Wyoming was on Hollywood’s mind in 2015.
Stunning panoramas of Grand Teton National Park inspired the backdrop to the adventures of Arlo and his human friend in the animated movie “The Good Dinosaur.”
The Wyoming Office of Tourism partnered with Disney Pixar and will invest $1.2 million on a media campaign promoting both the film and the state. Tourism officials also spent $100,000 to sponsor the world premiere in November.
Now, a Thermopolis and Casper business are Hollywood-bound for a night of glitz and glamour Feb. 28 at the Academy Awards. Both companies are members of Wyoming First, a Wyoming Business Council program featuring Wyoming-made products.
Thermopolis tannery Merlin’s Hide Out enjoyed a cameo in the new movie “The Hateful Eight.”
Owner Barb Heinze said her company’s buffalo coats have been on back order since actor Kurt Russell donned the handmade attire in Quentin Tarantino’s box office hit.
Kurt Russell hasn’t made a personal appearance in the shop yet, but the employees keep hoping, Heinze said with a laugh.
“It was a pretty cool experience to see your product on the big screen,” Heinze said. “It looked spectacular.”
Merlin’s Hide Out has grown in the past eight years from a two-person business in a lean-to shed into a 5,000 square-foot warehouse and showroom with five employees.
Heinze and her husband, Merlin, spend about 30 days each year, between mid-December and late-January, collecting about 400 to 500 buffalo hides in addition to 1,000 other hides for different products. The Heinzes try to purchase as many local products as possible.
The mountain man gear hearkens back to the American West’s earliest roots, and Heinze said that is part of the coats’ appeal.
“I think there’s a growing interest in getting back to that,” Heinze said.
Heinze praised a number of state economic development programs for the assistance they have provided her business.
Merlin’s Hide Out has been a Wyoming First program member since 2008 when it attended a Denver wholesaler show.
Heinze uses a trade show incentive grant from the Business Council, the state’s economic development agency to attend events like the Sturgis Rally where they have one of the more unique booths in the aptly named Buffalo Chip Campground.
“That helps our buffalo products,” Heinze said. “And, of course, the buffalo is definitely a symbol of Wyoming.”
Since the head designer of “The Hateful Eight” called Merlin’s Hide Out in September 2014, four more production companies have been in touch.
“I think once your name is out there and they see you do quality work in the time frame they need, they do keep contacting you,” Heinze said.
Another Wyoming small business owner is hoping to enjoy similar success from her night out with the stars.
Casper manufacturer Vintage Body Care and Bushman Beard Company will be featured in a suite at the Academy Awards where celebrities receive products and gifts.
Owner Eliza Russell said her business has doubled every year since it opened in 2013. She expects getting her products in the hands of celebrities will accelerate the company’s growth.
Between 150 and 200 celebrities are likely to attend.
“I’ve spoken to other companies who have done gifting suites, and they’ve seen their business grow exponentially from the exposure they get,” Russell said.
Right now, Vintage Body Care is available at just a couple retailers, instead relying on internet sales. However, if sales increase the way Russell anticipates, she hopes to open a Casper shop.
The exposure a business gains from being featured at the Academy Awards gifting suite can range from social media mentions during the event to a sponsorship or endorsement. Anecdotally, Russell has heard past participating companies say even a social media post about a product by a lesser-known celebrity can lead to dozens of orders over the next hour.
Like Merlin’s Hide Out, Vintage Body Care and Bushman Beard Company are Wyoming First members. Russell said she has received assistance in the form of business advice and help with trade shows.
“You get national exposure that way, and the nice part is that, for a small commission rate, they will sell the product for you if you already have events going on at that time,” Russell said. “They have grants available for people going to trade shows and events out of state. Those are very helpful, and they walk you through the process.”
On the night of the Academy Awards broadcast, Wyomingites will want to keep an eye on how “The Revenant” fares. The film was based on the 2002 book “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge” written by Michael Punke, who grew up in Torrington. “The Revenant” garnered 12 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Punke is the deputy U.S. trade representative and U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.
Contact Tom Dixon, Senior Communications Specialist
Tom.Dixon@wyo.gov | 307-275-2217
About the Wyoming Business Council. Our mission is to increase Wyoming’s prosperity. We envision a Wyoming where industries are strong, diverse and expanding. Small business is a big deal. Communities have the highest quality of life. Wyoming is the technology center of the High Plains. Wyoming knows no boundaries. Please go to www.wyomingbusiness.org for more information.