '70s feel,
with a Stingray bicycle, complete with banana seat and butterfly
handlebars, as its primary icon.
     And, MTV wants more from Brand Design, commissioning a full
promotional spot for the cable music network. Roat says the firm
has been given a green light and will pitch to the network a
concept that again highlights the '70s, this time moving from
Stingray bicycle to fully loaded van-complete with shag carpeting
and paneling.
     "We're really getting into it. We do stuff that looks really
'70s, really automotive," Roat says.
     They have piles of late model hot rod magazines to provide
inspiration. That, plus Cruz' fascination with the old Rat Fink
models, led the partners to Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, with whom they
have concluded a deal to market Fink Fonts, typefaces in the
styles of '70s hot rod lettering and design.
     The fonts will be sold in what looks like a model box for
about $150, Roat says, explaining that packaging is a big part of
their marketing efforts. Their work, he said, is essentially
vapor. "We sell art. If something has its own identity, people
are more willing to buy it. We could put the [font] disk in a
little envelope and send it out, but that's not enough for us.
You have to be able to touch a product to really appreciate it.''
     The House Industries products are "really good products,
really interesting products," Roat says, "but if we hadn't put
money in to promote them, they wouldn't have been as successful.
Deep down, we're all artists. Basically, we're trying to sell our
art somehow."
     With a growing number of fonts, packaging and marketing will
grow ever more important, Roat says, to help consumers
distinguish the firm's massive letter supply.
     For instance, House Industries is now selling two 12-font
packages, one the Bad Neighborhood in a Box "urban blight"
collection (typefaces include Badhouse, Housearrest,
Condemnedhouse and Crackhouse) and the Scrawl collection. In the
latter, artists were asked, "If you were going to scratch stuff
into a picnic table or a tree in the woods, how would you do it?"
The results include Lighthouse, Housetrained and Splitlevelhouse.
     Not only have interest, sales and the number of fonts grown,
but Brand Design and House Industries have spilled out of their
original, small Harrison Street room. The company has purchased
an under-renovation building formerly owned by a printing concern
at Fifth and Tatnall streets. The three partners have been joined
by two full-time employees, and Roat says he believes the trend
will continue because of the firm's creativity and marketing
savvy. "A lot of the work out there is dry and boring. We try to
give a little twist to things, have a little fun."
     When Roat is not busy with the creative side of the
business, he can be found many mornings at the University, where
he serves as a volunteer coach for the swim team.
     Roat, who was captain of the team his senior year, jokes
that he leads a double life, "half laidback, creative person and
half this real uptight coach."
     "I don't have a lot of time to do it," Roat says, "but it's
kind of an obsession of mine. I enjoy working with the students."
     He views his work coaching as another form of marketing, in
this case, convincing student-athletes of the value of getting up
early every morning and doing body-numbing workouts. "I'm not
teaching them how to swim, the techniques. I'm teaching them
that, if they work hard enough at something, they'll be rewarded
for it."
     One of the most difficult tasks these days, Roat says, is
simply "explaining what I do. A lot of people just don't
understand. Graphic designer is such a nebulous term. Sometimes,
I just tell them I'm a shepherd."
                             -Neil F. Thomas II, Delaware '76