Figuring it out

Ed and David Pugh initiate world-renowned company, Reaper Miniatures

It was a sticky, hot Independence Day in 1992. Inside a garage that evening were two brothers with a hobby. A pastime which should have been nothing more than that, merely just a way to keep themselves amused. But in that car garage, while toying around with the miniatures, it finally dawned on them: this was it. This day was different.

Laughing at the movie playing on the television, the grim reaper on the screen was a sign. This was the day they quit their jobs as accountants and became their own bosses. This was the day they began the company that would be known as Reaper Miniatures

Brothers Ed and David Pugh were college students when they became fascinated by miniature figures. The two brothers have always been close as they grew up in a fast-paced environment. Ed believes this lifestyle of frequent movement provided a pathway toward pursuing their hobbies and initiating a company.

“It definitely gave us the tools,” Ed said. “David and I are army brats, so we were very used to moving around the country and not staying in any one location for more than a year. So the idea of moving, [being] challenged and getting out there, it was very easy for us. So I think [that] it gave us the toolset to be able to.”

The company] was up and down for the first several years, but when the Kickstarters started and we started doing our figures in plastic, that’s when things really changed.”

— art director Ron Hawkins

Inspiration came easily for them as a result of past hobby-related companies. Because of their enjoyment of figurines, the pair decided to give the hobby a shot that would unravel remarkable success.

Because Ed and Dave already had figurines, they decided to do a show so they could feature these miniatures. This show received great acclaim and financial success. Doing a couple of shows after that, the pair realized the true promise and potential of creating a company and devoting their lives to figurines full time.

“Through the years, Dave and I always had hobby companies, because hobbies paid for hobbies,” Ed said. “This had been a hobby that we started in college. It’d always been around, [but] it just kept going. That was why we chose miniature figurines. We started as a hobby, we did a show, we made money. We went to another show, that was more money. It kept going.”

Ron Hawkins, the art director at Reaper Miniatures, was working in telemarketing when he discovered Reaper. Unamused with his job, he often turned to figurines. Painting miniatures was a hobby he picked up in the eighth grade. After coming across some miniatures at a popular game store in Denton, he was hooked and proceeded to ask who made them. This ultimately led him to Ed and Dave, discovering a new community and a new job, one that he actually enjoyed.

Andrea Plascencia
“Part of being self-employed is there’s a lot of rewards,” Ed said. “But there’s also a lot of challenges.”

“They were brand new,” Ron said. “So I drove down to Lewisville from Denton, went in there, saw the figures and said ‘Do you guys want somebody to help you paint figures?’ And they were like ‘Yeah! You can paint figures.”

Ron works alongside his wife, Adrienne Hawkins, who serves as office manager for Reaper. Also a long-time employee, Adrienne has seen tremendous evolution in the way the company is run. From conducting business in an old-school style to discovering advanced technology, the conditions at Reaper have taken a monumental shift.

“When I first started working here, Reaper was still handwriting shipping labels before I brought in the USPS Endicia system to work with our order processing system and head of IT,” Adrienne said. “Since then, we process hundreds of orders daily and everything is fully automated with barcode scanning.”

Reaper has undergone various changes in its 27 years. After initiating the company in Fort Worth, the two brothers relocated to Lewisville for a few years before finally settling in Denton.  Although they found success from the beginning, their big break came in 2012 after launching their first Kickstarter for their miniature line, BONES. This Kickstarter was such a success, it raised more than $3 million. At the time of its launch, it was the third-highest Kickstarter of all time.

“In 2012, we did our first Kickstarter and it took a tremendous spiking growth,” Ron said. “[The company] was up and down for the first several years, but when the Kickstarters started and we started doing our figures in plastic, that’s when things really changed.”

Aside from the millions of dollars they’ve raised and the new miniatures they’ve brought to life, they’ve also brought a community of people together with the establishment of their very own convention: Reapercon. It started out as a small artist conference, then became a more interactive experience where artists and fans could connect. The first convention took place in 2004 and saw a total of 70 people at most. Today, more than 1,000 people attend the annual Reapercon event every September.

Andrea Plascencia
“The idea of moving, [being] challenged and getting out there, it was very easy for us,” Ed said.

Not only is the event an important milestone, it is also a unique experience. Reapercon stands out from other conventions as a result of its availability of classes, which combine the traditional elements of a convention with learning and hands-on activities.

“What you have is an accessory to our shows, and that is teaching in classes,” Ed said. “Our take on it is to bring all these artists in, and then we have this whole suite of classes they can take. So a fan shows up, we provide this carnival atmosphere, this experience. They, in turn, get to pick the classes they want to take.”

Ed is astonished by the empire he and his brother built together. The Kickstarters, Reapercon and overall international recognition are significant breakthroughs for the company. However, the simplicity of touching people’s lives and the ability to bring unity and joy to the lives of others is the part Ed loves best.

“Knowing I started [Reaper] is amazing,” Ed said. “I really don’t think about it that much, but I have had people talk about it and how it’s amazing I did all of this. I’ll stop and think about it, and it is sort of amazing what we’ve built. When you’re in the middle of it and you’re building it, you don’t really think about it in that sense. The rewarding part of the job is really just people smiling.”