The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is sweeping the internet and bringing in a ton of cash to help eradicate that disease. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a degenerative and fatal nerve disease that is better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The challenge, involving people choosing to dump a bucket of ice water over their heads or donate some cash to support ALS research, has nearly quadrupled donations to the ALS Association. It is hard to argue with the good that the challenge is doing in both raising awareness of the condition and backing research toward a cure.
But ALS charities and sufferers are not the only beneficiaries of this silliness. Some are riding the gravy train of this trend all the way to the bank. I tapped my vast Nudge/Wink Report expense account and went after one of these nouveau riche millionaires to get the full story.
Meet Bob Cubbage
Robert Cubbage III is a third generation ice man. He inherited an ice making business from his father, Junior, who got it from, well, you know the story. Cubbage & Sons Ice Company started in the late twenties, when founder Robert Cubbage began hauling ice to fill home ice boxes in the towns surrounding Chicago.
Over the years, the business grew. Now diversified and providing ice to the food service and convenience store industries, Cubbage’s Cubes produces and sells 380 million pounds of ice per year. When I went to his company’s offices, Bob Cubbage wasn’t around.
Three days later, I tracked him down. He was living aboard a leased yacht, docked in the harbor on the island of Martinique. I asked him about the effect that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has had on his industry. His eyes lit up behind designer sunglasses as he started his reply.
“Dude, are you kidding me? ALS is the best thing to happen to the ice industry since frozen pizza. I freakin’ love that shit.” He paused to light a cigar. He used a $100 bill to do it, then continued. “Seriously, my crews usually crank out about 300 million pounds during the summer months. People use the stuff to cool beer or keep their catch fresh on fishing trips. This summer, every yahoo with a video camera and indoor plumbing is dumping ice water over their heads. We’re putting out at least three times as much ice. I’ve got crews freezing cubes 24/7 and the stores are screaming for more”.
Profits Put A Chill On Product Development
Cubbage went on to explain that the demand for ice, any kind of ice people can get their hands on, is so great he’s backed off on some promising innovations he was making in the ice industry before this summer. “Organic ice…back burner. No sugar added ice…back burner. Panko breaded ice…back burner. Gluten free ice…you get the picture, don’t ya buddy? My company is going full steam ahead on cranking out plain old cubes so people can douse themselves for charity and for me.”
I got the impression that Cubbage, and millionaire ice men like him, were taking advantage of the boom in sales. He pointed out several nearby beach houses. All were currently occupied by ice men like him, recklessly spending the windfall profits the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge blew their way.
Sitting On A
n Bubble Ice Cube
Neither Bob Cubbage nor any of his cronies that I met seemed the least bit concerned that the trend was creating an economic bubble in their industry that looks as dangerous as the bubble in real estate was a few years ago.
Back in the states, I spoke with University of Minnesota economist Dr. Lonnie Carlson, a specialist in the ice industry. Carlson and his colleagues see dark days coming for ice companies who don’t re-invest their unexpected windfall properly. “Excessive profit taking in an industry where profit margins are usually thinner is tempting when a boom hits with no warning. Make no mistake, we’re in for a meltdown, soon. I’ve seen signs of what’s coming. Some of the smaller providers are going under; that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
On the plane back home, I reflected on the last thing I heard Bob yell drunkenly as I left his yacht. “Lou Gehrig said he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I’ll tell you what, maybe he was, but he wasn’t no Bob Cubbage! I love ALS!”
Bob’s guffaw echoed in my mind as I remembered that moment. And all I could think was “God that guy is an ice hole”.