By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
For one thing, Kodner, 35, operates from a corner office on Indian Head Industrial Boulevard in West County. His runners drive matching trucks and must wear hats bearing the slogan "Got Crack?" while on the job.
It's a far cry from the low, low profile most crack dealers -- hellbent on dodging the local fuzz -- try to maintain.
In fact, Kodner -- who inherited his clients from his father, Mike, after the elder Kodner's healthy, indictment-free fifteen-year run in the crack game -- is such a firm believer in the power of crack that he runs billboards and sells apparel to support his business.
"I think it may be genetic," says Kodner, who calls his outfit the Crack Team.
"Crack is in my blood."
It's also in the blood of Kodner's ace runner, mustachioed 30-year-old Jason Bauman, a husky, affable chain-smoker and QuikTrip loyalist who fled the West Coast a few years ago because he felt it was too violent -- an attribute that wouldn't faze most crackheads.
Resplendent in his "Got Crack?" ballcap and "Mr. Happy Crack" T-shirt, Bauman flies down Highway 40 in a black truck done up in Crack Team decals, exchanging quizzical glances with bewildered motorists.
"You'll notice that when you drive by people, they just start laughing," Bauman says.
Bauman's only had one roadside run-in with the law -- startling when you take into account that he travels upwards of 100 miles a day in broad daylight. And even at that, the cop just wanted to inquire about how he could go about obtaining a replica of Bauman's "Mr. Happy Crack" T-shirt.
On a recent soggy February afternoon, Bauman's first stop is at the home of a burly mortgage broker in a white-picket-fence neighborhood in Ballwin.
"My wife said I can do whatever I want down here," says the homeowner to Bauman, who revs up his blowtorch as his client reaches for his wallet.
"Usually it's $200, but since your mom works for Coldwell Banker, we'll only charge you $100," says Bauman while heating up the product, made specially for the Crack Team by a Chicago wholesaler.
A few minutes later, the product is ready to be injected -- into the homeowner's wall, that is.
You see, the product Bauman is heating is an epoxy-based solution -- Kodner, Bauman and the rest of the Crack Team are in the foundation-crack-repair trade, a far cry from the more glamorous world of drug trafficking.
Not that the Crack Team minds the confusion. In fact, customer confusion over the company's bizarre marketing tactics has been a boon for business.
"One time, I began to open this lady's door -- I had the key," Bauman recounts. "She shouts, 'Who is it?' I say, 'It's the Crack Team.' Then the lady shouts, 'I ain't got no crack!'"
In the otherwise mundane industry of foundation repair, the Crack Team's emphasis on linguistic titillation is wholly intentional, highly successful -- and, at times, decidedly anal. An early billboard campaign, featuring a cartoon repairman with saggin' trousers revealing a healthy case of plumber's ass, was deemed too tasteless to be continued. Undaunted, Kodner went back to the drawing board and came up with a new billboard mascot, Mr. Happy Crack, and a company slogan -- "A dry crack is a happy crack!" -- that hardly paid deference to the St. Louis region's pervasive air of social conservatism.
"We're in such a grunty industry; we're not saving lives," Kodner says. "The slogan probably lends itself to a joke or two. It separates us from the herd."
The marketing campaign proved so catchy that a mere three days after debuting the Happy Crack mascot and slogan on billboards and Metro placards county-wide in October 2001, Kodner and his staff were inundated with requests for Crack Team T-shirts and hats.
One problem, though: They didn't have any T-shirts and hats. So the crafty Kodner told his customers the gear was on "back order" and dived into the apparel business. Seven hundred hats and 1,100 T-shirts later, Kodner decided to contract with Vintage Vinyl, the University City record store, to carry Crack Team apparel.
"We knew we were onto something that stuck when we were having students from Wash. U. call," says Kodner.
However, as J.C. Dillon -- a partner in Core, a downtown advertising agency -- notes, university students generally don't fall within the Crack Team's customer base of adult homeowners -- so Kodner may be missing the mark.
"It goes right in the direction of 'crack, crack -- get it?'" says Dillon, whose clients include St. Louis Bread Company/Panera Bread, Monsanto and Epiphone Guitars. "It may get notice, turn into a popular little craze. But I would bet, long-term, it wouldn't be beneficial in terms of 'Do I trust this company?' I wonder if older adults, other than the immediate chuckle of the thing, would really take to the deeper meaning of that slogan."
Still, buzz is buzz.