Have you ever felt like you wanted to excel in more areas than the one you’re establishing yourself in? Well, don't doubt it's possible! We spoke with successful entrepreneur OJ Barker about his experience and successes in all his areas of business. Born and raised in Buffalo, NY, OJ plans to be a part of bringing the bustle back into the city. OJ attended Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for elementary education. It was during his time there that he realized a career in teaching wouldn’t make him the money that he was looking to make. He saw more promise in working for himself and with that, an entrepreneur was born. He started to link up with some of his peers that had the similar entrepreneurial mindset and together they have successfully brought to life ideas that have changed the way things are done in Buffalo.
The first of his great successes as a businessman was “OJ Presents” a party hosting
and promoting company. Hosting events came so naturally to him that he describes it simply as
coming up with a theme and getting the word out. One of his first parties was centered around
the sneaker release of a pair of Jordans. He even gave discounted entry to anyone who showed up
to the party wearing the new sneakers. One of the biggest and most anticipated events in
Western New York is his annual birthday celebration. So much time and energy is invested in the
planning and promotion of his events. One of his main focuses is providing a premier party
environment for the Western New York area by setting a stricter dress code and having themes that encourage a more sophisticated party environment. His team is hoping to change the “I don't want to pay $20 to go out in Buffalo” and the “I'm not getting dressed up to go out here” attitudes that a lot of people in the city have as well as attract more attention to the area. Through the parties, concerts, and possibly a music festival later down the line he is looking to continue to give people quality events
to dress their best and enjoy themselves without any negativity or drama in the atmosphere. But
parties is just the beginning.
While OJ was away for college one of his close friends Lindsey Taylor, founder of
Crown Entertainment began the “Ballin for a Cause” 5 on 5 charity basketball tournament in
2007. Immediately after OJ returned to Buffalo, Taylor offered him a place on the “Ballin
for a Cause” (B4AC) team. Even though he had played in the tournament before it wasn't
until he sat down to met with the planning committee and started going over the details that he realized how major the event could become. Since then B4AC has been all about
expansion. In 2012 the team experimented expanding outside of Buffalo and took the
tournament to Baltimore, MD, but unfortunately, it wasn't as successful as they’d hoped.
After more planning, B4AC is successfully going 11 years strong and has expanded to cities like Akron, Ohio, Erie PA, and Toronto Canada. They have even added women and children divisions to the tournament. Winners of the tournament are awarded cash prizes and free entry into future tournaments. B4AC also teamed up with Odds 2 Beat Enterprises to offer basketball skills training to the youth in Pittsburgh and Buffalo during one of the tournament weekends. The tournament started as something the team was funding out of pocket and no one was taking profit from it. Now the Ballin’ for a Cause team works with sponsors to put on the event. Initially proceeds from the tournament were donated to the Sarah Minnie Badger Foster Care Agency but after the untimely death of Jireh Williams, a friend of Taylor and Barker, the “Jireh D. Williams We Achieve Scholarship” was created to celebrate his life and give back to local high school seniors. Since 2013 the We Achieve Scholarship has raised over $10,000 and provided to more than 10 seniors for their college educations. Currently, proceeds are split between the scholarship fund and the winning team’s charity of choice in efforts to get the players involved in giving back as well.
You would think that with all this planning and giving back that’d be enough for OJ to handle. You’re wrong! After getting comfortable working with the B4AC team, OJ reached out to another friend in
hopes to come up with another great idea. He pitched the idea of making hats to his friend
Jason Turley. Turley then introduced him to a phrase he commonly used, "GUAGGI" an
acronym for "Get Up And Go Get It" and thus GUAGGI caps was created. The GUAGGI logo is a
trophy on top of a pyramid of stairs representing the climb to your goal. Since then the
brand has expanded to tee shirts, sportswear, and more detailed work like sweatshirts with
hand stitching. The brand also has a blog and a few books under its belt. The GUAGGI team
hopes to take the brand to a place where it can help “bring some hope back to Buffalo”.
Originally, Barker was looking to gain more exposure for the clothing line and possibly get it
into a few clothing store chains. Quickly things changed and now GUAGGI has 2 physical stores of their own. The first store opened up at the Northlake Mall in Charlotte North Carolina and the second in Buffalo, New York at the Walden Galleria Mall. The team is looking to make the brand something that's loved worldwide.
While working with Crown Entertainment, Enkore Entertainment, Ballin for a Cause, and most of all GUAGGI, OJ has learned the importance of having your paperwork straight. He wants to stress to those who are going into business that copyrighting isn't enough! Every original logo, slogan, or phrase you print needs to be trademarked. This is important because of the value of your ideas. If your paperwork isn't done and 10 years from now your idea flourishes someone can take away all that you've worked to establish. He also advises other young entrepreneurs to heavily weigh all options before agreeing to make any business moves because everything isn't always what it seems in the business world. He uses manufacturing offers as an example. A company may offer a great price but, but that doesn’t mean the quality is the best. OJ’s most important role in all that he contributes to is marketing and he is constantly working on gaining exposure in any way possible for all three businesses. He promotes the events and businesses he works with through posters, flyers, occasional text blasts, and of course social media. How does OJ feel about the way social media has affected business over the years? He was very clear in saying that it has helped tremendously. At the beginning of his involvement in parties, MySpace was his primary tool, soon after came Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and he even utilizes SnapChat as a resource to spread knowledge about the things he is putting out. With so many social media friends, it’s a way to quickly and effectively let everyone know what you’re doing even when you don’t have the time to contact everyone individually.
OJ started out simply hosting parties and now he has his hands on everything he can from charity to clothing and simply wants to help others.