Teen entrepreneur makes her mark with Chief Little Owl sticker
While most teenagers are focused on getting their driver’s license, finding the perfect prom date and prepping for the SATs, Erica Szymanski of Annapolis, Md., is hard at work running her own business — one with a local connection.
The 18-year-old high school senior created Erica Morgan Designs at the age of 15, after creating a whimsical beach decal for her mom.
“My mom really wanted a car decal of the Bethany Beach ‘totem pole.’ The ones on the market already were photographs of the totem pole or in kind of drab colors, and she wanted a preppy version of it. She asked if I could paint her a version of it, so I painted her a preppy pink-and-green version,” recalled Szymanski.
“The manufacturer required a minimum order of 100, so I gave the first to her and sold the other 99 to stores on the Bethany Beach boardwalk. I eventually expanded for other locations and more stores. Now, over 30 stores carry my products.”
Szymanski’s family has been vacationing in Bethany Beach since she was in middle school.
“My family started going to Bethany when I was in middle-school. We love that it’s ‘the Quiet Resort’ and just kept coming back year after year. It was natural that was my first location to start painting.”
After creating her “Chief Little Owl” decal, Szymanski expanded her offerings.
“After that, I wanted to make decals for other places that are important to me, other coastal areas on the East Coast. I’ve made ones for Maryland, a general Delaware decal, Cape May, Virginia Beach, Nantucket, Charleston…
“I eventually want to expand to more locations and create different local art for more beach towns on the East Coast. But my main interest is style design, and I use the decals as a way to test the market for that… Textiles, pillows, shower curtains, comforters, things of that nature. That would be my end-goal.”
Philanthropy is also important to Szymanski, who has donated the proceeds of sales from some of her artwork to charities. For instance, following the tragic May 31 Virginia Beach shooting, Szymanski created a King Neptune design, inspired by her car decal, to raise money for the victims and their families, with 75 percent of the funds made from items sold on RedBubble.com to be donated.
“Following the shooting in Annapolis, I made an ‘Annapolis Strong’ sticker. I partnered with a store, and we donated $5 from every sticker purchased to the Capitol Gazette families fund to cover medical and funeral costs, and counseling for the families. With that fundraiser, we sold 250 stickers. That was $1,250 for the fund.”
Szymanski’s products are unique in that she creates each design using watercolor or acrylic paint.
“The decals already on the market are mostly photographs or digitally-created artwork. I paint all of my decals first and then scan in the paintings.”
Szymanski’s artistic talents include art and dance, which she continues to participate in while running her business.
“I’ve always enjoyed art. I also dance and am involved in performances in my school and out, so the arts have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve done All-County Art as well,” said Morgan, who also participated in the Anne Arundel County Gifted & Talented Art program. “I submitted a portfolio for that, and then in eighth grade and a few years in high school I would go paint with a bunch of artists on Saturdays. We would have a bunch of prompts to build our portfolio.”
Entrepreneurship was something that interested Szymanski from a young age.
“I started with my first business at age 11, selling sharks’ teeth on the side of the road, instead of lemonade, she said with a laugh. “I’ve come a long way from there.
“Another thing I made as a child were Kleenex tissue covers. I would sew these covers for pocket tissue packs that you keep in your purse. I made them for family and friends first, and then I would stock up on all these things I made and didn’t know what to do with them. Selling them just seemed like a good way to get rid of them, in my mind.
“Then I realized I could turn my artwork and passions into a business. It’s something that always felt natural to me. I realized my main passion was art, and turning it into a business was a natural progression.”
Szymanski said she’s still deciding where to attend college but already knows she wants to pursue a career in business.
“I definitely want to go to a business school and study entrepreneurship.”
And, if creating her own line of decals, magnets and shirts wasn’t enough, Szymanski will be publishing her first children’s book later this summer.
“I actually wrote the book in elementary school. It was inspired by trips to collect shark teeth on the Eastern Shore,” she said. “Basically, it’s a shark tooth-fairy book. It combines both the feminine aspect of the tooth fairy, with sharks and underwater scenery, also geared toward boys. So, it captures both genders in there.
“It’s wonderful seeing all of my creative ideas and the time I’ve poured into it come to fruition. I can’t wait to see the physical copy of the book I’ve been working on for so long.”
Szymanski has a contract with Mascot Books to publish the book and is working with an illustrator.
“I wrote a script for the book but I didn’t illustrate it at the time,” she explained. “Being a senior in high school now, I decided to finally publish the book before I go off to college. I’m working with an illustrator. I came up with the concepts of the illustrations but paid someone to create my concepts digitally.
“We started working on the illustrations back and forth since the fall of last year. I started with making a storyboard of thumbnail pictures of the illustrations and spreads for the book, and did watercolor paintings for the spreads as well and sent them to the illustrator. Then she created a digital concept of my illustrations.”
The book will be sold online through Mascot Books and on Amazon.com; however, she also plans to have it available in bookstores and boutiques across the East Coast.
“It includes some scenery of the Eastern Shore, so it’s perfect.”
Szymanski received funding to work with an illustrator after participating in a “Shark Tank”-style competition.
“I recently entered into a business pitch competition with my book contract at Anne Arundel Community College. I had pitched the concept for my children’s book, and I won seed funding to pay for the publishing of the book,” she said. “I had to write a business plan, and then I advanced to the live pitch round, where I got up in front of judges, pitched for a few minutes, had a Q&A, and then they dispersed funds among the winners. I got my full asking.”
With Erica Morgan Designs and, now, Erica Morgan Books, Szymanski continues to expand her business. And, at just 18, who knows where she’ll go next?
“I’m very excited about my book, and it was a great experience finally being able to share a little bit about it. The response has been overwhelming. I’ve already gotten offers for book signings, and a lot of people are trying to pre-order it already. I’m excited for it to come out and share my story with the world.
“I do plan on writing more books. First, I want to successfully launch this one and then I’ll go from there,” she said with a laugh.
To learn more about Erica Morgan Designs, visit www.ericamorgandesigns.com.
By Maria Counts
Erica Morgan Design items may
be purchased at the following Delaware businesses:
Bethany Beach Books
Tidepool Toys & Games
Pizzazz by the Bay
Seaside Country Store
Patti’s Hallmark Shop
Lavender & Lace Antiques & Gifts
The Coastal Cottage
Gifts of Serenity (The Olde Salt Gift Shop)
Magnolia Rifle Boutique
McCabe’s Gourmet Market