Two Sacred Heart University students are following their dreams of becoming successful business owners: Alan Ksiazek, 21, owns Twin Tides, an online apparel store, and Graham Welter, 20, co-owns Nantucket Buckets, an online hat store.
They balance schoolwork, fraternity duties and sports and still make time to manage their businesses. While they’ve both faced legal struggles and manufacturing issues, neither has felt inclined to give up.
“This has always been a dream of mine,” said Ksiazek, a junior majoring in finance. “Ever since I was 13, I wanted to start a business.” A Chicago native, he became involved in online sales at a young age by selling items on eBay.
When a friend asked if he wanted to get involved with Twin Tides and potentially buy it, Ksiazek said that he didn’t hesitate. It took nine months, but Ksiazek re-launched the business in September 2015. “It’s a complicated process,” he said. “Lawyers were involved, and trademark issues came up.”
Now that the business is up and running, Ksiazek said things are going well. Through a University grant, he has three interns working with him, and the Jack Welch College of Business has provided him with a cubicle where he can get his work done.
The company sells shirts and bowties and is capable of doing custom work. Ksiazek said he taught himself Adobe Illustrator, which he uses to design images for his apparel.
“There’s a lot of excitement in bringing up the business,” Ksiazek said. His philosophy is to take the business day by day, and he said he views everything that’s happened so far as a great learning experience.
Sean Heffron, director of Student Experience at the College of Business, met Ksiazek last fall. “I found him to be a very dedicated and intelligent young man,” Heffron said. “He’s quiet, which is often mistaken for disinterest or apathy, but this certainly wasn’t the case with Alan. He knows what he wants, and he has the drive to achieve it.”
Like Ksiazek, Welter also had a knack for business at an early age. The Avon native, who is a sophomore marketing major, said that when he was growing up, he would start landscaping businesses and try to sell textbooks.
While attending Avon Old Farms School, a private high school, Welter was co-president of the Entrepreneur Club with his classmate Marc Zuzolo, who attends Miami University in Ohio. They started making and selling preppy, summery hats to classmates and quickly saw how popular the hats were when they sold 120 of them in four days. They built a website and watched the business grow from just bucket hats to custom bucket hats and baseball caps.
“We never saw it coming this far,” said Welter, who experienced all aspects of building a business, including all the legal concerns. “I’m not caught up in the money. I want to learn about the business processes and become as knowledgeable as possible.”
After attending a surf conference in Florida and meeting with retail shop owners, Welter and Zuzolo were able to sell their hats in several “mom-and-pop” retail shops along the New England shoreline last summer and plan to do the same this year. But while the hats were initially viewed as a “shore thing,” Welter said they also see big sales in Minnesota, Colorado and Texas.
When Welter isn’t going to class, doing schoolwork or playing on the men’s lacrosse team, he works on Nantucket Buckets in a cubicle the business school has provided.
Leanna Lawter, assistant professor at the College of Business and adviser for the University’s Entrepreneurship Club, said Welter has a great brand, along with a market niche and quality product. She said she’s optimistic that he’ll be one of the University’s success stories.
“Graham is a great kid and has done a fantastic job of building a brand and his company,” said Lawter. “It is interesting because, like most entrepreneurs, his business is not a linear success. He has issues he has to work out—some bigger than others—as well as successes he can be proud of. But it is also a side business. His main job is to be a student who is also playing Division I lacrosse. Many times, we forget that our students are students first and their businesses ebb and flow depending on their time commitments.”
Both Ksiazek and Welter said they don’t have definite plans, but are going to see where the businesses take them.