A fun-filled, small business in Willard may be more serious and bigger than it appears.
Business partners Darren Proctor and Brandon Lauthern, and lifelong friend Jeff Bell, design and produce vacuum-formed, resin-cast and 3D-printed armor, props and helmets for the cosplay and costume communities. It’s called Eternal Armory.
The audience, inspiration and clients are global. The production is distinctly local.
Eternal Armory is among the few costume manufacturers in the country that creates original designs but also is inspired by animated characters by Marvel Comics and DC Comics, as well as the “Star Wars” franchise.
“There’s a certain intellectual property issue with some of the things we do. Part of the reason we do animated characters is because Lucasfilm isn’t making that as merchandise, and we don’t ever want to compete with what they’re doing,” Lauthern says.
In the e-commerce catalog at EternalArmory.com, shoppers can find an “Amazonian bicep cuff” for fans of Wonder Woman and an “owlet” helmet akin to those worn by Boba Fett.
Customers can work with Lauthern to design any piece of armor they desire, but most of the company’s business is in helmets for collectors.
Helmets range $100-$200 for a raw kit, meaning the customer finishes, trims and paints the piece. Finished helmets cost at least $400. A full set of armor, including a jetpack and a choice of helmet, range between $600 and $700 for a raw kit.
“It’s expensive, but we pride ourselves in making things in permanence,” says Lauthern.
There’s plenty of urethane and ABS plastics that go into these things. Helmets are made by a technique called slush casting, or in a 3D printer.
Beginning of an eternity
Eternal Armory’s story dates back to the first day of kindergarten, when a young Proctor and Lauthern became friends. Their creativity and love for science fiction started at a young age, and Lauthern remembers making most of his own toys and Halloween costumes as a child.
Another buddy, Mike Randleman, was also a fan of “Star Wars.” When the prequels were released in the early 2000s, the three would dress up as Jedis for the movie premieres. Before the release of “Episode III,” Randleman was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live. The trio then “decided to go big or go home,” says Lauthern.
They contacted a costume manufacturer and built their own stormtrooper armor out of raw pieces.
Randleman lived for another 18 months, and Lauthern and Proctor believe the armor gave their friend a reason to battle the cancer a little longer.
“Right before Mike passed away, one of his last wishes was that he would be buried in his armor, because he loved it so much,” Lauthern said. “We named the business Eternal Armory after Mike, the eternal trooper.”
Proctor and Lauthern started the business in 2012 out of Lauthern’s house. Though it was a small operation, the mess and handmade machines – occupational hazards – were large. This made for an unhappy wife, says Lauthern, and Eternal Armory moved to its first shop at 100 E. Jackson St. In October 2016, flooding forced the armory to move a few hundred feet to their current location at 112 E. Jackson St.
Battling the competition
While many businesses these days are battling the rise of online shopping, Eternal Armory’s main obstacle is to stay unique. Its custom-made pieces are unlike anything found on Amazon, leaving the only competition to other manufacturers.
“People always think that these things are mass produced in a far off factory in China, but it’s easy and fairly accessible for small production runs,” says Eric Petersen, materials specialist for Reynolds Advanced Materials in the Chicago area. “The helmets and pieces that they make take it to the next level.”
Petersen supplies Eternal Armory with the urethane plastics and silicone used for helmet castings and molds. Other suppliers are Springfield-based Regal Plastics and Allied Plastics.
Shipped to Willard in liquid form, Petersen says Eternal Armory’s monthly plastics orders have unpredictable volumes because the company’s costume production is on demand. He works with several costume customers for Reynolds Advanced Materials – others in sports, mascot and Halloween costume production – but he says Eternal Armory’s cosplay products stand out.
“They’ve got a lot of different fabrication techniques that are unique – their own machine work and 3D printing,” Petersen says.
Lauthern says Eternal Armory’s main “friendly” competition is with The Mandalorian Arsenal in Florida which also operates a storefront.
“Most of the people who do what we do, do it in their basement or garage or shop out back,” he says. “Very few have a retail presence or building downtown.”
With helmets as Eternal Armory’s best sellers, nearly all sales and its fan base come from the company’s website, Facebook page and costuming forums, such as Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club and 500 First Legion. Recent orders have come from Australia, Sweden, China and Japan. While they say sales are stable, the business partners decline to disclose annual revenues.
“Locally, we have a few clients, but we really do pull a ton into the community from outside the state,” Proctor says of the clientele. “Maybe less than 5 percent are local.”
Where megaretailers abound and more development is coming
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