When Sharpies debuted in the 1960s, they made their initial mark as the go-to autograph pens for stars like Sean Connery and members of the Beatles. Sally Grimes has elevated the permanent markers into a creative-class status symbol in an iPad age. “Our fans show us what’s possible–stuff we never could have imagined, like decorating cars, lamp shades, and prom dresses,” she says. Grimes fuels that creativity by promoting customer-created Sharpie art: 18,000 pieces have been uploaded to the gallery she added to Sharpie’s website last summer, among them the work of edgier artists such as Cheeming Boey–whose grotesque squids, pointillist portraits, and fantastically violent sea monsters are produced on paper coffee cups that now sell for four figures in galleries. The result of all of Grimes’s community building is a virtuous circle of inspiration between Sharpie and its users, leading to new products, such as a much-clamored-for gold metallic marker, and a 9% sales bump since 2011. Here are some of our favorite fan pieces and why Grimes loves them.
Is introduced to the world of brand management while pursuing her MBA at the University of Chicago
First major product launch: Microwaveable Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
Starts a family
Gets a spot on Ad Age’s “Hottest Brands” list