Illustration by Ryan Snook
Jamie Salvatori has some things he would like to sell you. Things like a plastic banana protector called the “Banana Bunker,” scented pencils called “Smencils,” edible shot glasses, heated slippers, and “Flickin’ Chicken—the ultimate rubber-chicken tossing game.”
Salvatori has turned his goofy sense of humor into a Web-based business called Vat19 (vat19.com). From his Maryland Heights operation, the 31-year-old entrepreneur sells novelty items, desk toys, and sundry other gewgaws, gimcracks, and tchotchkes that, as he puts it, “are the most curiously awesome products in the world.”
Nearly every product is hawked with a comedic online video featuring Vat19 employees joking around as they try it out. “In 2006, YouTube was blowing up, and I figured maybe we can sell products on the Internet using videos as the primary method,” recalls Salvatori. More than 300 videos later, Vat19’s mini films are extolling 5-pound gummy bears, magnetic putty, and other unusual items.
The Citizen Kane of these comedy sketches is surely the video hawking Vat19’s edible gummy shot glasses. Salvatori and his staff sorted a half-ton of gummy bears by color and painstakingly glued them onto a sofa, a wall, a table, etc., to create an entire “gummy apartment” to go with the glasses. “We had to hot-glue each one on by hand, 50,000 to 60,000 bears,” says Salvatori.
After all that work, a body could use a drink. It’s a good thing Vat19 sells a “unicorn corkscrew” called (wait for it…) the Screwnicorn. It looks just like you’d think it does, and it’s fully functional. After selling it for 30 days, Salvatori says, “I’ve had to reorder it twice!”