Small Business: Growth stage at Staging Concepts

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 18, 2014 - 10:57 AM

Backstage initiatives help drive expansion for the Brooklyn Park company whose products are at high-profile events and venues.

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From left: Jon Chase, Vice President/Engineering ; John Lewis, CEO/President, and Bob Randall, Vice President/Staging Division.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Recent presidential inaugurations, the past seven NCAA men’s Final Fours and the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory celebration have at least one thing in common — they all took place on equipment designed and manufactured by Staging Concepts of Brooklyn Park.

Sports and performing arts venues featuring custom modular stage platforms, seating risers or architectural railings from Staging Concepts include the new San Francisco 49ers’ stadium, Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium and the new Theatre School at DePaul University.

The University of Minnesota’s newly renovated Northrop Auditorium, Target Field and Xcel Energy Center are among the local sites where the company has done projects.

While Staging Concepts’ products often are in the spotlight, CEO John Lewis credited behind-the-scenes efforts with growth that he projected would lift sales to $32 million this year, or doubling since 2011. Head count has grown from 60 employees then to more than 100 today, including 16 engineer-designers plus project managers and production employees.

The initiatives Lewis cited include a greater emphasis on market-oriented product development while maintaining the high quality standards and long-term client and industry relationships established under founder Michael Hayden, who launched the company in 1990. Hayden sold a majority stake in Staging Concepts to Blackford Capital of Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2010.

“It’s all about continuing to grow the business as aggressively as we can,’’ said Lewis, who joined Staging Concepts in 2011.

Staging Concepts is up against large, entrenched, mature competitors, Bob Randall, vice president of the company’s staging division, said. “We’re the scrappy upstarts that try to be more nimble and innovative,” he said.

As Staging Concepts over the last decade has driven a market transition to aluminum railings from steel, sister company SC Railing is working to become the first national brand, Randall said. The company gets involved early with project architects and engineers to influence railing designs, Lewis said, mirroring its long-standing practice of working closely with theater consultants and facility owners to shape staging projects.

The shift to market-oriented product development is spurring growth of both staging and railing products in both the sports and performing arts markets, Lewis said.

Such new products will help increase Staging Concepts’ international sales, which account for 10 to 15 percent of its business, Lewis said. Last year, the Four Seasons Hotel Macau, in China, hosted the launch of a 2014 Jaguar model on a custom pool cover Staging Concepts made from platforms topped with transparent acrylic.

Lean initiative

One new initiative is adopting lean manufacturing principles to eliminate wasteful steps in both the company’s design processes and in its production facility. “Our whole management group read ‘The Toyota Way’ last year,” Lewis said. “We were about 80 percent of the way through and said, ‘Let’s just start it.’ ”

Ted Ohl, a partner at Pook Diemont & Ohl, said the New York-based theater equipment systems contractor has used Staging Concepts platforms and risers for years and recently began using its railing products, which in one instance will go into a new order at the Top of the Rock observation deck at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

“We believe that they provide a very high-level quality product,” Ohl said. “Their pricing is aggressive for the way the marketplace is at this time. And there’s a lot to be said for an ongoing and continuing relationship. … Any problems have been few and far between, and they’ve been extraordinarily responsive.”

 

The experts says: Steve Lage, CEO of Minneapolis-based consulting firm Lean Partners, said Staging Concepts is off to a good start and has seen positive initial results from its lean initiative.

“The principles apply to virtually every industry and every size” of company, said Lage, whose firm has worked with companies with as few as 10 employees to those with thousands, including service, construction, printing and food service businesses to prisons, government agencies, banks and distributors.

“The general principle is to identify waste in processes and eliminate that waste, giving people more time to do value-added activities so it creates capacity for a company to grow,” Lage said. “There’s no business on the planet that doesn’t have a large amount of waste. It’s the ability to see it and eliminate it that turns that wasteful time into value-added time.”

  • Staging concepts

    Business: Designs and manufactures modular, custom staging equipment, including platforms for stage performance seating risers, and custom railings for stadiums, arenas and theaters and commercial buildings.

    Founded:  1990 • Headquarters: Brooklyn Park • Employees: 100

    Website: www.stagingconcepts.com

    Executives: John Lewis, CEO/president; Bob Randall, vice president, staging division; Jon Chase, vice president, engineering; Dan Stachel, vice president, railing division

    2013 revenue: $28 million

    Strategy: Continue to pursue aggressive growth, applying lean manufacturing principles and introducing products based on market needs.

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