Twin Sisters, Dual Passion: Where Family Business Meets Beach

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

To U.S. citizens, the idea of starting a family business, setting your own hours and working for yourself is a slice of the American dream. For twins Arrial and Gaelan Finnerty ’12, that dream is a reality. For many, being an entrepreneur is a full-time job. For others, being a full-time student is a full-time job. As food marketing majors at SJU, the twin-sister team has managed to build and grow a business while simultaneously pursuing their undergraduate degrees — not to mention their status as food marketing student ambassadors, the leadership positions they hold for Hawks Against Hunger and the fact that Arrial was just inducted into Alpha Iota Delta, the international honor society in decision sciences and information systems.

“Seeing the state of the economy and the job market,” says Gaelan, “we knew it would be great to have a business entity of our own. Knowing college kids would be one of our main targets, we wanted to start as soon as possible — while we were still college students ourselves.” It proved to be an astute business decision, well-timed and well-aimed toward an enormous demographic that they were right in the middle of. They launched their business in 2009.

“My idea of a visionary is someone who sees where they want to go, and takes actions and makes changes to get there,” says Richard George, Ph.D., professor and chair of food marketing. “A lot of people would like to start a business, but these siblings did it — and they did it as full-time students.”

Their first steps were brainstorming a company name, becoming a registered LLC and deciding what products to sell. The resulting brainchild was A&G Simply Summer.

“The inspiration for our company name, slogan and our trademarked shark fin logo (FINN) comes from the endless memories that we have shared growing up by the water,” says Arrial.

Perhaps the only thing better than working hard, following your dream and starting a family business is a relaxing summer vacation by the sea. The Finnertys have managed to blend work and play together with their beach-infused business. “Enjoy shopping Simply Summer,” their website states, “Because Summer Never Ends.”

They started small, making personalized patterned coffee mugs, bottle openers and ribbon key fobs by hand.

“We started with these three products because they were not a huge investment, they could be personalized and we could make them from our home,” explains Gaelan. “The first time we saw that these products could lead somewhere was when we took a box to the beach to sell at the cabanas. We went home with an empty box and a stack of orders for more products.”

The sisters tout their marketing training and time at SJU for enabling them to both build and grow their business. In the past year alone, they have attended over 25 events, selling their products and telling their story. “The knowledge we have received from our business courses has taught us a great deal about maintaining an organized business,” says Arrial. “Management, accounting, marketing and finance are all important in order to remain organized and to have a clear vision for the future of our company.”

“It has been really useful to be able to have the guidance of professors with experience in the field,” adds Gaelan. “Our time at SJU and what we have learned here has contributed greatly to A&G Simply Summer and will continue to influence where we take this company in years to come.”

Not only has the business proved successful enough that they have broken even on their initial investment, but they have expanded the business to include a clothing line, ocean-inspired jewelry, tote bags, wine glasses and other merchandise, the bulk of which they still design and manufacture from home. Their mother, Lisbeth Finnerty, also helps with the business.

“When choosing our designs, patterns and products, we stick to our theme of summer,” says Gaelan. “Anything bright, fun and nautical usually draws us in; most of our products are items we see ourselves using, and we usually end up bringing them to the beach to test out their appeal.”

Their FINN clothing line in particular has become extremely popular, proving its appeal both on and off the beach. In fact, their shark fin logo is a world traveler. One of their marketing campaigns, “FINN Spotted,” encourages FINN-fans to send in photos of themselves sporting their A&G Simply Summer clothing, and documents where the shark fin logo has been spotted worldwide.

On a more local level, they have campus representatives at several universities, including SJU. Their brother Craig Finnerty, also graduating in May with a degree in food marketing, acts as campus rep for SJU and has been an essential figure in gaining brand recognition and securing sales. All three students are advisees of George.

“In the Haub School of Business, we try to find people who will be successful,” says George, “and we got three!

“As professors, our role is two fold,” he says. “It is to help students lead a life and to earn a living. To see your students turn theory and educational training into a business is a terrific feeling. This is why I teach.”

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