West Seattleite makes his own “Lucky Breaks,” in more ways than 1

July 26, 2008 11:29 am
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luckybreaklogo1.jpgEarlier this month, we linked to a short newspaper report about a West Seattle entrepreneur’s big victory in court. His business is one of a kind: Making plastic wishbones so everyone gets one on Thanksgiving (or Christmas, or whenever else you serve turkey – or, so you can have one even if you DON’T serve turkey; face it, no wishbones in Tofurky or Field Roast). Having never met Lucky Break Wishbone Corp. president Ken Ahroni, we envisioned perhaps a slightly wild-eyed eccentric, oh, say, toiling out of an artsy spot at a facility like ActivSpace. But when he agreed to chat with us for a followup on the court case and what’s next, we discovered we were way wrong:

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

As exhilarating as it must be to win a fight for something you know is right — particularly if you are the “little guy” taking on a “big guy” (2, in this case) — there’s one thing West Seattle native Ken Ahroni appears to have savored perhaps as much as the verdict itself: Having his 26-year-old son there in the courtroom with him to hear it.

“The lesson was, you don’t back down – you fight for what you believe in,” Ahroni added, as we chatted in brilliant backyard sunshine last week at his home, which is also his main office, in a quiet blufftop neighborhood south of Endolyne – that’s where we took this photo:


He is as mellow and personable as you might expect the stereotypical West Seattle native to be (he mentions growing up in a Beach Drive home “near La Rustica”). But as he talks about the court fight, and the verdict, you can see through to the tenacity that no doubt sustained him through it, while setting an example. Ahroni says his son was able to join him on short notice for the verdict reading in Judge Thomas Zilly’s downtown Seattle federal courtroom for a serendipitous reason – a game-developer job that was only 10 minutes away from the courthouse, instead of his previous work at Microsoft on the other side of the lake.

His court battle — which isn’t entirely over, still a few loose ends after the $1.7 million verdict in his favor — was actually against two Goliaths: Department-store giant Sears, and advertising giant Young & Rubicam. According to the news release Lucky Break issued after the verdict, the federal jury found two copyright registrations had been infringed – the unique design of Lucky Break’s wishbones, and the company’s registered product warning — in a Sears promotional campaign called “Wish Big” three years ago, with more than 1,000,000 plastic wishbones given away. Ahroni says Sears had talked to his company first — then went off and made its own wishbones, but without making their own design.

A wishbone is a wishbone, you say? Heavens no.

“Our expert (witness) identified seven characteristics of the Lucky Break wishbone — the Sears bone had all seven,” Ahroni recounts. “That was the ‘smoking gun’.”

He describes that expert witness as “like an Indiana Jones-type guy — a bird archaeologist, who has the country’s second-largest wishbone collection.” A one-of-a-kind witness, for a one-of-a-kind case, and even the timing was almost too good to be true — Ahroni says the bulk of the testimony happened the week of the 4th of July (and after all, what is it we celebrate every year at that time, but the victory of an underdog fighting back and winning).

While the court verdict is something to savor, the two-and-a-half-year court fight preceding it has had an effect on his business: “The time and money takes resources, takes you away from trade shows – and existing relationships (that required maintenance) were starting to slip away – a 100-store chain here, 500-store chain there. Lots of competition for shelf space.”

Not to say business has fallen off entirely. Far from it. Lucky Break Wishbones’ packaging trumpets that they are made in the USA — and in fact, they are made in Western Washington, at a factory in Auburn, where Ahroni contracts for time and space. This year’s shipments are already under way, according to Ahroni — Thanksgiving is four months from Sunday! — and the factory’s capable of making a million wishbones in a month of round-the-clock operations.

By contrast, the Sears wishbones were made in China, yet another contextual twist in the case, given that Ahroni lived and worked in Asia — as a product-development consultant — for more than 20 years (and taught himself Mandarin along the way). His plastic-wishbone idea hatched on his birthday in 1999: November 25, which happened, that year, to be Thanksgiving Day (the story is told cheerily on the LBW website). It took a few more years before the company became reality, and less than two years after that before the situation that became a costly distraction.

“So now we’re back to selling wishbones,” Ahroni smiles, while adding that eventually he may broaden the focus: “We’re working on some possible new products that I’d put on hold, that you can’t do when you are in a lawsuit with two huge companies. We’re a one-product company, so it would be nice to expand.”

As we leave, he offers a salutation with hopes all our wishes will come true — and we depart with a complimentary four-pack of Lucky Break Wishbones, to assist the process of making those wishes. When you see them on sale somewhere as the holiday season gets closer, consider the David vs. Goliaths story here, and the West Seattle “David” named Ken, who fought not with a slingshot – but with a plastic wishbone.

WANT TO KNOW MORE? At the Lucky Break Wishbones website, you can read the company’s backstory, see who sells ’em, or even place a bulk order.

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