The dual focus of making signs and exhibits has helped Inc. 5000 Applicant of the Week Color-Ad grow over the last five decades.
Majority owners of Color-Ad Dawn Bures (right) and sister-in-law Julie Velke.
As applications for the 2012 Inc. 500|5000 arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. (For more information and to apply, click here). One that caught our eye was Manassas, Virginia-based Color-Ad.
Dawn Bures’ father started Color-Ad, a sign making business, in 1962. Now she’s the president of the multi-million dollar company. Color-Ad was a family business from the start, and now, 50 years later, that fact remains the same. Bures and her siblings grew up running around and helping out in the company’s shop. She has been a full-time employee since 1981 and started out in the art department.
When her father retired in 1996, he left his family to tend what he started. “We’ve really been running the business ever since,” Bures says. “My sister-in-law and I run the business while my brother and husband work as project managers handling specific things.“
What helps makes the business so successful is the company’s dual focus on signs, and now exhibits also. “We’ve been really fortunate that we’ve been able to balance it and run both types of projects through here because usually it’s an exhibit company that only does exhibits or a sign company that only does signs,” Bures says. The decision allows Color-Ad to cater to a much wider array of clients and, therefore, earn higher profits.
On occasion the dual business model helps Color-Ad gain multiple contracts from the same client. This happened with a recent contract for The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center in Hawaii. “We did signage for them under one contract and we did the museum under another one,” Bures says.
Though the business was originally started as sign shop, in 2005 the company shifted to focus mainly on museum exhibits and large-order signage projects. A smart move, Bures believes, looking at the numbers. “In 2005 we did 1,542 jobs, individual work orders and our average job size was $2,484 and then in 2011 we did 257 jobs and our average size was $41,894.”
But the roots of the business are far from gone. In fact Color-Ad was hired to create all of the signs for the Atlanta Airport. So Color-Ad has been busy, making signs for the new international terminal, including parking and roadway signs. It’s a big job, and Color-Ad is grateful to do it. “It’s the biggest signage project we’ve ever done and it keeps growing —it’s at about $4 million right now—we’re really proud of that.” The company also recently got a contract from Denver for Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Color-Ad has completed countless museum exhibits and signage projects, many of which you’ve likely seen before, or at least heard of. The company carried out jobs for Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home; The National Mall in Washington, D.C.; and even the U.S. Naval Academy—a project that brought in $5.2 million for Color-Ad. “It’s was the biggest project we’ve ever done,” Bures says, “It was a stretch for us to go after it and actually win it, but of course we knew if we got it we’d do a great job and we did.”
Besides their Manassas headquarters, the company also has a satellite production facility in Alexandria, Virginia, through the purchase of a local exhibit company in 2006. Color-Ad also has the ability to carry out the majority of their jobs in-house, which adds convenience to the 65-employee business, as well as more control over projects.
As the years go on, Color-Ad will continue to grow and bring in new clients from around the world. The company already has projects in Guam; Santa Monica, California; and Alaska, as well as term contracts with the U.S. National Park Service and the National Archives and Records Administration. In 2011 Color-Ad brought in over $12 million in revenue. The company’s three-year growth rate is 41.8%. “It’s our 50th Anniversary year,” Bures says, “so we’re excited about that, too.”
CAITLIN BERENS writes about business innovation and entrepreneurs. Before Inc., she worked at Billboard, SELF, and Better Homes and Gardens. She attended Drake University, and lives in Brooklyn, New York. @CaitlinBerens