Former Maryland State Trooper, Brian Blocker, has long had an artistic side, and remembers drawing and painting regularly when he was child. Still, his art was a hobby, not a career. All that changed when, while on a traffic stop, he was hit by a car and suffered a broken neck and traumatic brain injury (TBI
). "I was out of work for about several months...and my memory was affected. I didn't feel that I could do the job the way I should, so I resigned in 2006.
As part of his recovery, Brain returned to art. "I like to paint, but I prefer to do sports-related arts. I had been creating and selling realistic sports figures on commission, but it was my customized Funk-O Pops that really got popular! I was just doing this stuff in my basement and someone said: 'Maybe DORS can help you?' So, I contacted DORS in 2015, but when Erin [DORS Cumberland Rehabilitation Counselor
, Erin Shahan] took over my case in 2018, she had some great ideas for my Plan [Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE)]."
As part of Brian's IPE he was assessed for some assistive technology and DORS was able to order some of the equipment and supplies, including a 3-D printer and pad, resins, and trays, to help turn his hobby into a business: ALLSTAR Custom Figures, Inc.
"I'm backed up right now, so I'm just doing order reservations [for $25.00]. My goal is to catch up on the reserve orders and to have the process be two weeks from order to shipping."
Brian uses the existing Funk-O Pop figures and then customizes them for his customers. "People send pictures of what they want...I look through existing figures that Funk-O makes and then I use clay and epoxy to sculpt the piece together...sometimes I use other body parts...on average, just creating the figure takes four hours, but that doesn't include all the sanding, painting, detail work, decals, drying times, and creating the custom box."
Brian says that most of his clients find him through Etsy and he has had a number of high profile customers, including: UFC fighters, a screenwriter from The Avengers movie, some Pittsburgh Steelers football players, Atlantic Records recording artists, and "I did about eighty figures for the employees of Radio Flyer with a box specifically for them." Most of Brian's clients ask him to create custom Funk-o Pops for personal gifts "I do a lot of wedding cake toppers." The figures can range in price from eighty-five dollars to over two hundred. "It depends on the customization. I have to capture the person's personality and we have to create all those details, like the right glasses, hair style, clothing..."
All of his success has made him reevaluate his plans. "I was working ten hours a day, seven days a week, but I had to cut back. I'm kind of at a crossroads now. I have some [staff], but I could really use two or three more people. The orders keep rolling in!" So, Brian is looking at how to handle expansion, including adding other product lines, in case the Funk-O Pops craze wains.
"DORS is a really great program. It allowed me to add things to my business...I was able to expand in a way that I didn't have the capital to do...It's been immensely helpful. The clients were rolling in and [thanks to DORS assistance] I'm able to do more. And, Erin has been especially great!"