Monday, September 15, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Philly Made: Philly Phaithful offers fans original t-shirts and insider sports jokes

Philly Phaithful's origin story, like most other great origin stories, begins with someone quitting his job and re-purposing a room his childhood home. Daniel Hershberg was working in an ESPN production truck in Los Angeles covering the X Games in 2008 when he called his parents and informed them that he was going to quit his job.

Philly Made: Philly Phaithful offers fans original t-shirts and insider sports jokes

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Philly Phaithful's origin story, like most other great origin stories, begins with someone quitting his job and re-purposing a room his childhood home. Daniel Hershberg was working in an ESPN production truck in Los Angeles covering the X Games in 2008 when he called his parents and informed them that he was going to quit his job and move back home to start a T-shirt company.

Hershberg's flux capacitor moment came only after his cousin, a fellow Cornell grad, was up in Boston and heard about Chowdaheadz through the friend of a friend of someone's girlfriend's neighbor's hairdresser, or whatever.

"It wasn't even my idea," Hershberg says of Philly Phaithful. "My cousin called me up when he saw Chowdaheadz and, basically, said that he thought that, with my knowledge and passion for Philly sports, I could do something similar, but with better designs and execution."

He had always wanted his own company, Hershberg's father, a Ph.D. and head of Penn's Center for Greater Philadelphia, had always told his son that, if he really wanted to be happy with what he did, he would have to be his own boss.

"I've never been afraid of hard work," Hershberg says. "I was always OK with the 'come early, stay late' mentality. But, when you're doing that in a corproate environment, you're not getting the same kind of return. And I was working in the 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. window that is sports television production."

So, he moved home and turned his childhood bedroom into an office. He started to conceptualize some designs that were actually created by some of his ESPN coworkers. He worked out a website design and went live with 12 different shirts later that year.

For a while, Hershberg and Philly Phaithful handled the increased business from that same bedroom/office in his parents' Mt. Airy home. Even when he moved out a year after leaving ESPN, he still ran Philly Phaitful from that room, peddling his goods in K Lot and at the games.

His first big "we made it" moment came when Hershberg was at a Flyers game shamelessly rocking his own merch and doling out business cards (don't knock the hustle) whenever fans asked him where he copped his "You can't spell Crosby without 'CRY'" shirt." One woman came up and said that she was close with Flyers goaltender Marty Biron and invited Hershberg to meet the net-minder at Chickie's & Pete's after the game. It's the future and the Internet exists, so the subsequent picture of Biron holding up the shirt grabbed the attention of the Puck Daddy folks and suddenly this Philly Phaithful thing had legs.

The lore only grew when Chris Pronger's wife caught wind of the "Harder, better, faster, Pronger" jawn and ordered a bunch. Which led to Kimmo Timonen's better half placing an order for his shirt.

"Suddenly, I was getting texts and emails from people who were talking about how they saw Scott Hartnell riding a horse in Hawaii with Matt Carle while wearing my Kimmo Timonen shirt," Hershberg says. "I used to geek-out when I saw someone wearing my shirt. That feeling doesn't really get old."

Philly Phaithful's most popular shirt?

"'Schmidt Happens' and it's not even close," Hershberg gushes. "We sell it it men's, women's, boys, girls, baby onsies. It's by far our biggest-seller, which is great because it proves that everyone loves a good porn stache."

As the orders came rolling in, Hershberg wanted to expand the business, but didn't see much point in advertising. That, and he was sick of an apartment littered with envelopes and piles of T-shirts. So, he opted for a brick and mortar retail spot.

His 1,600 square-foot showroom/event space/shipment warehouse in Northern Liberties looks more like a celebrity's screening room from Cribs than a clothing boutique. It's equipped with a kegerator (duh), a pair of Veterans Stadium seats (of course), and touts a 16-foot projection screen on the far wall. A choice quote from Sir Charles fills the space between the shelves displaying a litany of shirts that double as inside jokes for diehard Philly sports fans.

Philly Phaithful's showroom at Fourth and Brown has hosted fantasy football drafts, bachelor parties, birthday parties, and the like. But, really, the impetuous for the physical location was to host sports-related events for Philly fans.

"I just wanted a place where I could grow my brand and get a bunch of Philly fans together to watch games," Hershberg explains. "I mean, if they're here and they buy a shirt on their way out, great. But, that's not really what the move was about."

Most recently, its been the home to Olympic watch parties, where fans get together to marvel at the wonder that is T.J. Oshie and the U.S. Olympic Hockey team. (For those of you who are interested, Philly Phaithful will be hosting watch parties for Friday's semi-final game against Canada and Sunday's medal game).

As he talks about the showroom, Hershberg is packing up T.J. Oshie-themed shirts that were ordered as part of a limited-time offer from his latest baby, Rivalry Wear. The new site allows fans from different cities to compete with each other, sharing deals with their friends to bring the price of their merchandise down. Basically, you commit to buying a shirt and then share the deal on Twitter and Facebook. The more people that buy, the cheaper the price of the item becomes.

Rivalry Wear is somewhat self-sustaining. The deals are pre-set to begin and expire. The orders are placed in advance. That little bit of automation makes it much more hands-off than Philly Phaithful, which Hershberg says is only as successful as Philly's professional sports franchises.

The Phillies just signed Marlon Byrd to a two-year deal. Hamels won't be ready for Opening Day. The Sixers have lost 13 of their last 15.

Good luck.

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