By Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek | Dec 06, 2015
Restaruant signage and lighting
Zeon began as the Data Display Corporation, making moving-message LED signs in Boulder a decade before the onset of the Colorado craft beer boom.
The company diversified into neon in the mid-1980s and moved away from the price-conscious LED market. In 2000, Zeon made its first neon sign for a brewery: New Belgium. "They gave us a shot and the rest is history," says Bloom. Craft brewing now represents about 80 percent of Zeon's business.
"We deal nationally and even internationally," Bloom says of Zeon's market, which spans the U.S. and Canada as well as Australia, Europe, and South America.
The company counts many of the largest craft breweries among its clients -- including Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer, Lagunitas, and New Belgium -- and many orders exceed 1,000 units, but Bloom doesn't turn his nose up at small accounts. "I'm not a snob," he laughs. "If someone asks, 'What's your minimum order?' I tell them 'It's one.' We do the big ones to the little ones. . . . Give us your budget and we'll figure out what kind of signs and how many."
While neon signage hasn't changed too much since its advent in the 1920s, "The real innovation is what we can do incorporating LEDs and other materials," says Bloom. "Our real strength is design."
That increasingly includes signs made with reclaimed wood, beetlekill pine, and a variety of lighting technology. Zeon also makes non-illuminated signs, tap handles, chalkboards, and point-of-sale displays for retail accounts. All of the products have one thing in common: They're designed to stand out in a crowded market.
"What we produce gets great placement," touts Bloom. "The signs we do for our brands displace other signs, usually big beer. That's why they work."
Zeon has manufactured signs in China for about 15 years, but it still turns out low-volume, high-value orders and repairs neon signs in Boulder County. About 60 percent of sales are neon signs, and 40 percent is LED-based and illuminated products. Beyond breweries, the company makes signage for Papa John's Pizza, The UPS Store, and other clients.
Sales have grown by double-digit percentages most years since 2010, and Bloom says the company has grown by about 10 percent in 2015.
Beyond quality products, Bloom points to another key factor behind Zeon's success. "I am pathological about customer service," he says. "I will stand solidly behind what we produce and do whatever we can to make things right."
Challenges: "It's always more business, being able to keep up with our fantastic creative offerings, dealing with China," lists Bloom. "One of the unknowns is craft breweries being acquired by big beer. So far that hasn't affected us."
Opportunities: Exports. It's currently in the "low single digits" in terms of Zeon's sales, but Bloom sees potential for growth with U.S. breweries exporting as well as craft breweries in other countries.
He's also fielding a lot of requests for chalkboards and shelved displays. "Inquiries run like a roller coaster," he says.
Needs: "Space is our key need," says Bloom. "We've been leasing. We're looking for a building to buy." He says the target is 30,000 square feet in the vicinity of Louisville, Lafayette, or Broomfield.
After the need for space is filled, Zeon will make some capital investments. "We're seriously looking at digital printers, CNC upgrades and possibly laser cutting," Bloom says.