By Jill C. Lafferty
The sister-brother team of Maureen and Rick Kelly credit their father’s advice for leading them into the flag and banner business.
“He never owned a company, but believed that the best way to run a business was to rely on your own decisions and not others,” says Maureen Kelly. “We saw an opportunity—much smaller at first, but it just kept growing from a one-floor loft with no heat to a 23,000-square-foot building with a production floor and office space.”
Maureen Kelly started The Design Loft of St. Louis, Mo., to design and fabricate site-specific metal and fabric structures. Rick joined her and launched The Flag Loft division in 1990. For 15 years, The Flag Loft specialized in appliqué and silkscreen, but in 2005 added digital printing to its capabilities.
“Since then we have been able to expand not only our flag and banner production to the digital print market, but we have also moved into the exhibit, museum and signage market on a much larger scale and with a product that has more fabric options and greater image detail,” Maureen Kelly says. She’s especially proud of the work The Flag Loft does for museums and theaters.
“Last year we did all the printing for the Katherine Dunham exhibit that included 30 large-format images of old and original photographs,” Kelly says. “The graphics were huge and extremely difficult to work with, but as it turned out it was considered one of the best exhibits that the Missouri History Museum had produced.”
The company manufactures flags with Artistri 200 denier nylon using eight colors of acid-dyed inks (CMYK plus orange, red, blue and gray). “On the banner side, customers are demanding more variety with their background materials so we focus on dye-sublimation inks,” she says. The company uses Mimaki printers for both processes.
Digital printing encompasses about 30 percent of The Flag Loft’s business, and Kelly says that while business was down overall in 2009, the digital portion of the business still experienced growth. She expects that to continue it 2010.
Among other survival strategies, The Flag Loft established an advisory board.
“We were able to set in place heavy hitters in manufacturing, marketing and finance to help lead the company for the past 18 months,” Kelly says. “None of our board is in our field, so each brings a unique insight into strategies for the company. I am sure that is a reason that we have had growth areas in the company.”