When Bryan Ghingold was a sixth-grader growing up in Wilkes-Barre, he sliced open his thumb while attempting to customize a Grand Moff Tarkin Star Wars figure to resemble one of his friends who lived down the street.
Fast forward 20 years and Ghingold, now owner of the Pittsburgh-based Steel City Movers, is making customized action figures donning tzitzit, kippahs or sheitels that come with accessories such as loaves of challah and cellphones.
Ghingold, who grew up attending Temple Israel in Wilkes-Barre, and his girlfriend, Ellie Czeladnicki — who was raised Orthodox in Brooklyn — have created a niche product that the couple hopes will appeal to anyone seeking that perfect bar mitzvah gift for the bucher who has everything, or soon-to-be marrieds who desire their cake toppers to look exactly like them.
Ghingold and Czeladnicki launched their company, GoFigure! (gofigurecustomfigures.com) in 2014 after they noticed that trade show customers to whom they were marketing their moving company were showing a keen interest in the displayed action figures Ghingold had made to look like his movers.
To get a feel for the genesis of GoFigure!, it is important to note that Steel City Movers itself has a certain panache.
“We are the only nerdy moving company in the galaxy with a super villain as its mascot,” explained Czeladnicki, 25, as she pointed to a photo of that mascot, Dr. Wastro, in the backroom of the company’s Wilkinsburg storefront. “He aims to waste your time and money, so he hates us.”
Ghingold, 30, is an avid comic book and action figure collector. He and Czeladnicki met a few years ago on a dating website while they were both living in Los Angeles. Czeladnicki is also a comic aficionado.
Ghingold taught himself to make the action figures and began making them as thank-you gifts to his movers. He made duplicates of every figure he created, so he had a complete set which he brought to trade shows and toy conventions to drum up business.
“We want to show people that we are nerds too, so they should trade with us,” Ghingold said.
Customers loved the figures, but Ghingold kept turning down their requests to make customized dolls for them too.
“But Ellie said, ‘You are turning down a lot of interest,’” Ghingold said.
Czeladnicki finally convinced her beau to turn his hobby into a business and to begin offering custom figures to the public.
It also was her idea to specifically target the Jewish market.
“We can make Orthodox figures that are tznius (modest),” noted Czeladnicki, who grew up attending a yeshiva.
GoFigure! steadily has been picking up steam and recently received a $5,000 grant from Wilkinsburg Community Development to re-do its website.
“The product is pretty universal,” said Czeladnicki. “There is a global desire for this kind of product. We even had an order from the U.K. When people see this — that they can have an action figure of themselves — they say ‘I have to have it.’ And the collectors say the price is really reasonable.”
Prices start at $175 for a basic action figure and increase incrementally with the type of packaging and number of accessories. The higher end packaging includes a blurb on the back giving the bio of the new action hero and a comic book drawing of that hero on the front.
The heads of the figures are outsourced to a 3-D printing company and are then placed on a generic action figure body, which Czeladnicki sculpts and paints to resemble the person whom it represents.
“The process is called kit bashing,” Ghingold said. Two figures that begin with the same base body will look completely different after Czeladnicki has done her customization work. The figures are fully articulated, which means they can move at their joints. They come in blister pack clamshells that can easily open and close to facilitate both play and display.
“One of the downfalls is that it takes lots of effort to make it look like a $10 action toy from Toys R Us,” Ghingold said.
Orders are typically filled within six to 10 weeks after GoFigure! receives a photo and instructions. Each figure is created to the customer’s specifications, with each toy becoming a one-of-a-kind doppleganger.
“The only limit is your imagination,” Ghingold said.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.