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Knack for knickknacks

You could call Daniel Weaver a committed entrepreneur. Or you could say he should have been committed for trying to stay an entrepreneur.

Daniel Weaver, at his warehouse in Hainesport, is flanked by samples of the bandanas that are a big part of his business.
Daniel Weaver, at his warehouse in Hainesport, is flanked by samples of the bandanas that are a big part of his business.Read moreAKIRA SUWA / Inquirer Staff Photographer

You could call Daniel Weaver a committed entrepreneur. Or you could say he should have been committed for trying to stay an entrepreneur.

Until the Internet rescued him from near ruin, helping him resurrect his troubled company, Airtime Corp., Weaver's business life could best have been described as disastrous.

"I knew I failed, but I didn't want to keep failing," Weaver, 40, said over coffee at Airtime's Hainesport warehouse.

The warehouse holds cases and cases of bandanas - paisleys, American flags, skulls and crossbones, tie-dyed, corporately named, flowered - stacked at least 12 feet high.

The Burlington County company's name is left over from his earlier nightmare.

Now the company is the corporate parent of and, an amalgam that sells, via the Internet, 10,000 bandanas a week, laser pointers, cell-phone batteries and NFL lunchboxes, among other products.

Weaver also markets little-boy tuxedos and flower-girl dresses via

"Thank God for the Internet," he said. "It changed my life."

By the time Weaver turned to the Internet in 2002, his chances of becoming an entrepreneur were just about shot.

He already had declared bankruptcy to save his family's house. He topped out his personal credit cards, and his businesses were hanging on by a thread.

Payroll taxes? Unpaid.

New Jersey sales taxes? Ditto.

"The day came when I didn't have the money to pay my credit-card bills, my mortgage, and my second mortgage," he said. "We were maxed out."

It shouldn't have been so difficult, given his entrepreneurial pedigree.

Weaver's father, Richard, started Comet Camera Repair Shop, a thriving 40-employee business in Center City. His mother, Il Sim Weaver, owned knickknack stands at the Pennsauken Mart and the Berlin Farmer's Market.

Still, Weaver started hard.

In 1989, not long after he joined Comet, his father, 47, died.

Weaver, then 21, and his brother, then 20, became partners. "I had the passion to dig in and learn everything, but I didn't entirely understand the business," he said.

A key issue: People were buying new cameras instead of repairing old ones.

"It seemed like everything was unraveling," even his relationship with his brother, he said.

So, in 1994, Weaver sold his share of the business to his brother and followed his mother's footsteps. She helped bankroll a children's clothing business at the Berlin Farmer's Market in Camden County.

In 1995, intrigued by the potential of telecom, Weaver started a second business, Airtime, opening a store in Maple Shade to sell Internet access, cell phones, paging and long-distance service.

To finance it, "I took a loan against my house," he said. "It was a big chance. Unfortunately, I didn't do well."

The trouble came from a salesman who sold cell-phone contracts to people who couldn't afford them and soon defaulted. The salesman also set up phony accounts and sold the cell phones for his own profit.

The bottom line: Weaver had to repay commissions he had received from telephone companies and swallow the cost of the phones. Soon, debt swamped him.

In 1999, Weaver filed for personal bankruptcy, but he kept Airtime going to pay back the telephone companies. That took 75 percent of the company's remaining revenue, leaving little for his family.

His mother helped by hiring him to manage her Berlin knickknack stand while his wife, Elaine, ran their clothing business. To keep milk in the fridge for their three children, they scoured flea markets, buying and selling.

In 2001, the year his fourth child was born, Weaver had revenue of $48,517. But his combined loss for that year and the two previous years was $48,592.

Worse, the clothing business was also fading - they didn't even have enough money for health insurance - and they sold it.

But Weaver had one last idea - an online store selling the products that sold best at his mother's knickknack stands.

"This was going to be my last stand," he said. "If this didn't work, I was going to throw in the towel and go work for someone."

Weaver scraped together $600 to set up the Web site, lease software, buy a little inventory, and sign on to Google and Overture (now Yahoo!) to direct Web surfers to his site.

"It was a shock when the first order for bandanas came in," he said. "The orders started trickling in. I knew within a month something was going to happen."

Soon, merchandise took over his children's playroom, then oozed into the dining room, basement and garage. Shipping and receiving? That was the laundry room.

In 2002, Airtime pulled in $291,599 in revenue. Revenue topped $1 million the next year.

In 2005, the company moved out of the house and into a warehouse, which it outgrew in one year. Airtime had $2.4 million in 2006 revenue, enough to necessitate a move into Airtime's current 10,000-square-foot space. The company employs 15, and all seven full-timers have health insurance.

In 2008, Weaver wants to grow into his business, as opposed to simply growing it.

"Growing opens other cans of worms," he said.

The infrastructure needs strengthening, from human-resource management to better Web design, and that requires Weaver to slow down.

Not easy.

"The addiction is that I can keep growing my business and make more money. But I want to keep the level of growth to a minimum."