Industry: Built Environment
Like many manufacturers, Schlosser Signs began in a garage. "My dad and uncle were the original founders," Alex says. "They had one installation truck and would receive signs from local and out of state companies for installation at businesses within mostly the fast food, petroleum, and hospitality industries."
His mother, Carla Schlosser, now the majority owner and CEO, began working for the business a few weeks after its founding. When Alex's father suffered an injury due to a fall from the truck a month later, Alex stepped in to take his place. He was 16 years old at the time.
"We quickly grew out of my parents' garage and ended up moving to a space here in Loveland," he recalls. "We added fabrication services in 2001 and continued to grow rapidly after that, getting into actual custom signs. We've been in full swing since about 2005, doing fabrication, installations, and servicing on existing signs."
The company moved into its current location in the Crossroads area of Loveland in 2009. "It's our main facility and is about 10,000 square feet," Alex says. "We have another little place in downtown Loveland that is 3,000 square feet and is just for fabrication. And in Denver, we now have a 7,000-square-foot location with two service and two install trucks plus dispatch. It has become a service, install, and sales branch."
Work for architects, design firms, and developers accounts for the largest percentage of their revenue, which was just over $7 million in 2016. Nevertheless, custom signs for small businesses still account for the greatest percentage of the projects they take on. "We spend a lot of time in the community working with local business owners, schools, churches, nonprofits, franchises, and pretty much any mom-and-pop shops that are just getting started," Alex says.
Licensed in New Mexico, Wyoming, and Nebraska as well as Colorado, and able to manufacture a wide variety of signs from outdoor LEDs and electronic message centers to stone and monument signs, Schlosser Signs is a true full-service sign company. "We can walk people all the way from an idea drawn on a napkin to putting that sign on the side of their building," says Rose Schlosser, Alex's wife and the company's business development professional. "And we take care of all the steps within that process for them."
"In addition to designing and manufacturing the sign," Alex adds, "we even go to their city to help them obtain a permit and work on changing any code allowances for their area if necessary. We can also hire other tradespeople for repair work or building up grades or whatever else is needed to make their sign possible."
The company is committed to sourcing supplies locally whenever possible. "Some of the specialty materials are brought in by national vendors, and those parts may come from national companies, but we buy all of our aluminum, steel, plexiglass and pretty much anything else that we can here locally," Alex says. "Everything is also American made if we can get it. The LEDs we use for lighting signs are pretty much the only material made outside of the country."
And Rose says the sign industry isn't going anywhere: "Just by the definition of what we do, manufacturing signs is going to continue to be something that stays within the U.S."
Challenges: "In Colorado, with the economy and unemployment rate what they are right now, finding good people is the number one difficulty we are facing," Alex says. "While we aren't alone in that, our industry is highly specialized, without clear paths for people to follow into it. While the plumbing and electrical industries have specific apprenticeship programs, we don't.
Everyone who works in the sign industry, from a skilled labor standpoint, has to be a jack of all trades. They have to be able to weld, paint, do assembly, know how to do concrete work and drywall repair. This makes it a real challenge to find, train, and bring people in."
Opportunities: Alex says he sees a big opportunity for growth within the current market. "There's enough work and opportunity out there that we can capture as much as we have the ability to produce each year," he explains. "It's not falling into our lap, but we can take on as much work as we want right now because the market is really robust and the competition isn't too stiff. While there are some other companies out there that are about the same size as ours, there is no real dominant player in the industry right now in Colorado. So, we have as good of an opportunity as anybody to find jobs and win bids." He forecasts the company's revenue to grow by 10 or 15 percent in 2017.
Needs: A expansion is in Schlosser Sign's future. "We're not quite sure what we want to do yet," Alex says, "but we're batting around building a building on a piece of land we own here behind our Crossroads location in Loveland or opening a full fabrication shop in Denver. There are pros and cons to each option and it will depend on the funding that we can get and what we decide presents the best opportunity. Once we have the new space, we can easily grow into it."