Jonathan J. Higuera

Gnombre picks up steam

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EDUCATION BRIEFS
Mexico and U.S. stars align – finally

You may have heard about Gnombre, the Latino gnome created by Aram Chavez of Tempe. While having dinner on the lush patio of El Zocalo in downtown Chandler in 2010, the idea popped into his head that the space could use a gnome. But not just your standard gnome, rather a Latino gnome. Hence, the idea of the Gnombre was born.

After bringing his wife, sister and brother-in-law in on the project, Chavez used some of the same tactics and strategies he’s advised his students to use. They put the Gnombre product on kickstarter.com, a crowd-funding Internet site that lets inventors, innovators and artists put their products out to an audience as a precursor to ramped up production.

If the idea sells, the person or company has evidence that its product could merit greater investment.

“It’s really a referendum for the inventor, innovator or artist on whether it’s something the market wants.”

In Chavez’s case, Gnombre did well, very well. It earned over $11,000 in orders during its 34-day run on kickstarter. At $30 per Gnombre, the success on kickstarter encouraged Chavez, who teaches entrepreneurship classes at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, to move forward with production.

He formed a company, Gnombre, Inc., and, in May, started picking up retail orders. Gnombre, who sports a nice bigote and sombrero, can be found at three Jerry’s Home Improvement Centers in Oregon, Bachman’s, which has seven stores in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and an online site, and D&B Supply in Idaho and Oregon. It also can be found at GardenFun.com.

And, 30 percent of his sales have come from Arizona. Gnombres can be found at Ace Hardware Supply on Broadway and Rural in Tempe and at Fig’s in central Phoenix.

The new orders did require Chavez to start producing the Gnombre in China, starting in July.

“Prior to China, we did a lot of Gnombres on our own,” he said. “We had a friend paint them; a guy in LA did prototypes made of polyresin. But, we could only do very few of them.”

If Chavez is shocked by its popularity, he’s handling it with the aplomb and grace of a veteran entrepreneur. In August, the company released Shalom Gnome and Gnombrita (described as Gnombre’s better half).

And coming soon will be gnomes representing African American World War II airmen and Buffalo Soldiers.

“The idea is to display the better part of our cultures,” explains Chavez, who was born and raised in Tempe and received his MBA from Thunderbird. “We did have one person say they’ve never seen anyone of Mexican descent wearing a sombrero. We told her to lighten up.”

Now the Gnombre is selling for $40 and Gnombrita will be available via kickstarter.com in September.

For Chavez, putting the advice he gives students to the test is one of the best outcomes of his venture.

“Entrepreneurship isn’t about the old biz plan anymore,” he says. “Technology allows it to work real time.”

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