Archive for Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Beware’ banners mean big business

Shawnee college student starts his own KU basketball memorabilia Web site

March 13, 2007

A University of Kansas student and Shawnee native did a favor for rabid KU basketball fans everywhere when he created his business earlier this year.

Will Miller, 2003 Shawnee Mission Northwest graduate, is giving fans the chance to own their own version of a banner that has become an icon in Allen Fieldhouse, the one that reads "Pay heed, all who enter: Beware of 'The Phog,'" selling it through a Web site he created. And with business well under way, the only question now is what Miller will do with it once he graduates.

The college senior has ventured into entrepreneurial business before, printing up KU-related T-shirts and creating his own Web site to sell them when he was a sophomore.

"That was more of a student underground sort of thing," Miller says. "Using what I learned from doing that little endeavor, I was able to do this pretty easily."

Miller got the idea for the banners when he was looking for one of his own last year.

"I wondered if I could buy one of those banners somewhere, and I looked into it and found out that you couldn't," he said. "I kind of sat on it for a while, and then over the summer I looked up the manufacturing information."

This time, Miller knew he needed to get all the appropriate rights. He went through the lengthy process of getting collegiate licensing to use the banner's phrase, which, though created by KU students in the 1980s, is now copyrighted through the school.

An aerospace engineering major, Miller admitted that setting up the business took both time and money that most college students don't have. But he was able to do most of the hard work in his free time over the summer, and he had saved up his money from working as an intern at Boeing.

"I had some padding as far as finances go, and my dad was willing to let me put the initial orders on my credit card," he said. "I took a lot of time up front, but now that I've got everything running smoothly it doesn't take that much time."

To get the word out, Miller took a three-day weekend in December to drive around to local sports bars who might want the banner. Johnny's Tavern took him up on the offer, buying banners for each of its locations, including the Shawnee bar. Miller also began advertising in the KU alumni magazine two months ago.

The banners are available in two versions and two sizes at Miller's Web site, There's the "old" banner, which the school created and hung in the fieldhouse from 1999 to 2006, and the "new" banner, which KU recently redesigned so the lettering better resembled the original student version.

A small, 34-inch-long version and a large, 8-foot-long version can be bought in either style.

Now, the business is up and running, and Miller has filled orders for KU basketball fans from Texas to Wisconsin and California to Virginia. Miller expects to do even better, when he can start advertising the banners at the beginning of the basketball season, rather than right in the middle of it.

Of course, next year, Miller likely won't be in Lawrence anymore. Miller said he's not sure what he'll do once he graduates, and though he's looking into graduate schools outside of Kansas, he says he should be able to keep the business going.

"My brother is a year younger, so he can do anything that needs to be done on campus," Miller said. "Hopefully I can run it remotely wherever I end up in the country."

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