The Fanspired: An Origin Story
The Fanspired was opened online in November of 2018. It was not crafted after years of entrepreneurial experience, wasn't motivated by a business degree, and didn't have a fully constructed business plan sitting on a desk when opening day came around. Once the seed of an idea was planted, the Fanspired exploded from the ground and stretched for the sky in a relatively short amount of time as far as starting a business usually goes. Fueled by passion, hope, inspiration, (and perhaps a tad bit of desperation), The Fanspired was a project combining decades of heart, hurt, and healing for its founder. This is her story.
This article was published by Martha Andrus, in the Murray Ledger and Times on December 4, 2020. The link for the original article is provided. It has been copied here with the correct link to the Fanspired website, a correction which was printed in the Murray Ledger and Times in the December 7, 2020 issue.
Sara Straub is the daughter of my Murray High School classmate and friend Kathy Farrell Straub. Kathy recently moved back home to Murray from her retirement home in Florida, and Sara made the move with her mother. Sara’s grandparents are the late Dr. Richard “Doc” Farrell and Bea Farrell.
Sara did as most kids do, graduated from high school and then graduated from the University of the Cumberlands (Cumberland College when Sara was a student). But instead of venturing out into the job market, Sara’s journey into entrepreneurship took a long, winding road, but she is now right where she wants to be in terms of her passion of establishing her own company.
Sara began an online company called The Fanspired in 2018, but her journey into how she became the owner of this business is the story, and a testament to perseverance. Her move to Murray with her mother may also lead her to her ultimate business goal.
The Fanspired is an online company which specializes in pop culture and sports merchandise, along with other merchandise including clothing, holiday, and housewares. In fact, The Fanspired has eight different departments of online shopping available. The definition of pop culture is name brands such as Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, to name a few. These are the bigger names and pop culture derives mostly from characters in movies and television.
This is Sara’s journey:
Sara grew up in Florence, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. After high school gradation, she attended Cumberland College which included a debate scholarship. She had a double major in communication arts and philosophy and religion.
Sara grew up being in the sports world. Her father was a high school football coach and Sara said she just drifted more into sports than maybe most girls.
“I am pretty sure I learned how to throw a ball before I learned to walk,” Sara said. “I played baseball, basketball, was the kickball captain on the playground in elementary school, and even walked on as a member of the volleyball team at college."
“I was and am a huge Reds fan, Bengals fan, and I bleed blue come basketball season.”
After college graduation, Sara interned for the Cincinnati Reds and felt she was on the path to her dream job.
“The Reds stadium is my ‘happy place,’” said Sara. “The internship was an amazing experience.”
When an open position came up in the organization, Sara applied, but found out that her lack of a statistics class kept her from being hired. She decided to go back to school to pursue a master’s degree and take a stats class along the way in the hopes that she would secure her dream job.
“When I decided to go to graduate school, I applied to the University of Kentucky and University of Oklahoma,” said Sara. “I had a friend in Oklahoma I knew from our debate team days and he told me to come out to Oklahoma and help coach the speech team with him. Oklahoma offered me an assistantship and Kentucky didn’t, so I packed my bags and left for Oklahoma.”
While Sara was at Oklahoma, her mother was diagnosed with cancer.
“I was in my second semester,” she said. “I asked one of my professors if I could wait and take my mid-term exam after spring break. It was the only final I had and it was in an elective class. I wanted to be with my Mom while she underwent her first chemotherapy session, but the professor said no. I asked him what were my options and he told me it was to either take the exam at the scheduled time or fail the class if I did not.”
Sara said she did not want to fail, so she dropped the class. During her last semester, she was told by her advisor that she could either write a thesis, which would probably take another year, or she could take the comprehensive examinations.
“I wanted to take the exams and be done with it,” said Sara. “But then I found out I was one class shy of being able to take the exam (the class I dropped). So then I am trying to figure out what to do. I was advised to stay one more semester, apply for the PhD program and one class would complete my master’s and the other classes would start me on a PhD degree. I just wanted to finish my master’s degree, so I elected to continue toward a PhD. This was in 2009-10.”
Sara considered applying for a job with the Reds again, but every sports team was on a hiring freeze.
“A lot of my friends who had graduated and began working at good jobs in their field of study had lost their jobs because they were one of the newer employees. I decided if I stayed in school, at least I was doing something.”
Sara began her fourth year and was on schedule to finish her dissertation.
“All of a sudden my advisor quit,” Sara said. “She didn’t just quit teaching, she quit academia all together. I was tossed around from one advisor to another and finally found one who would help me. My master’s degree was in sports communication - how sport is used to communicate identity. No one really had any idea about this subject. My advisor told me that she had her work, her advisees work and then mine. I told her I was scheduled to graduate on time and she told me that probably was not going to happen.”
Sara continued to work on her dissertation for about seven months and then she received an email in March informing her that she was now a part-time student and she had to start paying back her student loan.
“The interest on my debt kicked in at $700 a month,” she said. “Oklahoma had slashed funding for public schools and for the first time they could not help fifth year students.”
So Sara did what most children do, she called her mother and asked her if she wanted a roommate.
“At the age of 29, I moved to a retirement community in Florida with my Mom. I just couldn’t afford rent and a $700 payment only being able to work part-time and work on my dissertation. So I ended up with a PhD ABD (all but dissertation).”
Sara began working two part-time jobs in Florida, one of those being retail.
“I wasn’t finding much time to work on my dissertation,” Sara said.” After a year, I had only finished a couple of chapters and the semester was starting. I was basically working full-time with two part-time jobs and I decided I just needed to find a full time job. But, of course, none of them required a PhD unless I wanted to teach and I decided I did not want to be a teacher. It was only my ticket to free tuition. And if I didn’t want to be a teacher, I didn’t really need a PhD.”
Sara found that most of the jobs required work experience, which she did not have except for teaching, so she was going around in circles.
“I had out educated myself,” she said.
Sara began working at a retail clothing store and in seven months had moved up to be assistant manager.
“But retail just finally wore me out and I quit,” she said.
She took a few months off and worked for a while at a nonprofit.
“The job I was doing involved empowering low income women to help them become economically stable and dependent by starting their own business or receiving some kind of training. This position was funded by a grant, the grant ended and so did my position.”
During the process of finding a permanent job, she encountered the same obstacles - she had a PhD, retail management experience, teaching experience and couldn’t find a job in the corporate world.
About a month later, Sara was talking with a woman she had become friends with during her time working at the nonprofit, who was a business coach.
“We decided that we had been telling these women to strike out on their own and I needed to do the same,” she said.
Sara initially began a web design company helping businesses set up a website.
But a small act of purchasing a birthday present for a friend is what began her process into entrepreneurship.
“A friend’s birthday was coming up and I wanted to buy her a Pop,” she said. “I didn’t own one at the time, but I found a Black Panther Pop online for $30, but it was a Target exclusive which sold for $10. After checking Target’s website, I found they were sold out and a light bulb moment happened. I realized what people were doing. They were buying these and when they were no longer available, they were putting them up for sale at two or three times the original price, and I thought …I can do this. I love pop culture and I realized I could do this also with sports stuff and decided this was what I was going to do.”
The next morning Sara asked her Mom if she wanted to go shopping.
“My father had just passed away and had left me some money. I could use it to pay off some of my student loan or I could take it and do what I felt like was an investment in my future and that is what I decided to do.”
Sara and her Mom hit the stores which sold pop culture [merchandise] like Target, Hot Topic and BoxLunch.
“I started with the Pops and I bought some on E-bay from this guy in Michigan. He sent me a message to tell me that he couldn’t sell it to me in a box [it was broken] and asked if I was a collector. I told him I was not, this was my first purchase, but that I was thinking of opening a store. He told me to hit him up when I decided and gave me his website address and told me he would help me out.”
Sara set up a website and reached out to the man again and they continued talking about what she was doing and he would give her advice. She also bought some inventory from him.
“He would let me order pieces in smaller quantities where I could have a wider selection that people couldn’t find in the stores.”
They have continued to stay in touch since she began her business. The man has a store in Three Oaks, Michigan, and also a website called [sic] CollectorZown.
“They sell high end statues, figures and art,” Sara said. “They have top-tier merchandise. He told me he wanted to expand his business, CollectorZown, into another small town like where he is located. And he wanted me to run the store. I immediately told him yes! He said that it sounded to him like Murray might work and he plans to come down and look around. We would call the store CollectorZown Kentucky.”
Sara said she would continue to keep her own business going.
“We are putting out some feelers to see how responsive people might be to this idea. For the regular collector, it would be an opportunity to get them into my online store for the Pops, mugs, clothing, posters, etc., that I sell and then that [they] would graduate into CollectorZown for those who are or become serious collectors.”
Sara said during the time she has had her own store, she has worked part time to pay bills and her student loan. She has also been teaching some college-level public speaking classes online for the University of the Cumberlands.
Sara said when this idea occurred to her she looked around her bedroom.
“I had a lot of sports bobble heads, but not one single Pop and wondered why that was. I like pop culture stuff and I wanted to embrace both. There is nowhere someone can purchase these at the same place. I am a fan of both and I want to be able to shop for both at one place. The idea behind The Fanspired is there is a common ground about being a fan of sports [like tailgating] or one can dress up as their favorite character and go to a Comic-Con.”
Sara said the sports collectible market is hard to get into and is expensive, but she can find unique items in pop culture.
Sara also has a The Fanspired Facebook page, and she just began another Facebook Group called The Fanspired Fanspiration.
“The idea behind this was to create a community so that people could come and share what inspires them to be a fan. I want it to be more interactive with members posting pictures, such as at a movie premiere. I don’t want this group to be [just] about selling things. I want people to join and participate.”
Sara says one of her top selling items is a Harry Potter wand display holder.
“I had seen one on an Etsy sight,” she said. “I have a friend in Florida who builds furniture in his spare time and I asked him if he could make this and he said he could. I can’t keep them in stock.”
Sara said they make sure that what they ship to customers is in mint condition.
“Collecting is an investment for most,” she said. “People are serious about their Pop[s] and the boxes they come in. If I get a Pops with a box that has a dent or crease, I keep it and add to my collection because I can’t sell it. We do tell our customers up front that we are not responsible for the condition of the box during shipping.”
Sara said she shut her business down for the better part of this year because of COVID and when her mother decided she wanted to move back to Murray. "I couldn’t pack up everything and have orders coming in and not be able to find the merchandise. It was just better for me to shut it down until I was settled." The business has been back online since October.
“This was kind of a spur-of-the-moment decision for my Mom, which she doesn’t usually do,” Sara said. “But she and I love the change of seasons and we found the perfect house. There is an extra free-standing garage at the house where I can store my merchandise and there is room for my Mom and I have to have our “separate” living quarters."
“I look forward to working on a store in Murray for CollectorZown Kentucky. I miss the person-to-person sales, because collecting is personal.”
So for Sara, the journey of academia, or the frustrations of academia, and the idea of buying a friend a Pop for her birthday culminated in her finding her way to a business she is totally dedicated to and one she thoroughly enjoys.
One day soon there may be a CollectorZown Kentucky in our community. But until then, if you are interested or a collector of pop culture [merchandise], visit thefanspired.com.
Sara had visited Murray, but had never lived here, and now she finds that the hometown of her mother might just be the key to her future.