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Personal Interest Sparks Inspiration for New Business

Wally Hernandez of Sparta, NJ, a successful graphic designer, used to work for an ad agency specializing in pharmaceuticals. Like many, he yearned to get out on his own and become an entrepreneur, but how was he to differentiate his design firm from all the others already out there?

Wally had been a collegiate runner with aspirations to qualify for the Olympics in 1988 so he looked to his love of running and the Olympics for inspiration to get his fledgling design firm off the ground. As a Hispanic American, unity, acceptance and diversity were important issues, and drawing upon them, Wally developed a concept he calls world wide unity depicted by a distinctive triangular "flying color" treatment or redesign for the flags of many countries. The flags are still recognizable, but also respectfully different, and as it turns out, popular with T-shirt fans.

After being denied a vendor’s license at the famous New York St Patrick’s Day Parade, Wally persevered with the Nutley, NJ Chief of Police and was granted permission to sell his designs at Nutley’s St Patrick’s Day Parade. He sold every T-shirt he had in less than two hours and Hernandez Designs (T-shirt Division) was born.

A passerby mentioned that Irish gift shops might be interested in his design. Intelligent and soft-spoken, Wally had always worked behind the scenes; he had never formally “sold” anything before, but now he pushed his reservations aside and went for it. If this was going to work, he was going to have to make a leap of faith and give it a try.

Wally’s first attempt was with Quality Irish Goods in Kearny. They bought several dozen shirts and then recommended another store that might be interested. Sales call after sales call was personally made, and eventually Hernandez Designs became a going concern and Wally was able to leave his full-time position. Currently Hernandez Designs offers world wide unity designs for over 75 countries, but it’s not just a design firm, it’s also in the T-shirt business.

Of course, there are always obstacles along the way. Wally tried to break into the T-shirt market at the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, creating a brochure with an 800 ordering number for area stores, but found no takers. Lesson learned: there is no substitute for personal contact, as difficult or expensive as that may be. World Wide Unity T-shirts will go international with Wally personally marketing in Germany for World Cup Soccer in 2006.

The Small Business Professors' Words of Wisdom

Have you ever tried to get a kid to practice playing an instrument? No matter how much the child likes the idea of playing music, practice is no fun. Business success is the same. People succeed at what they love to do, but it may take a while to learn to love it. It’s that simple, but it’s also that complicated. No matter how talented you are or how great your idea, willingness to do whatever it takes, good old fashioned sweat equity, perseverance and strength of character are also major factors.

Think you’ve got what it takes and all you need is the right idea? Examine your interests. Do you like to golf? What would make golfing easier or more fun? Do you like to shop? Would you shop for someone who doesn’t have time? Do you like to eat cookies? Start a cookie business. Afraid it won’t work? Ask Famous Amos or Mrs. Fields how they’re doing today.

Are you willing to do whatever it takes to succeed even if it’s not easy or fun? Wally was a corporate graphic designer with a nice office and Monday through Friday working hours. Ask Wally about standing outside, rain or shine, at ethnic festivals every summer weekend. Ask him about the risks of buying all the shirts in advance and what happens if they don’t sell for some reason. Ask him about the possibility of being robbed, with so much cash at the end of the day. The road to entrepreneurship is not an easy one, but it can be the most rewarding job you’ll ever have.

If you’ve got what it takes, you won’t let fear or negative emotions derail you. There are a million opportunities, so look to your talents, strengths and interests for ideas. At some point, however, you’ve just got to get out there and start something!

  • Case History: Hernandez Designs, www.hernandezdesigns.biz
  • Entrepreneur’s Strategy: Love of sports and country inspired first product, then sold it directly to fans.
  • Could This Work For Me? Think about what you like to do. Is there something that would make your interest more enjoyable? Identify a need and then find a way to fill it. Overcome your fears, start small, and give it a try.

He sold every T-shirt he had in less than two hours and Hernandez Designs (T-shirt Division) was born.