Selling karma, hoping for a positive return

Times Staff Writer

Andrew Loren Klamer knows something about the game of life. His dad invented it, after all.

Now, Klamer, whose father, Reuben Klamer, created the Game of Life for Milton Bradley and came up with an early competitor to the Hula-Hoop, is taking a spin at inventing. His contribution? Karma. In a can. And a candle. And a soap.

Klamer's company, Karma Creatives Inc., is selling novelty cosmetics such as aromatherapy sprays, bath crystals and hand lotions. The products contain a blend of seven "good herbs for good karma" that include ginseng, lavender and peppermint, and come with a trademark karma philosophy about the importance of doing good things.

Klamer is confident that he started his business at an opportune time: at the cusp of a karma trend epitomized by the television show "My Name Is Earl," the Alicia Keys song "Karma" and a Motorola marketing campaign that supposedly helps people improve their karma. On its MySpace page, Karma Creatives, with its signature Buddha ("Add me for good karma!"), currently has 1,825 friends.

Karma traditionally is defined as the principle of action and reaction that leads to an individual's deeds coming back in one way or another, said Sannyasin Arumugaswami, managing editor of Hinduism Today magazine. "You're not going to protect your karma by spraying something," he said of Klamer's Karma in a Can, which retails for $6 to $8.

Klamer, 32, worked in television for seven years before bringing this venture to investors two years ago. He is the first to explain that simply buying his product won't give consumers good karma.

"It's more of an awareness, about living the clean lifestyle," said Klamer, who meditates regularly and is prone to quoting the Dalai Lama.

The product is appealing because everyone buys into the power of suggestion, said Cina Hodges, owner of manufacturers' representative Showroom 504, which recently agreed to work for Karma Creatives.

"Just with a spritz, everything is OK again," Hodges said. She plans to market the products to hospital gift shops, where people will probably want good karma, as well as beauty supply stores.

Klamer is not the first to try selling the concept of karma. Last year, an assortment of stores stocked Karma Guard, a spray created by music producer Andy Goodmark, who said he created Karma Guard as a joke.

"It was a protective coating for whatever you needed in the [music] business -- people cutting each other out of deals, being mean or nasty," Goodmark said. The product had a good run after it got some media attention and celebrity customers, he said, but now is sold mostly online.

Consumers always are willing to buy products that make sure good things will happen to them, said Debbie MacInnis, a marketing professor at USC's Marshall School of Business. This is especially true today, she said, when consumers are feeling a lot of anxiety.

"People are naturally gravitating to things that assure them that things are going to be good in the future," she said.

When asked whether consumers will pay for the scented karma water in a can that is his signature product, Klamer points to Evian's success with mineral water sprays. He thinks that his water mister will do even better: It has principles, after all.

"I wanted to sell an idea and bottle it up, but people laughed at me," he said.

In expanding the company, he'll take some cues from his father, who was recently inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame. In addition to the Game of Life, Reuben Klamer invented Fisher-Price 1-2-3 Roller Skates and about 200 other toys. Most inspiring to Andrew Klamer was his father's strategy of marketing a polyethylene hoop he called the Spin-a-hoop to compete with Wham-O Inc.'s Hula-Hoop. The senior Klamer "blitzed" the small market of Rockford, Ill., and from there, word about the new toy spread to nearby Chicago.

Karma Creatives is focusing on Southern California, which, Klamer said, is the ideal place to launch his business because celebrities are interested in karma and spirituality, and the rest of the country buys what celebrities buy. He hopes his products spread through California "like wildfire" and is making plans to sell in Las Vegas.

Karma Creatives' products are being sold in boutiques such as Kitson and Planet Blue that are frequented by good-karma-seeking celebrities. Kitson owner Fraser Ross said he had seen people buying Karma in a Can as a gift for friends who might be down on their luck.

"People are always saying, 'I need good karma,' " he said.

Karma Creatives has begun to expand Karma in a Can to candles, lotions and lip balm. The company's inaugural product line, shipped in August, contained items such as red currant candles and orange mango hand cream, in addition to the canned Karma.

"You can't really break with one product and expect it to be successful," said Alex Berenson, a company partner who persuaded Klamer to expand the Karma in a Can idea. Berenson also helped secure an initial $50,000 investment to get Karma Creatives started.

Berenson is the co-founder of the clothing company Kikwear, which rents storage space, as well as its accounting and shipping department, to Karma Creatives in its decidedly unkarmic location in a dilapidated building on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles.

Klamer works with Berenson and Josh Gabbard, the art and creative director, to hone the product lines. Though the concept of karma may focus on inner goodness, Klamer is focusing on outer packaging to entice the consumers who buy products such as Burt's Bees lip balm and Dirty Girl bath products.

Karma Creatives' candles and bath salts are made by independent company Bath Petals Inc., which went through many different prototypes to get the right look and smell. The candles come with karmic quote inserts that Klamer culled from various philosophic texts.

"We take a strong message and couple it with a great product, and it will spread like a positive virus," he said.

Karma Creatives is projecting sales of $500,000 for its first few months in business, which makes Klamer think that he's found the next pop culture phenomenon, much as his father did 50 years ago. His father supports his endeavors, Klamer said, and even heard an elderly couple toasting to karma in a restaurant -- a sure sign that the product has good vibes.

"When my dad got it," he said, "I knew I was onto something."

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