Billboards are getting a lot of press these days. There’s the feature film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which (rightfully) nabbed a couple of Oscars on Sunday. The three that popped up in Hollywood right before the Oscars, calling out an industry pedophile. Also, the Palm Springs quintet that Alexis Ohanian made to applaud Serena Williams’ maternal abilities. And then there’s me, writing this post about a wee one off I-30.
You can find this sign just before the eastbound 2nd Avenue exit, two billboards after the disheveled lady puckering for Tiger Cabaret and just before Myra McIntosh, a lifelong Democrat running for judge. The sign is nailed to an old telephone pole that’s snapped off at the top, while the urinal below it—yes, a real-life, gleaming-white wiz box—appears to be tethered by a strap.
If you’re driving the speed limit, you’ll miss it. But if you’re stuck in traffic—as I often am on the way home from work, and as you likely have been en route to the State Fair—you’ll have time to read the copy advertising a business called MVPee: “Piss Off Your Rivals. Urinal Screens with a Crappy Message.”
After driving by it a hundred-odd times and wondering what the heck this mini-billboard was doing there, I decided to investigate the roadside waste matter. [Side note for my fellow ladies wondering what a urinal screen is in the first place: I have learned they’re screens covering urinal drains to prevent splash back, bad odor, and cigarettes butts from clogging the pipe.]
When I called the phone number listed on the MVPee website, the person on the other end gave me the contact info for the man in charge, an email address beginning with the word “girth.” “An old baseball nickname,” says owner Robert Weinberg. I didn’t probe further, but asked about the sign. He says the pole stands on the property of a former production facility that his company has long since left. He doesn’t remember how they got the urinal to stay up there.
I ask how he ended up selling urinal screens. “It was kind of a business through error,” says Weinberg. A dozen years ago, he was headed to a trade show where he was up against stiff West Coast competition in the compressed t-shirt game. Due to his central location, he had an edge on shipping costs and, thus, printed urinal screens with the message: “Don’t piss your money away.” Though it was meant to be a marketing ploy, the product caught on. Weinberg’s company is now the biggest producer of custom printed urinal screens in the country.
Many of these urinal screens are heavy on grade-school humor; one of MVPee’s first ones featured Anthony Weiner with the message, “Don’t tweet your meat.” The company has since printed screens for Las Vegas porn conventions (advertising a triple-X website), the Army Corp of Engineers (promoting water safety), various health departments (for No Smoking campaigns) and mainstream movies—he once filled an order of 5,000 urinal screens advertising the movie I Love You, Man, which were strategically placed in spring break locales from California to Florida.
An SMU law grad and serial entrepreneur, Weinberg also runs Purple Giraffe (promotional t-shirts compressed into custom shapes), Ugobags (personalized hardside luggage), and Frockets (t-shirts with a contrast pocket). He’s lost count of all the businesses and products he’s created since his first enterprise—he offered snowplowing services as an adolescent in Boston—but Weinberg figures the number is somewhere in the 40s. “We find something we like and we’re maybe in it for two, three years,” he says. “Then the fat’s gone and we’re onto something else.”
Now whether or not urinal screens have been Weinberg’s biggest money maker, it goes without saying: MVPee is his No. 1 business.