Very few people have not heard of ‘Spider-Man,’ the fictional teenage superhero creation of Marvel writer-editor Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko that first appeared in 1962. Peter Parker, the alter-ego of Spider-Man, is a normal teenager who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains spider like superpowers. Other popular Marvel Comic Book characters include the Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Deadpool, Thor and Black Panther. Fans of all ages have collected superhero comics for decades and their impact on both society and popular culture has only increased with time. Marvel itself has evolved from a publisher of comic books to a very successful Disney owned film and television studio, producing movies and television series based on its characters.
Westmeath man Ger Heraty of ‘Ger’s Pyro Works & Crafts,’ is a fan of comic books. His studio office is decorated with Marvel wall posters and adorned with an array of collectible superhero figurines. “I have been buying comic books since I was a boy and would spend hours just copying the amazing illustrations. All that practice has really helped me to develop my ability to draw.”
Now happily married to Samantha, Ger grew up in Dalton Park as the second youngest of five children. He went to school at St. Mary’s Primary School before moving on to Mullingar Community College where he credits the teacher who influenced him. “I really enjoyed woodwork and mechanical drawing at school and it really helped that my teacher for both subjects was Mr Munnelly. Practical things that I thought [at the time] in school were unimportant, have really helped me design and develop the range of gift items that I make from wood. Take it from me, you should always listen to your teachers, thank you Mr Munnelly!”
Although he had dreamed of becoming an animator, Ger ended up on an entirely different career path. Aged 16, he turned down an offer of an apprenticeship in woodworking and instead chose to a embark upon a career in retail with Buckley’s SuperValu. He was offered a trainee manager position within the store and underwent some really rigorous business training delivered by Jimmy Buckley, Fergal Dunne and their management team. “You hear about teaching hospitals but they were teaching retail. They taught me everything there was to know about the retail business.”
Ger has always found drawing to be therapeutic. He believes that his retail bosses too had probably noticed his creative side over the years because he always loved building eye-catching floor displays of merchandise.
However, it was about 5 years ago, when he was given a pyrography machine as a present that Ger finally found a way to combine his love of drawing with making things from wood. Pyrography – come from the Greek word for fire ‘Pur’ and writing ‘Graphos.’ Essentially, a pencil-like tool is heated to a point where it can engrave wood. So, on New Year’s Day 2016, he took out the pyrography machine and taught himself how to use the machine by watching YouTube videos of American pyrography experts. He found that the process of transferring a pencil drawing to wood came very easy to him and was able to demonstrate his artistic flair. He has been making something using pyrography every single day since then.
“In retail, I would work very long hours and was never one for telly, unless there was a Marvel film on! When I discovered pyrography, I found the process of drawing freehand helped me to relax and unwind from a hectic day.” It was when Ger, posted a picture of a personalised wooden piece onto Facebook that requests to buy similar pieces came flooding in from friends and family. As word spread, he began to get of enquiries from all over Ireland. He then set-up a dedicated page on Facebook that currently has over 8,400 people following it.
Ideas and Orders
There is a great amount of planning involved to ensure that Ger regularly has enough stock, as well as, the raw materials that he needs to make the pieces e.g. kiln-dried wood, paint etc. Many of the wooden items that he makes can be personalised with names for birthdays, weddings, communions and remembrance. He is never short of ideas.
“For every 100 ideas I have, 5-10 of them could be things that I could sell. I have so many ideas in my head and I am constantly thinking about what might appeal to my customers. I try to have both seasonal products and items that follow certain trends – a particular sports team that won.”
The business has grown considerably over the past few years as Ger gets a lot of repeat customer business. “It was impossible to fulfil all the orders and still hold down a job in retail so my current employer has allowed me to take a career break. What was a hobby has now become a viable business and my retailing experience is coming in very useful as I negotiate with suppliers, customers and business partners.”
Ger has invested a lot of money in the last 2 years by purchasing some very professional pyrography machines and building a new workshop to keep up with the demand. He estimates that he has invested over €50k into the business since he started and explains his initial reluctance to acquire professional equipment. “I was unsure about getting bigger pyrography machines because I felt that I might not be able to give each piece my personal touch. But then when I eventually got the machines, it felt like going from ‘a hand saw to a chop saw’ and making things that much quicker – what could take me 2 days to make, can now be done in less than an hour on a machine.”
Marathons & Challenges
In between holding down a full-time job and making pyrography gift pieces, Ger still somehow found the time to run A LOT of marathons. “I ran 4 marathons in 4 days in Donegal and must have completed 13 marathons in one single year.” He enthuses, “I was very shy growing up and retail probably helped me a small bit but running and competing was unbelievable. I challenged myself to run marathons all over the world. One time, I remember running the Derry Marathon and felt that I couldn’t finish when a man came up beside me in a racing wheelchair and I thought to myself – what do I have to complain about. Needless to say, I held out and completed the marathon, but was left feeling so inspired.”
One of the major challenges in Ger’s life was the death of his mother in 2017. He believes that he was able to cope with her passing by immersing himself in his business and running marathons. Making things out of wood that he believes people will enjoy, was his way of coping with the loss. “I am a perfectionist. I will just scrap something unless it is perfect and just make another one. I get a thrill when I hand over a finished piece and can see somebody’s delight. It’s the sort of reaction that I would get from my mother when she would see a completed piece that I had made.”
Ger is very happy with the way that his business has developed and is kept very busy fulfilling orders for gift items.
“I feel as though I am lucky that I can make a career from something that was once simply a hobby for me. Slowly, I am building the courage to expand the business and the career break is a bit like a comfort blanket. While I enjoy what I am doing, I believe it is a business that has a future.”
Ger is very fortunate that his business is predominantly based online. He trades via his Facebook page and is planning on expanding his online presence by developing a website early next year. Currently, he has struck a deal to supply his products to a shop in Kerry and is looking to expand on that.
“I’ve built up relationships with people who keep coming back to me for more products. I’m lucky that so many people trust me too. Ultimately it is about customer service and I try to build up a rapport. Jimmy Buckley said to me more than once that “retail is detail.”
Ger Heraty is a remarkable man who went into retailing straight out of school and built a successful and rewarding career. It is wonderful to see how his love of comic books has brought him to another significant milestone in his life. He has managed to carve out a unique business for himself while putting smiles on people’s faces. He might not be saving the world, but he is most definitely a superhero to someone receiving a beautiful wooden gift made by him.
This article was published across the Topic group 19/11/2020.