Metalheads might be a perfect blend of art and industry – with a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit thrown in.
Metalheads began with Adam Stempka, a welder who was laid off from GE. He had always been artistic, and had even thought about going to art school before starting his career as a welder.
Tinkering at home, he created a metal sculpture of a deer head and posted a photo on Facebook. It gained attention and attracted customers – including one who requested a battle-worn flag made of metal.
That was enough to get Stempka’s creative juices going, and he created an American flag, tattered yet resilient. More photos went up on Facebook, and more customers clamored for their own version of that flag.
Soon he teamed up with his father, Ray Stempka, a welding engineer who retired from GE.
Now, less than a year later, their business is booming. They ship to customers around Erie County and nationwide, all based on word of mouth, local festivals and Facebook. They’re building a website, expanding their workshop and working feverishly to keep up with demand.
“This thing keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” Ray Stempka says.
For Adam Stempka, this new venture is a perfect fit – it uses his creative side and his mechanical skills, and it satisfies his need to make something new.
“It’s exciting,” he says. “It’s not work for me. I just love doing this.”
About Metalheads: Adam Stempka still creates his more intricate metal sculptures, though the business for the battle-worn flags has really taken off. Now they offer a variety of flags, including some specifically for police officers and firefighters, as well as illumination options for the flags. They make flags as small as a license plate and as large as 4 feet by 8 feet. But while business is busy, the Stempkas are keeping their focus on providing products that their customers are looking for. “We’re just taking it slow and trying to grow organically,” Adam Stempka says.
Why Erie County: The Stempka family is not only deeply rooted in Erie County, they are deeply rooted in the welding industry. Their connection to their community is apparent in every facet of the operation. They support shopping local, and they feature Erie-centric flag designs, like a “Don’t Give Up the Ship” flag. “Erie means a lot to us,” Ray Stempka says. That pride is on display on the flags, which all bear the stamp “Made in USA – Erie, PA” on the front.
Challenges of Erie County: The challenges facing Metalheads are not unique to new businesses. For example, the Stempkas say that startup costs have posed a challenge, as has learning the ropes of running a business – even to the extent of how to find the best deals on shipping costs for their far-flung customers. Luckily, however, the Stempkas are finding great resources in Erie County, including working with Gannon’s Small Business Development Center and the Innovation Collaborative.
Fun Fact: Adam Stempka and Metalheads have been nominated for a 2017 Disrupt Erie Award.