Photo from: Photo by Eric Ayres
WHEELING – Durable goods with a Made in America seal and Home Pride woven into the fabric helped out Opossum Pouch Soft Goods at the latest Show of Hands competition Monday night in Wheeling.
Guy Hercules, owner of a local shop specializing in handcrafted outdoor goods, took first prize over three other notable entrepreneurs, artisans and business owners who were finalists in the latest edition of Show of Hands.
Presented by Wheeling Heritage in association with the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce, this round of the popular fundraising event is to help local entrepreneurs grow their businesses. Wheeling Artisan Center attendees pay $5 to enter and receive a ballot to vote on their favorite ballpark from each of the participating business owners.
Also taking part in this Show of Hands competition and performing in front of a large audience on Monday night was Helen Bradley of the IDEA Center in Warwood, artist Mindi Yarbrough of Wildheart by Mindi and General Manager Shelley Smedley of Wheeling Coffee and Spice. All of the contestants delivered convincing pitches, but it was Hercules who knocked the pitch out of the park.
“I’ve lived in Wheeling all my life,” said Hercules. “I grew up in West Liberty. One of the reasons I’m really proud to open up in Wheeling is because we used to have such a long history of making things in this city. So when I made the “Made in the USA” stamp, it said “Made in Wheeling, W. Va, USA.” And there was a reason for that. I want people to know I make things in Wheeling.”
This passionate hometown pride and unapologetic patriotism noticeably cleared the air from the room and filled it with a breeze of fresh air, causing the crowd to erupt into roaring applause.
When the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Hercules said, Americans got together and got on the plate—including the people who lived and worked here in the valley.
“Wheeling, like the rest of America,” he said, “was a sleeping giant who woke up at that moment.” And while all these other men from all over our nation went to war, Welling went to war. He waged a war of wheels with industry.
“This is something we miss at Wheeling – our efficient, job-creating industries.”
Opossum Pouch Soft Goods is a young company, Hercules said, but it’s growing. They take raw materials and make durable goods out of them – very durable goods that they hope people will use for a lifetime and pass on to future generations for continued use.
“We make outdoor goods for campers, hunters, fishermen, classic canvas-style outdoor goods,” said Hercules. “Backpacks are always a constant seller, small bags are a big seller and of course all the small items—bags, drawstring bags, little things like that can be used to organize gear.”
Hercules has over 40 years of experience in the sewing business, and although the business currently consists of itself and a group of dedicated supporters, the business is growing. It has a physical location at 1003 Main St. It also has an online presence with a customer base that has already reached 11 countries across the globe.
“I really love doing that,” he said. “I am passionate about what I do.”
The store manufactures a variety of rugged outdoor goods, including a specialty item that was born as a local version of the shemagh – a large, tactical desert scarf worn by the indigenous people of Middle Eastern countries as a neck and face covering and adopted by military forces stationed in these regions. To fill orders for these wraps, Hercules invented a “shamandana”—a cross between a shemagh and a handkerchief—in an American outdoorsy style.
Explaining a customer’s request for this unique item, Hercules got emotional, noting that he had sold 18 of them to a customer — in Israel, where the customer could easily have gotten one locally.
Hercules, weeping, said: “Where are they from?” “That was probably one of my proudest moments—I have a shemagh in Israel. That’s amazing.”
The Winning Show of Hands will help Hercules realize 90 percent of its production in-house so it can cut costs and produce more products.
“Right now, I have customers that I can’t meet the demand because I can’t produce fast enough,” he said.
Hercules said the next step in growing his business will involve purchasing a new mortise press and die cutting to help increase his production efficiency and capacity. Winning Show of Hands will help increase your purchase budget to get the best possible gadgets.
“I want to become as self-reliant as possible,” he said, noting that eventually as the business grows, he hopes to be able to recruit employees to help him produce more goods and expand the business. Hercules said he wanted Opossum Pouch Soft Goods to become “the new industry vanguard in Wheeling, an industry that is clean, adequate, self-sufficient and a good servant to the community that gives something back.”
Right now, the company is in the black, and profits are being injected back into the business to aid in its continued growth.
“Jay’s taking a check for $5,312, so give yourselves a round of applause for that,” Alex Banas, Program Director of Wheeling Heritage, told the audience, noting that all votes purchased from the attendees all went toward the winner’s prize.
For more information about Show of Hands crowdfunding events and other community initiatives supported by Wheeling Heritage, visit wheelingheritage.org.