By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
Mark Whiteaker made his first batch of slime when he was young at summer camp. He enjoyed the experience, but had no idea at the time just how important slime would one day become to him.
These days, the 19-year-old Cheyenne resident and his brother Joe, 27, run what is among the top slime companies in the nation. Their product – Dope Slime – is now in about 800 retail locations in the United States, Canada and even Australia.
And in a given year, they’ll sell more than 1 million creative slimes with names like Cobweb Fluff, Butterfly Dream, Loot Llama, Coffee Whip and Watermelon Jelly Boba.
Two weeks ago, the duo moved their operation to a new, larger 14,000-square-foot facility and employ about 50 people to help manufacture and package their slimes.
Serious About Slime
This all from a hobby that started in Mark Whiteaker’s bedroom.
“I think I really started making slime in 2016 or so,” Mark Whiteaker told Cowboy State Daily. “That’s when slime was a really big trend.”
Mark Whiteaker had watched numerous YouTube videos about making slime and was mixing up batches and putting his own videos out on social media.
He also saw how some of his online colleagues were having great success selling their handmade slimes. When his Instagram hit 1,000 followers, he talked his dad — who also is an entrepreneur — into helping him start an online Etsy store.
More Than A Fad
Even then, Mark Whiteaker didn’t realize he had a commercial tiger by the tail.
“We always thought that this would be like a fad and gone away in a couple of years or whatever,” he said.
Instead, what happened is a new generation of kids discovered the wonders of slime. Even as previous loyal customers age out, new ones take their place, supporting what has become an increasingly successful business.
It’s evolved to the point where the duo now believes making and selling slime could be a forever thing if they wish.
What Is It?
Slime has been around a lot longer than when Mark Whiteaker discovered it for himself. In fact, it was a popular thing back in the 1970s, along with Disco.
But then, it was just that. A thing. Green and gooey, the quivering “ick” factor was the big selling point. It even came in its own little trash can container. Eventually, the reverse attraction to something green and disgusting died down, and slime as a commodity seemed to be as dead as pet rocks.
That’s when a new kind of slime began to rise in popularity. Teenagers in Thailand were making a thick slime that was more like a work of art, with attractive visual and tactile elements.
No longer was the point of slime its “ick” factor. Now it was the endless fascination of varying colors, textures, shapes and smells — endless opportunities to express creativity.
Along the way, people also noticed that it’s not only fun to create artsy slimes, but that the physical sensation of playing with nifty-smelling, tactile-friendly goo also can be quite soothing.
Thousands have posted videos online of themselves pulling and squeezing their unique slime creations, demonstrating the relaxing effects. Many include calming sounds to enhance a response that has even attracted its own fancy name: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR.
In less technical terms, it’s all about comfort and care, creativity and play, whether you are young or old.
At a basic level, slime is therapy that comes conveniently packaged in a jar.
A Happy Accident
Breaking into retail happened somewhat by accident for the Whiteaker brothers.
“Typically, you have to reach out to (companies) and go through a lot of deals and negotiations to get into retail,” Mark Whiteaker said.
But they never imagined their product would have any serious success, so they never really thought to try that. Instead, Learning Express, which is one of the nation’s largest toy stores now that Toys R Us is defunct, reached out to them.
“I think they have a little over 100 stores throughout the U.S.,” Joe Whiteaker said. “They had heard about our slime and were wondering if we’d be willing to sell it wholesale.”
The brothers decided to give it a shot, just to see what would happen.
What happened was that their slime was the outlet’s No. 2 best-selling toy. That led to more Learning Stores wanting the product, and then to other retail chains, including Hallmark.
So many retailers have now reached out that the brothers aren’t accepting any new vendors. Instead, they are working on their processes to find ways to automate so they can continue to scale the business up.
Endless Variety And Fun
One of the keys to the brothers’ success with Dope Slime has been their seemingly endless variety of slimes. The business has so far generated more than 500 products.
“We typically come out with probably about 15 a month,” Joe Whiteaker said. “So, probably a little over 100, 150 new variations will come out within a year.”
Some ideas are suggestions from family and friends, but most are from Mark Whiteaker, who leads a three-man crew that makes all the slimes.
“A lot are just spin-offs of ones we have already made,” he said. “For example, we have a Lavender Dreams one, and then I made like a Blueberry Dreams one. So, some have, like, the same type and kind of the same name, but just a different color and scent.”
But others are based on social media trends Mark Whiteaker has spotted. Those tend to become some of the biggest sellers.
“When Fortnight was really trendy, we made lie a Loot Llama slime, which is part of that game, so certain things like that, just keeping on top of trends and seeing what is going on,” he said.
The Loot llama slime is half purple and half teal with a lollipop charm and a llama charm hidden inside, as well as pink and blue sprinkles on top.
Another popular slime based on a social media trend is Whipped Coffee slime.
“If you’re familiar with TikTok, during COVID lockdowns this one thing called whipped coffee was really popular,” Mark Whiteaker said. “Everyone was making it on TikTok, so I decided to make this whipped coffee into a slime. That’s one of our like best-selling slimes, the Whipped Coffee.”
Like many businesses now, the Whiteaker brothers are wrestling with supply chain issues and inflation as they work on scaling up their business. That has meant planning things out far in advance to ensure they will have what they need to keep producing best sellers in a given time frame.
“I’m already starting on Easter stuff,” Mark Whiteaker said.
Despite the challenges, both see a bright future ahead.
“Once we get into a spot where we can scale up manufacturing, we’re looking at expanding next year, and we have some exciting people that we would have been in talks with, like Claire’s for example,” Joe Whiteaker said. “Claire’s is a pretty big retailer, that’s like 1,500 retail locations.”
The key challenge, both brothers agree, will be scaling up without losing the high quality and creativity of the handmade slimes that brought them here. Quality is what differentiates Dope Slime from its closest competitors, particularly Chinese companies, which are making much cheaper versions of slime — but less creative and fun, with lower quality.
The pair feel up to the challenge.
“It’s fun,” Joe Whiteaker said. “You know, business is fun. You learn stuff every day, and it’s a challenge. That’s the thing I like the most about it. I love the business part of it.”
For Mark, though, it’s the challenge of making a new and trendy slime that beckons every day.
“There’s, like, over 10 different textures of slime, and they all feel significantly different than the other,” he said.
Add in all the scents and glitters, and there’s an endless variety that always seems to satisfy.
“It’s pretty fun making new ones,” Mark Whiteaker said. “And we have like really good fun scents that smell really good like Fruit Loops or any scent you could think of.”