By Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek | May 01, 2016
Founded: February 2015
Glisan launched Dust City Designs without a single market in mind, and now the company is in many. "I had a background in industrial design and figured I would open a shop and start building stuff," he says.
After outfitting his south Denver shop with a laser cutter, CNC machines, and a range of woodworking tools, he quickly connected with nearby Declaration Brewing and came up with catchy designs for the startup brewery's tap handles for its taproom and draft accounts.
That led to one focal point for Dust City Designs, as the company has since made tap handles for El Rancho Brewing in Evergreen; Littleton's 38 State Brewing; and Fermaentra, Goldspot Brewing Company, Black Sky Brewery, and Strange Craft Beer Company in Denver.
Largely made of beetlekill pine, cherry, and maple, these tap handles are designed in-house at Dust City with an eye on visibility. "You need to see these taps from across the bar," says Glisan. Echoes Goodrich: "We call it the six-foot rule."
As a result, the company has incorporated everything from pewter coins to battery-powered LED lights to off-kilter geometry into its taps. "We do a lot of one-off and custom stuff," says Goodrich. Dust City's IQ CNC router from Laguna Tools allows for high precision and asymmetrical designs that would prove difficult on other machines. "We were actually the first company in the world to have one," says Glisan.
"We saw an immediate advantage to having this specifically for tap handles," says Goodrich.
Another tap handle innovation from Dust City: magnetic nameplates for rotating beers from the same brewery. "Stickers end up getting lost," says Goodrich of adhesive alternatives. "It definitely makes things easier for the bartender."
In-house designers typically require three to eight hours to come up with the tap handle for the prototype, but there's no minimum order for the final product. "We want to grow with the breweries," says Glisan.
Tap handles typically cost $30 to $75 each, depending on the complexity of the design.
But Dust City's no one-trick pony. For craft breweries, the company makes etched glassware, flight tasters, signage, and other custom products. It also makes unique wood stickers that are proving to be hot commodities in both the retail and promotional markets. And Dust City also make large-scale installations for stages at music festivals and etches tiny custom designs on vape pens for O.penVape.
"We like to push boundaries," laughs Glisan. "We get a lot of the weird stuff."
Made of cherry and maple veneers, Dust City's wood stickers -- which retail for $6 and wholesale for $3 -- are more likely to be seen than their vinyl counterparts, says Glisan. "You pass out 10 vinyl stickers and one of them might get stuck on something," he explains comparison, wood stickers offer "a guaranteed bang for your buck."
They've taken off at retailers in tourist towns where they might feature the name of a city or state under a stock mountain design, and Dust City also works with a roster of artists to develop eye-catching stickers of all descriptions, from gnomes to octopi. "It's a win-win," says Goodrich. "They get a royalty check every quarter and we get amazing art."
Glisan and Goodrich are exploring the possibility of using wood stickers as a premium bottle label for breweries and distilleries.
The company's work for music festivals grew from the staff's attendance at a certain countercultural festival in Nevada. "We always go to Burning Man," says Glisan. "We've been going there for years. That's where the name Dust City comes from."
For such festivals as Sonic Bloom and Arise, Dust City has made big illuminated butterflies, 60-foot wooden signs, and other installations. The customers often pay for materials and Dust City keeps the resulting products after the fests, then rents them out to producers at future events.
"We'll just throw stuff out and figure out how to build it later," says Glisan. "If you can dream it, we can build it."
Goodrich notes that Dust City excels at odd jobs -- odd being the operative word -- from people who come to the shop with "Weird” projects of all kinds. "They say, 'We've talked to a lot of people and they can't figure it out.'"
Challenges: "I think the biggest challenge is keeping all of the plates spinning," says Goodrich. "There are definitely moments when you feel spread too thin."
Opportunities: Growth with both tap handles and wood stickers. "That's the real meal ticket right there," says Glisan of the latter. "We have first-to-market advantage."
Needs: Dust City's 2,000-square-foot facility has a 1,000-square-foot yard, but things are starting to get cramped. "Once again, we're running out of space," says Glisan.
He also says he could use "more hours in the day." Goodrich agrees, citing a need for a clone of himself "to keep working when I need to sleep."