A Brand New Game

For these athletes, entrepreneurship is the next playing field

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ORONDE GADSDEN: PLAYING A NEW GAME OFF THE GRIDIRON
Oronde Gadsden started Original Gear Inc. back in 1999, but his apparel company has been mostly kept on the back burner. That was the case until the 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound wide receiver most recently with the Miami Dolphins was forced to go under the knife at the beginning of last season. The operation forced him into a new arena: cutting deals. Today, those efforts are beginning to pay off, thanks to a lucrative agreement he’s discussing with retail powerhouse Federated Department Stores.

During the first few weeks of the 2002 NFL football season, Gadsden was having a solid year. In six games, he averaged 14.2 yards per reception and in his last game on Oct. 13 with the Denver Broncos, he had five receptions for 77 yards. In the third quarter, Quarterback Jay Fiedler connected with Gadsden, who was cradling the ball in his hands to prevent a fumble while rushing downfield to gain extra yardage. On that play, a defender’s helmet struck Gadsden on the wrist, tearing a ligament. The five-year veteran opted to undergo a season-ending wrist surgery rather than risk further injury by continuing to play.

Since Gadsden had been focused on his football career, Original Gear never really got off the ground. The line had been relegated to some 37 mom-and-pop retail outlets in Florida and Georgia. Gross sales for 2002 were roughly $100,000. But the sidelined athlete was determined to make his business gain significant yardage. “I got serious for the first time,” he explains. “I finally hired a staff, six people, including a designer and s
ales people.” But Original Gear needed to get into the big stores to make the big money. Gadsden brought on Charlene Marsh, a high-powered consultant who had connections within large retail chains.

Gadsden’s game plan was coming together. With Marsh’s help, he was able to secure a meeting with Federated’s buying brass last December. But then a life-threatening, business-debilitating crisis hit. One day before the big meeting, Marsh suffered a heart attack. Fortunately, it was mild, and she was back on her feet after several days. With some last minute rescheduling, Gadsden was able to push the meeting to mid-December. “Thank God she pulled through and everything was all right,” says Gadsden.

Gadsden flew into Cincinnati and began discussions to supply Original Gear to 40 stores in the Atlanta area. He expects preliminary orders of roughly 3,000 pieces, and if the items sell, it will open the door to larger orders from other stores under the Federated umbrella. Gadsden expects revenues to increase more than 400% to nearly $500,000. “We’re just going into 40 to 50 stores, but if the tests go pretty well, then sky’s the limit.”

With his cast removed after meeting with Federated, Gadsden plans to devote his time to his two passions: football and entrepreneurship. While working on expanding operations, which include purchasing a larger warehouse, hiring staff, and expanding office space, he’ll also prepare to return to the gridiron. “We have

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