When Landmark Creations, owned by the husband and wife tandem of Tom and Stephanie Meacham, appeared in Upsize in 2004, it had 12 employees, a little over $1 million in revenue and it produced fun, large inflatables for many businesses, sports teams and the occasional musical tour.
Though computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D were starting to take off, the bulk of the products were pretty basic.
“They would inflate and that’s it,” Stephanie says. “They were just statically there.”
That’s changed dramatically, say the Meachams, who talked with Upsize a few days before Tom was getting ready to head to Los Angeles to put up a project for the Grammy Awards.
“One of the things that has changed since 2004 is we have done a lot of stage productions, we’ve done a lot of work with A-list artists, and music awards shows,” she says. “The demand from our customers over time has really ramped up over the last five years. What our products do rather than just being giant static displays is they have to be interactive. They have to be able to perform on stage.”
That could mean having fabricated parts or internal lighting systems. It might mean they need to quickly inflate or deflate so they can appear to magically show up on a set or interact with other mechanical components of a display.
“Back then, we basically did everything by hand,” Tom says. “We’d do a clay model, we’d paint by hand, we’d sew by hand. Today, the transition of the digital influence is we’ve replaced doing clay models with 3D models. The painting is all digitally printed.”
Its work with top celebrity performers has put Landmark inflatables on the Country Music Association Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, and other high-profile shows. The Grammy’s project is for a performance by Ariana Grande, whose tour has also featured a different inflatable.
Landmark still does a lot of its more static, bread-and-butter inflatables, too. The sales split is about half-and-half throughout any given year, Stephanie says.
But the newer, more complex makeup of its larger-scale work has required a shift in the couple’s management structure and style. The more complex projects mean Tom is often required to be on site to help users learn to operate the inflatables. Recently, Stephanie took over day-to-day management of the company’s Burnsville offices, which freed Tom up to be more available for those trips.
“What our products do rather than just being giant static displays is they have to be interactive. They have to be able to perform on stage.”
The company, which has tripled its revenue since 2004 and now has 23 employees, has also started providing more opportunities for growth to those workers, many of whom have been around a long time and understand the market.
“It’s a balance,” she says. “You have to let go a little bit. You have to let your employees grow.”
One thing that has lessened over the years is the need to pound the pavement to attract sales. Tom and Stephanie say between repeat business, word-of-mouth referrals and online leads, the company stays more than busy. They think that’s due, at least in part, to providing great service and making sure they help find something that really makes sense for customers.
“We never try to sell somebody something that doesn’t make sense,” Stephanie says. “The industry is so small, the minute we burn somebody, there’s going to be trouble for us.”
There have been opportunities to grow more quickly at times, but the Meachams remain as committed as they were in 2004, to making sure they control the business rather than being controlled by it. That means occasionally saying no when time and resources don’t allow them to do a job up to standard.
“A little bit of you dies inside when you have to do that, but it’s still a matter of we only have so many resources,” says Tom, adding that he’d rather not take on a project than not be able to do it well. “We just keep staying on that razor’s edge as far as we stay busy without being manic and trying to outrun our headlights.”
The Meachams didn’t have any experience in the industry when they bought the company in 1993, but he had a mechanical background and they inherited experienced employees. Stephanie says one lesson learned over the years is making sure when you increase your staff count, you do so carefully.
“The people you choose make a big difference,” says Stephanie. “Be very picky about the people you hire and don’t be afraid to develop them early on. If we had started that earlier it would have been even better for us. We have been successful but maybe we wouldn’t have had to work quite as hard as we have for the last 15 years if we had started this trajectory a little earlier.”
Building long-term relationships with customers and making sure you meet or outperform your promises to them is also key.
“Listen to your customer and understand what value you are bringing to them,” adds Tom. “It’s not magic. It’s a relationship. And we’re not in this for the one-time sale, we’re in it for the long-term. They’re a customer just like you are a customer to somebody else.”