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Visalia Woman Builds Better Hammer, Smashes Stereotypes

Ezra David Romero
Valley Public Radio

In an ag industry that is dominated by older men, 25 year-old Megan Murphy is hard at work. Not just demonstrating her company’s top product, something called the Dead Blow Hammer, but also in challenging stereotypes: in agriculture, manufacturing and entrepreneurship. She’s the president of Hammer Works Manufacturing in Visalia.

“It doesn’t matter whether or not a woman is normally in that business you can learn it and take over it,” Murphy says.

Murphy’s one of many young Valley entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of the post-recession economic recovery. She claims the shiny silver sledge hammer that her father prototyped in his youth doesn’t damage what it hits, create sparks or vibrate.

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio

She demonstrated the hammer at the 2014 World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif.

"A lot more people are starting to get into this industry. I'm sure it's a lot of wives and daughters just like me - they've seen it for so long they know they can step into it." - Megan Murphy

“So we’ve got no rolled threads, no part of its damaged, a little bit of the rust and dirt is taken off of it, but otherwise it is completely unharmed,” Murphy says.

For the second year in a row her brand has been in the Top-10 New Products list revealed at the expo. Murphy’s company is just one example of the Valley’s growing base of entrepreneurs.

Timothy Stearns is the Director of the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Fresno State.  He says the United States has seen a surge in new business activity growing from nine percent in 2012 to 13 percent last year. 

“Part of it is that we are coming out of the great recession and the time to be an entrepreneur is when you are coming out not when you are going in,” Stearns says. “So this is the opportunity of what I call to catch the wave.”

And that’s the wave Murphy says she is riding. Her father came up with the idea for the hammer in the early 1970s. Two years ago Murphy decided to take on the business of marketing and manufacturing the hammer.

Her father Mike Murphy says the idea to mass produce the tool came when past employees “asked you know that hammer that you used years ago – my guys are tearing the stuff up in the shops – can you duplicate that hammer for us. Pretty much the next thing we’re on the tool trucks, Car Quest, AutoZone, PepBoys.”

Murphy says the hammer helps customers save money on parts.

“We have a lot of people in the ag industry especially when they have to drive out pins in tractors and things like that – they mushroom it,” Murphy says. “If it’s a $160 pin it’s completely damaged.”

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Megan Murphy laughed as she said, "She loves farmers."

An average Dead Blow hammer sells for $110 dollars, which she says is a steal because competitor’s hammers run around $140.

But price isn’t the only draw. Murphy says local consumers like that the hammer is a total Valley product, designed, engineered and manufactured in Central California.  

Professor Stearns with Fresno State agrees.

“I think more people are looking for local products,” Stearns says. “That’s a national trend, not just here in the Valley. People are becoming more concerned about that, whether that’s right or wrong I don’t know. But when I say this is Tim’s flower and it’s made in Madera people go oh, ok that’s local and I feel good and if there is a problem I can go and see the flower being milled.”

Stearns also says that changes in the economy are also driving more young people to pursue a career where they are their own boss, instead of landing a job in the corporate world.

“Students recognize the way or the career path that was probably more aligned to what their parents had experienced that is you go to college you get a degree, the degree becomes a token to get the job and when you get to the job they groom and shape you and you migrate up the ladder,” Stearns says. “That just doesn’t exist anymore.”

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
The Murphy's visit trade shows across the country to talk about their products.

And that’s why Megan Murphy decided to take on her father’s invention and turn it into a business. She says she likes being her own boss, but says that working as young woman in the ag and manufacturing world isn’t always easy. When buyers ask for the companies president this is the response she usually receives:

“They go what?” Murphy says. “They never really believe it’s you for a second, because I am so young they almost want to question whether or not you’re gonna know what you’re talking about and whether or not you’re gonna understand this industry. So it’s really nice when you can show them up and you do know a lot about it.”

She says she draws inspiration from her mother Cheryl who owns California Smog and Discount Muffler in Visalia.

“About 13 year ago when I was in the seventh grade, she and my step dad opened an own automotive repair shop and she pretty much stepped in and ran it,” Murphy says.

Cheryl says she is glad she’s witnessing a shift in the roles of women in the working world.

“It’s been a man’s world for so long, but women are starting to get into all industries,” Cheryl Murphy says. “Not really starting, they are.”

Murphy says she’s not alone in her efforts.

"We'll be looking back five years from now and going to look at all the companies started in 2014 and look how well they're thriving." - Timothy Stearns.

“It’s something that is starting to pick up and a lot more people are starting to get into this industry,” Murphy says.  “I’m sure it’s a lot of wives and daughters just like me – they’ve seen it for so long they know they can step into it.”

Back at Fresno State, Stearns says that Murphy’s success is just one example of the economic recovery underway in the Valley. He compares this recovery with the one in the mid 90’s.

“We’ll be looking back five years from now and going to look at all the companies started in 2014 and look how well they’re thriving,” Stearns says.

And it’s opportunities that Megan Murphy is on the prowl for. She hopes that by attending trade shows like the World Ag Expo her company’s products will gain attention and become a staple nationwide.

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.
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