In the early morning of August 4th of last year, a handful of senior executives from Ross Dress for Less, the popular discount department store, flew by private plane to Crawford, Texas, and presented the 43rd president of the United States with a creative business proposal: a signature George W. Bush clothing line. “He loved the idea right away,” said a Ross executive who attended the meeting. “We shook hands on the deal, and then he gave each one of us a bag of Funyuns and told us to follow him out to the garage, where we spent a few hours watching him play Q-Bert.” Later that evening, the executives flew back to California and immediately set to work on the project.
But the “43” clothing line, which was rolled out last month in Ross Dress for Less stores nationwide, failed to meet expectations and was recently pulled from the shelves only three weeks after its debut.
Many people involved in the project are assigning blame to the former president, a well-known creature of comfort, who reportedly insisted that every piece of his clothing line be made, at least in part, with pillows. “We showed him the market research that proved a pillow clothing demographic simply didn’t exist,” said a source who was involved in the project. “He got pretty testy and said, “I don’t care what the evidence says; I know there’s a bunch of ‘pillow clothing consumers’ out there; so go do the research again and find the PCC’s.” The “43” marketing team, fearing dissent would cost them their jobs, subsequently assembled doctored market research that conformed to the former president’s erroneous assumptions. “That’s how you end up with a warehouse full of pillow-padded-ass khakis,” said one Ross executive.
Many people who were involved with the project are still upset with Mr. Bush. “He refused to let go of his ‘man-pillow underwear,’ even though we pointed out that it would essentially just be a cloth diaper,” said one of the lead designers. “His absolute favorite idea was the ‘pillow sweat suit,’” said a Dallas venture capitalist who was pressured by the former president to invest in the project. “Bush ordered the design guys to come up with a pillow sweat suit sample, which he loved and ended up wearing every single day for two months straight. He looked like a 65-year-old version of the Michelin Man.”
One Dallas businessman who reluctantly invested in the “43” line said that Mr. Bush still owes him nearly $300,000. “He keeps telling me he’s a little short on cash right now,” said the investor. “Last time we talked he said he’d be able to pay me back in July … when the birthday check from his mom arrives.”
The “43” clothing line isn’t Mr. Bush’s only post-presidency business venture that has failed to meet expectations. Consumers were confused in October of last year, for example, when the former president released a battery-operated talking Bush doll which, when the string was pulled, said either “Tear Down This Wall,” “Go Ahead Make My Day” or "Who Let the Dogs Out.” The Bush Doll was market-tested in several Houston area Wal-Mart stores and then quietly pulled from the shelves due to poor sales. “I told him that everyone knows those phrases aren’t his,” said one disgruntled investor. “But he just narrowed his eyes, gave me that glare of his and then said ‘you’re either with the me and my doll or you’re with the terrorists.’”
Some of Mr. Bush’s close friends and associates are beginning to complain about the former president’s persistent interest in jumpstarting a business career. “He calls me up in the middle of the night, whispers ‘fortune cookie chimichangas’ and then makes a ‘cha-ching’ sound and hangs up,” said one friend. “He did the same thing with Bush Pac-Man, those glow-in-the-dark 'W' contact lenses and his ridiculous 24-hour drive-thru that only sold salsa. A few days ago he sent me an email with fifty dollar signs in the subject line -- and the only thing he wrote was: ‘Mean Phil, the Angry Talking Toilet.’”
Mr. Bush was recently overheard boasting to friends about his latest idea: a nationwide retail brokerage firm to be called “G.W. Bush.” He is said to be particularly proud of the company’s motto, which the former president says he came up with himself: “When G.W. Bush talks, people listen.”
A spokesman for the former president declined to comment.