As the week draws to a close, a group of students gathers in Sydney’s south-eastern suburbs to transform into weekend superheroes.
It’s business time for Superheroes Inc., a company that sends Batmen, Buzz Lightyears, army sergeants, pirates, fairies and princesses to up to 50 birthday parties around the city each weekend. Dressed as the birthday kids’ favourite characters, the performers conduct treasure hunts, sail the high seas in living rooms, and offer face-painting and other heroic tricks for partying children while the parents bake the cake and cater for guests.
It’s a weekly mission that has been going for almost 10 years. Back then, Andre Pech, a struggling marketing student, was looking for a job to pay his way through university when he noticed an adult-size Spiderman costume hanging on the communal clothesline in his apartment complex. It belonged to a neighbour, an artist who was hitting the kid’s party circuit on the weekend making far more money than Pech in his bartending job. He invited the student to join in and help out, dressed up in tights and a cape.
The first time Pech faced 15 screaming five-year olds in his red-and-blue bodysuit, ‘‘I hated it, I just kept looking at my watch thinking get me out of here,’’ he remembers, laughing.
But leaving the party with $100 in his pocket was enough to persuade him to keep going - and he gradually grew into the role. When his neighbour decided he’d had enough, Pech carried on and built the business into a full-time operation.
Today, the 32-year old entrepreneur has about 20 people donning costumes for him - mostly teaching or drama students found at actors’ studios and universities. The company has done close to 10,000 parties over the years, and branched out into corporate events and family days for companies such as UBS, Westpac, Macquarie Bank, Volkswagen and McDonald’s.
Sipping tea (from a Spiderman mug, no less) in his one-desk office and fielding phone calls from mums in need of weekend heroes, Pech tells the story of how an international cosmetics firm recently booked a motivational speech from Batman.
The caped crusader drew laughs comparing his first-hand experience of putting himself out there every day to save the world with the motivation of being a true sales superhero.
As he set up the company, Pech says it was important to understand he couldn’t do everything on his own, using the help of a movie-costume maker friend and a graphic designer to create the look of his heroes and his website, while treading carefully around movie and cartoon characters’ licensing issues.
These days, it’s rare that the father of three dons a Spiderman suit. He spends his time plotting the growth of his business, looking for ways to offer more options per party to boost returns - such as selling package deals with add-on gifts for the guests, such as superhero capes and eye masks or princess bags with pink wands and hairbands.
Over the next few months, he also plans to roll out a new business, Superflicks, which will run movie-making parties for older kids and corporate events. Participants will learn about filmmaking, choose a genre and develop a plotline which they then will turn into a 10-minute movie. At the end, everyone gets a copy, including a bloopers reel.
The new service won’t come cheap, but Pech is optimistic. Parties have proved to be a ‘‘fairly recession-proof industry because people always want to spend on their kids’’, he says.
Reflecting on his Superheroes business, he has found ‘‘the best and worst part’’ is dealing with passionate and emotional people.
‘‘We’re doing an event for their special child’s birthday and as such it has to be really well done. There’s a lot of logistics involved: If you’re missing a glove as Batman, then you’re not Batman. You’re just a guy trying to look like Batman,’’ he says.