No way of knowing for sure, but I hope I’m smarter than a fifth-grader … although maybe not as smart as Miss Cochrane’s bunch.
Jennifer Cochrane is a fifth-grade teacher at Cordley School, and I was delegated to serve as a Junior Achievement volunteer in her class last week.
Using the JA curriculum, I explained to her bright and inquisitive fifth-graders about job skills, resources, supply, demand and entrepreneurship, among other things.
But I didn’t tell them about Larry Sinks. I didn’t tell the Cordley fifth-graders how an entrepreneur can lose his shirt in the T-shirt business.
To be an entrepreneur, I told the class, you have to combine imagination, innovative thinking and management skills to start a business.
That’s what Sinks did. He found a niche that appealed mostly to Kansas University students. He marketed T-shirts — some inane, some brash, some risqué — and the students loved them.
Not a single one of Sinks’ T-shirts contained the words “Jayhawk” or “KU” or the logos licensed to the university and administered by Kansas Athletics Inc. But the T-shirts were blue and contained references that were clearly KU-oriented, and a jury ordered Sinks to pay $127,000 in damages.
Then a judge ruled Sinks had to pay an additional $650,000 in legal fees.
Finally, on Monday, we learned Sinks and KAI had settled out of court. Clearly, one of the terms of the agreement was for Sinks to cease and desist. He did. He shut his business down and agreed never to print T-shirts again.
Perhaps even worse, Sinks had to issue a public apology.
What else could he do? What would you do if you were ordered to cough up more than three-quarters of a million dollars because you were the entrepreneur of a small business and you ran afoul of a large corporation?
On the last day of his close-out sale, I ran into Sinks in front of his store on Massachusetts Street. The place was teeming with customers, and he confirmed business had been brisk.
So here was an entrepreneur who still had a demand for what he could supply, and yet he had to go out of business because of what, in my opinion, were loosely applied trademark restrictions.
Let me interject here that I’ve known Sinks since he was a little boy. His father, Lawrence, was a printer for the Journal-World, and we played together on the J-W softball team. So if you want to accuse me of prejudice, so be it.
On the flip side, I’m sure I’m not alone in believing KAI’s ogre-like appetite for the almighty dollar in the Sinks affair sent the wrong message. Instead of co-existing with Sinks, Kansas Athletics Inc. polarized town-gown relations while sending this message to future entrepreneurs: “Don’t mess with us.”
It’s also the wrong message to send to fifth-graders who someday may want to do more than simply sell lemonade on the street corner.
So here’s my advice to Brendan, Olivia, Lourdes, Lesly, Jazmyne, Brittney, Stephanie, Abby, Tari, Kameron, Corey, Tanner, Jazlyn, Emilynn, Blake and Azariah:
Be bold, be imaginative and be innovative. Don’t let what happened to Larry Sinks deter you.