Mar 22, 2014
07:03 AM
Style & Shopping

Pro Athletes Rockin' Sports Apparel Line of Connecticut College Senior

Pro Athletes Rockin' Sports Apparel Line of Connecticut College Senior

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jason Grilli wearing a PG Sports hat.

Before the Mercer University Bears defeated the devil last Friday (March 21) afternoon in an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament game—the Duke Blue Devils, that is—the logo shown below right was probably only familiar to the Georgia university’s students, those who follow Atlantic Sun Conference sports and truly “rabid” college basketball fans.

After the historic upset of a team much of America loves to loathe (in a collegiate competition sense), the menacing bear image will become ubiquitous, suddenly familiar to people everywhere. The longer Mercer stays in the tournament, the more widely known the logo will become, and a long run that creates sustained buzz and a cult-like aura for Mercer basketball could even translate into kids who had never heard of the school before sporting T-shirts bearing the image of the bear.

After all, the most powerful trickle-down aspect of college and professional sports is branding and the big business it drives—branding of the type that not only signals allegiance to a team but also represents the vibe of young people’s lifestyles; what they wear and how aren’t just fashion statements, they amount to a design tattoo of identity.

Making a splash in this arena, in a narrative some might judge unlikely, is West Haven native and Sacred Heart University senior Paul Guarino. Majoring in Sport Management—with a double-major in marketing before choosing a single focus—he’s also the creator and CEO of PG Sports, a line of branded sports and casual wear apparel that is anchored by T-shirts and hats.

By the time he hit age 19 and his junior year at the Catholic university in Fairfield, Guarino was already a success story with his apparel line—to the point where a 2012 Sacred Heart news story on Guarino quoted an assistant professor in SHU’s department of Economics and Finance, Dr. Russell Engel, as saying, “We expect to see our students do well in the classroom, but to see a student taking the initiative to start being an entrepreneur is pretty impressive. Most of the business professors didn’t even know he’s been doing this, but now we’re all impressed with the level of effort he’s putting in, as well as with the outcomes.”

Among the outcomes is Guarino’s ability to get his products seen on the right people—like  Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips (with Guarino, above), former New York Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, former Redskins Left Back Rob Jackson (also from West Haven) and Brooklyn Nets guard MarShon Brooks and center Brook Lopez. In all, 35 brand name athletes wear the PG brand.

Guarino has just over 6,800 followers on his Twitter account, and the PG Sports account has 32,700 followers. (“I just made T-shirts for fun to promote the Twitter page,” Guarino says on the phone; more on that in a bit.)

As he heads toward graduation, and considers options that include going to graduate school or continuing to foster PG Sports and, perhaps, combining it with his aspiration to be a sports agent, Guarino probably doesn’t need any more courses in marketing.

In fact, his success with branding and exposure seems to be a bit ahead of the curve in relation with development of the line and sales. If you click deep on the Facebook page, you’ll find images of the PG Sports logo on a number of different types of shirts and hats—and even on a sports bra—but the products section of the website currently offers a quartet of T-shirts and also shows the beanies (hats), which are sold out.

Guarino just wrapped up a Kickstarter campaign to raise $5,000, in order to “create new designs for apparel and possibly storage space.”

“We want to sell fresh affordable sports gear. I want PG Sports apparel to truly be everywhere & anywhere,” he writes of the campaign. “With your help I will be making 5 shirt designs (of each tee) and 5 different colored snapbacks (40 of each color).”

On the phone, Guarino estimates that he’s sold 600 T-shirts so far, and will sell another 500 as a result of the Kickstarter campaign.

If the total seems disproportionate to the impressive success Guarino has had in connecting with and impressing professional athletes (largely through reaching out initially on Twitter and social media), the ratio is nothing but a signal of the potential of PG Sports.

Its logo, which Guarino hired Corey Jeppesen to redesign in early 2012, is a winner. It’s clean, bold, graphic and magnetic; it's iconography that possesses exactly the right young and hip-but-also sophisticated aura. Combined with PG Sports’ messages, such as “Blood, Sweat, Success,” “Set Goals & Achieve” and “Everywhere & Anywhere,” the shirts add up to a uniquely Paul Guarino variation on “Just Do It.”

He’s more than “doing it.”

Beyond building a brand and business that has more breakout-success potential than even Guarino may realize, he has crafted a brand of entrepreneurship with a conscience. PG Sports products are proudly made in the U.S., and Guarino is proudly engaging the brand in philanthropic efforts.

The Sacred Heart story says PG Sports’ “most successful venture” was the fall 2012 release of a breast cancer awareness shirt. (logo, right) “A promise that 20 percent of proceeds would be donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure helped the shirts sell out in less than two weeks and resulted in a $250 donation,” the story said. Another subsequent year of cancer awareness shirts boosted the total donated to more than $500.

On the phone, Guarino talks about his new Military Collection shirts, which say “Support Our Troops” and sport the PG Sports logo. He’ll be donating some of the proceeds from the sale of those shirts (which cost $20) to the group Veteran Angler Charters, a non-profit that offers free charter fishing trips to active duty, retired, wounded and recovering veterans and their families.

PG Sports, Guarino says, will also be a sponsor at former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand's A Walk to Believe in June, “to raise awareness and funds for individuals with spinal cord injuries, quality-of-life initiatives, research, and [reach] the end zone for a cure.”

Asked what else is new, Guarino says, “Look out in the next few months for new professional athletes wearing PG Sports.” On the wish list for this major sports fan are boldface names with strong ties to Connecticut: Matt Harvey of the Mets, Jonathan Quick of the LA Kings, Dwight Freeney of the San Diego Chargers, and Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens.

Given Guarino’s track record, don’t be surprised to see photos of those very stars pop up on the PG Sports Facebook page wearing the branded gear that was conceived in the same incidental way some of the world’s most successful businesses are. (Here’s how a get works: Rob Jackson went to West Haven High and Guarino says, “That’s where I went. I hit him up on Facebook. He was all about it.”)

Another anecdote Guarino shares centers on Cincinnati Reds player Brandon Phillips:

"The summer of 2012 I got in contact with Reds 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips and he said he'd love to support PG Sports. I sent him the gear and he didn't follow me [on Twitter] so I couldn't direct message him to ask to tweet a picture. Then in September 2012 Brandon Phillips (@DatDudeBP) tweeted a picture to Topps Cards that he just signed cards and he was wearing a PG Sports hat. A couple weeks later a fan tweeted a picture and he saw Brandon at the mall and he wearing it again.
Then in May 2013 I just got done with my junior year of college and I was [talking] to one of my friends and he said he was going the Mets game vs the Reds. Two days before one of the games I got two front row seats ... . My friend Mike and I went early to see batting practice and hoping to meet Brandon Phillips. I didnt know the tickets were going to be right in the front ... but they were. So were watching them practice and ... I see Brandon on the field. Then I lost where he went and I turn around and he's standing next to seats near me. I waited until he was done talking to his friend. I turn to my friend and say, 'Whould I say Brandon or Mr Phillips.' He said Mr Phillips. So I say, 'Hey Mr Phillips,' and he turns around and I hand him a ball to sign. Then he does a double-take and said, 'I have a hat just like that,' and I said, 'I know I sent it to you.' And [he says], 'Ohh, what's up man. I'm Brandon, nice to meet ... I appreciate the gear.' Then I took a picture with him and he tweeted it out.

Here’s how it all started, in Guarino’s own words from the “Story” section of the PG Sports website:

“PG Sports was formed one night in the summer of 2011 by Paul Guarino.  Paul's love for sports is indescribable, so he decided to make a twitter page (@PGSports) dedicated to sports (updating people on the latest sports news). 
He wants to eventually make PG Sports a sports agency. With the help of his friends and family he has made PG Sports Tees (from Vio's in West Haven, CT), stickers, pens, etc. 
In early 2012 PG Sports Logo was redesigned by Corey Jeppesen. On March 28, he released the first T-Shirt of 2012, the Everywhere & Anywhere tee. Growing the brand through social media, he made more products such as hats, hoodies, and polos … .

“The success of this feels good,” Guarino said in the Sacred Heart story. “I wasn’t really expecting much, but it happened, so it’s kind of cool.”

As he ponders what will come next, Guarino still wants to work for a sports management agency, and, yes, he’s well aware of the potential synergy between that career and PG Sports. “I would have my clients wearing them,” he says of his products.

Follow his progress on the  PG Sports website, Facebook page and Twitter account, and on Guarino’s Twitter account.

And one last thing, by way of full disclosure:

Guarino was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy when he was in elementary school, and he now uses a wheelchair. “I only started using a wheelchair in 2011,” he says when asked about his condition. “I’m fine with it. I accept it. It is what it is.”

Why leave this information for last?

It doesn’t define who Guarino is or what he does; he’s just the “regular person” he always saw himself as growing up.

“Most of the time I never really tell the athletes that,” he says of his condition. It’s not a matter of hiding it. Guarino doesn’t want a detail to slow him down—because it doesn’t—or, inversely, to create an aura that he deserves special attention because of the Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

More important, it’s just not the imprint that defines him—that would be more like the image of a football spiraling toward a touchdown, or, even better, the PG Sports logo.

And if he deserves special attention, it's because through vision, passion, savvy marketing, dedication and a great product, he's poised for Major League results in the future.

 

Pro Athletes Rockin' Sports Apparel Line of Connecticut College Senior

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