Sergeant first class Al Conrad served 20 years in the U.S. Army. He says these 2 decades of experience were the most rewarding time in his life. While he has been long retired from active duty, he now fulfills his love and respect for the armed forces through a unique small business he recently launched. Conrad is the proud CEO of PIR Custom Military Figures, Gifts, & Awards, LLC in Columbus, Georgia. (The PIR acronym is short for Parachute Infantry Regiment.) Formally established in December 2014, Conrad sells custom military figures, dioramas, plaques, and other cool creations related to military members and first responders through the startup venture. He maintains a brick-and-mortar location in Columbus, but he resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The 51-year-old entrepreneur elaborates on what the small business can actually offer. “We produce totally custom action figures for military veterans, active duty military members, and first responders like firefighters and police officers,” Conrad explains. “Anyone can collect a plastic figure. But with us, we make figures that are very close to replicating the face of an individual who deserves recognition.” The figures are produced in 1:6 scale size and are typically about 12 inches tall. Conrad designs many of them himself through painting and woodworking, but he outsources the manufacturing process to others when necessary. “One time, I made one for a woman whose son was killed in action in Afghanistan,” he recalls. “I put him in the same uniform he wore that had his patches, equipment, and weapons he used. He was a medic, so the figure had the same medic bag he carried. Another example was a gentleman who had a bomb-sniffing dog with him, so I was able to replicate both the man and his dog.” Conrad is a world traveler who was stationed all over the globe, including in the continental U.S., Hawaii, Germany, Panama, Australia, Thailand, and Japan. Upon his retirement from the Army in the early 2000s, he worked as a high school ROTC instructor. Now his eyes are set on startup success running this small business full time. In his words, the most satisfaction he gets out of running this operation comes from the ability to serve his customers. “Being able to give back to soldiers and guys I spent good times with is the most enjoyable part,” he says. “It’s really great to see their expressions. For people who have lost loved ones in combat, there is not much I can do to make them feel better, but I can at least give them something by which they can remember someone. I’m in this business to make money like most other small business owners, but the biggest return I get from this is making soldiers and their families happy.”
Conrad explains how his small business differs from others. “Not many companies out there produce the items we do with the customization of facial features and expressions. We can also make each figurine part of an award or plaque as a keepsake. We’re a veteran-owned and operated business as well.” The Army vet has done a lot of work for friends, family members, military comrades, and even the National Medal of Honor Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee. To make others who he does not know aware of his startup venture, he maintains a company website at www.miniheroes.us and a Facebook page.
Like so many entrepreneurs out there who have taken the plunge into starting a business for the very first time in their lives, Conrad admits he has experienced challenges throughout the process. “The first thing was figuring out the types of legal requirements and everything you have to do to get set up as a small business. Cost is obviously another challenge. I’m lucky that I started investing when I was fairly young. It’s exciting and overwhelming at the same time.”
He offers some valuable tips for entrepreneurs whose goal is to achieve startup success. “Consult with people you trust about what you’re going to take on as a business owner, and depend on their advice heavily,” he advises. “Find out what you need to do from a legal standpoint. Being self-employed is tough, so don’t feel like you’re the only one who has been overwhelmed by starting a business.”
Conrad praises 1-800Accountant for the guidance he has received as a client of the national accounting and consulting firm for small business owners. “1-800Accountant is very reassuring and has been very helpful with keeping me compliant,” he says. “It’s great to have a company like this supporting me as a business owner.” Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog post were provided by PIR Custom Military Figures, Gifts, & Awards, LLC and are used with permission.