Founded in early 1992 by creator Brian Wallos, Bench Warmer created the female trading card category with its first release of 120 cards featuring beautiful women in their favorite sports garb. Since this time, Bench Warmer has produced other fun products including calendars, posters, phone cards and most recently, nostalgic bubblegum trading cards. Since the early days of Bench Warmer, numerous Bench Warmer Models have gone on to stardom after their Bench Warmer appearance including Brooke Burke, Cindy Margolis, Gena Lee Nolin, Charisma Carpenter, Nikki Ziering and Traci Bingham. And many Bench Warmer rare insert cards have sold for high dollars on Ebay upwards of $500.00 or more.
Bench Warmer has featured several Asian American models on their baseball cards such as standup comedian Aiko Tanaka, WWE wrestler Lena Yada, fitness expert Kiana Tom, actress Candace Kita, television presenter Xi Xi Yang and model Flo Jalin among others.
We spoke to CEO Brian Wallos about Bench Warmer and the women who pose for these trading cards:
ASIANCE: Brian, can you tell us a little about how Bench Warmer got started?
Brian: Bench Warmer trading cards were founded in 1992. I took a few years off and did well selling Beanie Babies. So, in 2002 brought Bench Warmer back. Since then, I’ve dedicated my whole life to it. For the first shoot in 2002, Peggy Tyler (now Peggy Tanous of the Real Orange County Housewives) helped me out and we shot 50 girls in one week. I just went for it. This first series was primitive by today’s standards and I lost money for the first 5 years. It took 5 years to break even. I was living in a hotel, had one employee and spent all of the money on the photo shoots. I initially made 9000 boxes, and sold only a quarter. Now we sell out many runs. It is a labor of love.
ASIANCE: In addition to trading cards, what other Benchwarmer products have you created? Anything new?
Brian: We have brand new lighters that are doing well. We have the next 15 girls models picked out for the next series.
ASIANCE: We’ve noticed you have an ethnically diverse group of models. Can you tell us about some of the Asian models you’ve had on your cards in the past?
Brian: Bench Warmer is diverse. I have to say it is hard to find Asian models, but I want to keep the company diverse. Diversity in Bench Warmer is very important. One of our first models in the first series was Kiana Tom. She’s gone on to have a great career in fitness.
ASIANCE: Do you think ethnic diversity is important to your products? And why?
Brian: It is very important to have diversity because America is diverse. America is a melting pot.
ASIANCE: And do you handpick each model?
ASIANCE: What is your newest card series? Is there a theme? And who are the models on the cards?
Brian: Hot for Teacher is the newest card series and it was a sellout. Brandi Grace is an Asian American model featured in this set.
ASIANCE: Where do you see Bench Warmer ten years from now?
Brian: I see Bench Warmer as a major entertainment brand that is constantly creating different entertainment venues. And I also see it as a launching pad for women’s careers with many diverse products, brands, a clothing line and a casino.
ASIANCE: If an inspiring model reading this article today wanted to be a Bench Warmer model, how would she go about doing this? Would she submit directly to you?
Brian: You can email the Bench Warmer website and also if you know one of the other models, go through them. This is a model friendly company and world of mouth amongst the girls is a great way to get in. Many of the models have said this is like a sorority.
ASIANCE: You’ve worked with professional models for over a decade now. What advice do you have for a new model reading this article?
Brian: Stay true to yourself and be careful out there. Go with your gut instinct and work with good people. Do work that will make you look good in a positive light and keep plugging away. Be responsible, be on time, and take care of yourself mentally and physically.
ASIANCE: What is your website for people to take a look at your cards and other products?
Brian: The Bench Warmer website, www.benchwarmer.com, has a network of dealers. Also, Ebay is a terrific way to find cards. And you can purchase Bench Warmer cards at your local comic book store are where collectibles are sold. The new bubblegum Bench Warmer cards can be found at your local convenience stores such as Circle-K and 7-11.
ASIANCE: Thanks Brian and we look forward to seeing more beautiful Asian American models on upcoming Bench Warmer cards!
An actor and women’s safety advocate, Candace Kita is the author of “The Hottie Handbook: A Girl’s Guide to Safety.” As a safety specialist, Candace has been interviewed by People, Good Morning America, the Jay Leno Show, Inside Edition, the Los Angeles Times, 48 Hours, the LOGO Network and WHO Australia.