Moving Forward: John O’Brien’s Invitation to a Swap Meet

Written by Judy Salamacha

April 7, 2023

The O’Brien Family John, True and Blake create online swap meet opportunity now offering start-up subscription.

In 2014 I served on Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce’s committee to celebrate Morro Bay’s 50th anniversary chaired by past Citizen of the Year, Joan Solu. It was there I met and worked with John O’Brien. He was the quiet one. Few of us realized the talent he was willing to share with his new hometown. Fewer of us realized the network of clients he served while building his career portfolio as a graphic designer. When I later interviewed him for my “By the Bay” column in the SLO Tribune, and recognized many of the posters and album covers decorating his home, I realized we had been working with one of the best designers in the Los Angeles/Hollywood entertainment industry.

“One memorable moment came when designing Tina Turner’s ‘Private Dancer’ album,” O’Brien recalled. “It was her first project in quite some time. I volunteered to postpone my vacation. Little did I know the magnitude – countless ads, the logo, posters – the album had become a massive hit. She was also in LA’s Capitol Tower. My office was on the ninth floor. I was so surprised when she thanked me and signed a copy of the package. I remember the gratitude she gave me, and respect for all the passion I had for the success of her project. She is a rare individual.”

Joe Cocker, John Lennon, Alan Niven, Guns N’ Roses, Universal Studios, Disney, Sony, Blondie, Frank Sinatra, Lynyrd Skynyrd, BB King are just a few names O’Brien can name-drop. Some of his movie credits include “Edward Scissorhands,” “Stargate,” “Get Shorty” and “Alien 3.” 

“Projects are a group effort,” he explained modestly. “My role ran from creative director to designer to illustrator to project manager as needed.” Whether working on an album cover, movie poster or trailer, the thrill for O’Brien came from solving the problem. “We’ll develop 100 designs — logo, positioning lines, story boarding, shoot body doubles – the final shoot of the star. When you have seconds to make an impression to get the job, you need to get it right – make that first impression.”

After graduating with a masters in design from Cal State University Fullerton, he paid his dues working double shifts before earning a design job at Capitol Records. After five years he decided to go out on his own and created ARTMINISTRY, Inc. in 2001 “…after selling my stake in CBO (Cimarron/Bacon/O’Brien), a 12-year partnership, building the multi-million-dollar entertainment company.”

He moved to his parent’s vacation home in Morro Bay. His son, Blake, would graduate from Morro Bay High School. “I wanted Blake to have a classic upbringing and educational experience,” said O’Brien. His daughter, True O’Brien, stayed in Hollywood working on an acting career. At the time I met him she was playing Paige on “Days of our Lives” and with O’Brien’s help I was able to recruit her to perform a part in “The Other Woman” directed by Mara Purl at a sold-out production at SLO’s Monday Club. She amazed the audience playing the hardest character in the script. As they say, talent doesn’t fall far from the tree!

As ARTMINISTRY, Inc. maintained a few favorite clients in Hollywood, O’Brien quietly began to secure high profile clients on the Central Coast, including work for Brickhouse BBQ, the former Morro Bay Tourism Bureau, and a Pismo Tourism Bureau campaign. Other branding and design projects included Shanley Farms, Top Dog Coffee Bar’s Rescue-Me-Coffee, and the Morro Bay Butcher. He created the historical panels on the Embarcadero, a project of the Historical Society of Morro Bay and the logo package for the Morro Bay Maritime Museum.

“Advertising is nothing if no one looks at it,” said John O’Brien, an award-winning designer. “Invest in one great ad. You can use it forever.”

In 2020 while shuttered with the rest of the world, O’Brien revived a marketing idea he had created in 1998. The project almost got away from him. The domain name he controlled was www.swapmeet.com.  

Neighborhood yard sales are still popular and live swap meets are regularly or randomly produced by smart marketers to bring individuals together to sell their products. In 1998 O’Brien understood Amazon and Google were emerging industry giants. He wanted to be first to take the swap meet concept online, but he needed a capital investor.

His brother-in-law was doing well selling Clear Channel billboard advertising. He knew “a guy.” The investor partnership he suggested, however, had the interest and the bankroll to build www.SwapMeet.com, but he wanted control. O’Brien was not ready to give someone his project.

His idea lingered for fifteen years until his best friend, who loved going to the Rose Bowl Flea Market, suggested O’Brien meet “a guy” he knew in the music industry. For example, his friend explained, “One of his clients is Michael Jackson.” (Note: For personal reasons O’Brien preferred the investor remain nameless).

The investor liked the idea and said he had a Saudi investor willing to put up the cash. Again O’Brien was asked to give up control of his company. “Something is better than nothing,” he thought. “The investor brought in his people to run it, spent lots of money developing the analytics for the project, because his CEO wanted a digital component, but www.SwapMeet.com seemed a hobby to him. And when the investor had personal legal troubles, the CEO he had hand-picked took his salary and ran.”

Eventually, O’Brien got www.SwapMeet.com and created an LLC. He now intends it be a family project. O’Brien said, “I resumed working on it personally in 2020 as sole owner. I designed the visual look of the site and created the video, narrated by True and Blake and edited by Blake. COVID stalled the website builder and we finally launched in 2022.” 

Currently O’Brien is in the business start-up phase. He is looking for subscribers interested in discovering new and used products to sell or purchase online. Both buyers and sellers of gently used products, collectibles, jewelry, etc. are welcome to test it out. Listings might come from established retail stores, farmer’s market booths, or regulars at swap meets. One can forward to their Etsy account or their website.

O’Brien set a nominal start-up price so potential subscribers will want to check out the site and see how it might fit into their sales and marketing plans. List, sell, buy, browse — the first 15 days cost only $1, which is the cost to generate a PayPal account. He’s also offering a bonus for the first 100 sellers to sign up. They will forever maintain their original price as a seller, or they can upgrade at any time. 

O’Brien is taking it slow to build his brand, attract his subscribers, and determine where his marketplace might be for advertising his new family business. However, to add value he is testing out advertising in www.SwapMeetMagazine.com.

Why not give it a try? After all, it might have taken 25 years for this start-up to come to fruition, but the current timing couldn’t be better in this era of the digital marketplace.

 

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