Meet Patrick Walker, founder of 4Walls
4walls, a growing company of 13 in MidTown, designs and digitally manufactures wallcoverings on a wide variety of materials for residential and commercial markets. On the residential side, much of what the company creates and sells are kids’ products and murals. On the commercial side, 4walls sells custom murals and large-scale designs to health care, hospitality, retail and corporate customers.
How did you come to be an entrepreneur?
I've been self-employed for my entire working life. In my 20s I made a living as a musician. Starting in the mid-80s, my business partner and creative director, Diana Robinson, and I owned and operated a firm that created design collections for manufacturers and distributors of residential wallcoverings. By 1987 we had 24 employees and for the next decade were booked to capacity two to three years in advance.
In the mid to late '90s, traditional wallpaper fell out of favor in home decor so we created 4walls to be a customer for the first company, which was quickly running out of customers as the industry imploded. We were the first in our industry in 1998 to introduce digitally designed and manufactured wallpapers. Most of our customers at that time thought we were out of our minds, and most of them have since gone out of business.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to face in your business?
Trying to survive in an imploding industry. We've had to completely change parts of what we do, how we do it, and who we sell to several times. I really like change, and it's still been sometimes really tough. If we didn't like change, we'd have been out of business long ago.
What is the most unique design you’ve done?
We did 75,000 square feet of unique art for a private college in Florida. They wanted to transform an athletic facility so that it looked like a rain forest. The project unfolded over two years and was daunting to quote, create, produce and install. But it was an amazing project and we learned a lot.
How did your green philosophy come about?
Both our staff and customers have expressed ongoing interest in ways to create products with more sustainable materials and processes. We are in the midst of a certification process with Sustainable Green Printing (SGP), which will take us to the next level in this process.
What advice would you give to someone starting a company here?
Take full advantage of all of the great networking opportunities with local businesses, colleges and universities. So many people in Cleveland are warm, friendly, upbeat and willing to help.
What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
We have had the good fortune of having a fantastic board of advisors for our company. Each member is successful, accomplished, constructive and can be counted on to have a strong opinion when asked. It took me a long time to realize that as smart as they were, from time to time they were just wrong -- individually or collectively.
At the end of the day, an entrepreneur has to understand the issues as well as he or she can, and then follow your gut and make the hard decisions. They won't always be right, but it is the only way to follow your path, learn your lessons, and do the best you can for your customers, your employees and your company.