Washington Business Journal

Here is an article published about Ralph the Great's business in the Washington Business Journal. I hope you enjoy it!


December 1, 1997

Burnt-out Executive Turns Briefcase into a Bag of Tricks

Marlon Millner, Staff Reporter

Ralph Metzler was born again in the fall of 1991.

He did not respond to the evangelical appeal of some revival preacher; nevertheless, his life was forever changed by someone who worked wonders: a magician.

"When I saw Dave Risely perform, it was like an awakening. I realized that was exactly what I wanted to do," recalled Metzler, who saw the performance at Brad Reeder's Comedy Magic Bash in Wilmington, N.C.

What Risely did was perform for small children, ages three to five, a group many in the industry believe is difficult to reach.

"It's a common belief in magic that you can't perform for kids under six. They don't understand the magic," said Metzler. "Dave Risely showed me you can can perform for kids as young as two."

Like any new convert, Metzler, now 38, made plans to eventually abandon a successful graphic design and printing business he developed.

While launching out and pursuing a personal goal professionally may sound challenging, it is increasingly the advice of business consultants.

"We have to listen to the voice inside of ourselves that we can't hear with our consciousmind, but we feel quite profoundly," said Muriel Yilmaz, president of Greenbelt-based Mentor, Inc.

Yilmaz said that when people choose to pursue a personal goal, a new sense of calling that "we find our meaning and purpose for being here."

Metzler had started several companies, or successfully built parts of others, but success in traditional business could not quench his interest in magic or his dissatisfaction in the business world.

Performing for children full-time was a definite turnaround for Metzler, who had practiced magic since he was 16, but gave up on children's audiences as a young adult. A "horrible experience" at a Halloween party, where children grabbed his props and kicked over his table made him swear off tots forever.

"Children's magic is considered second class. If you wanted to be well respected among your magic peers then you perform for adults; I bought into that."

But instead of pursuing performing for adults full-time, Metzler joined the Air Force after high school and after a two-year tour of duty, he and his father created Data Craft, a computer consulting firm.

Metzler left the business, and in the late 1980s, he took a job with Government Technology Services Inc. At GTSI Metzler was the demonstration/evaluation supervisor, providing software and hardware that government agencies tested, before purchasing outright.

"I brought the department up from being started out with inventory worth about $1,500 to about $6 million in a year. Our warehouse space went from 100 square feet to about 2,000 square feet."

The rapid expansion of Metzler's department paralleled the company's overall growth.

"At the time I didn't think I had accomplished all that much [but] when I took a step back, I realized `Hey, I did accomplish a lot.'"

Despite Metzler's dedication and hard work, he said he felt mistreated by top company brass when his father died of a heart attack.

"I thought I was more than just a number to them. ... When he died, I saw management's true colors."

Though he didn't provide details, Metzler said the mistreatment encouraged him to leave and form Graphex, Inc., a graphic design company.

This company soon merged with one of Metzler's customers to form Space Printing, Inc. Metzler said the company was doing about $5,000 in monthly sales when it started, and about $25,000 in sales when he left in 1992 to pursue magic full time.

But a difference of opinion among the principals on sales strategy provided the impetus to take a vacation at the Wilmington magic convention.

It didn't help matters that Metzler was working 80 to 100 hours a week. Indeed, he was ready for a change when Risely hit the stage.

"I was a little bit burned out. I'm very good at formulating ideas and getting them implemented. Once they are in place, I am ready to move on to something else new and exciting."

Convinced that magic was his new path, Metzler's next question was, "How could I do this for a living?"

"You have to convince people that they should get off their couch and instead of going to the movies, or playing video games ... that live entertainment is the way to go, specifically you."

Risely suggested that Metzler try giving free shows as a way to build a customer base.

Metzler spent six months providing free shows at fairs and festivals before leaving Space Printing in April 1992. He also gave away balloons with his business card, hoping to make a lasting impression.

"That's how I was able to get my face out there," Metzler said, adding that it's difficult for people marketing other goods and services to understand the challenges of entertainment.

"You're working mostly for disposable income and many corporations don't consider entertainment a valid expense. You have to show them where it's justified for their company. People say they don't need entertainment ... but everyone needs to laugh at one time or another."

Such a one-on-one marketing strategy requires being comfortable interacting with a variety of people.

"We have to learn how to build rapport with the people we work with, the people we work for -- [and] that includes our bosses -- our customers and our associates," said Jean Isberg, president of Executive Coaching for Women Inc. "What makes us good at interpersonal communications skills is self-knowledge, and business thinkers today are telling us that we have got to be able to communicate and we have to know who we are."

So far, Metzler, who is convinced of his new-found path, seems to be winning fans, and customers.

He grossed about $13,000 in 1992 and a little more than $62,000 in 1996. He said he surpassed his 1996 figure by this August and expects to gross more than $100,000 in 1998.

Not one to be satisfied with the status quo, Metzler has a five-year plan to parlay his magic into a cable television special and even an interactive video.

"If you do the same things a thousand times you start to get bored with them. You have to experiment and push yourself to constantly move forward."


© 1997, Washington Business Journal


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