Virtuosos of vinyl
Published 7:00 am Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Business at Featherlite Graphics is showing many positive signs
—This feature originally appeared in Progress 2013. Get a copy at the Austin Daily Herald office, 310 Second St. NE.
Hundreds of big rigs roll past Grand Meadow every day along Highway 16, and many of those drivers don’t even glance when they pass Durst Grain Co. Neither would anybody else, for the most part.
But little do those people know behind those mammoth, steel storage bins lies something entirely different: the
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reason their big rigs often look fancy in the first place.
Welcome to Featherlite Graphics. There’s no sign out front, which is ironic: These people make signage for a living.
“I just slid in as Featherlite Graphics,” said owner Steve Durst, who started the business in 1989.
“When we started out, we did nothing but Featherlite Trailers,” he said, noting Featherlite Trailers’ long list of services now.
The business has expanded. Durst and his employees make semi trailers, vans and company cars look pretty. Every year the numbers are different, but there’s always something sitting in the paint shop or waiting to receive vinyl graphics. Durst built a 25,000-square-foot shop in 2000 just for painting trailers.
“We do a lot of government jobs: Coast Guard, Marines, Air Force,” Durst said.
FOX Television’s broadcast rig, NASCAR on FOX, was one of many jobs Durst will see in 2013.
Pride in work
Russ Schaalma wheeled around the big trailer with squeegees in his tool belt and made sure the graphics were on straight, with no air bubbles or defects.
“This place consumes you pretty good in the winter,” Schaalma said.
Darin Funk removed excess vinyl from hinges and cracks and made things flush with a heat gun. The process is the same as it has always been, but technology has made it easier. Vinyl sheets now have thousands of grooves on their adhesive side, which helps eliminate air bubbles.
The smell of vinyl is rampant in a nearby room where there are chemicals, cutting tools, giant printers, computers, straight-edges and numerous 50-yard rolls of vinyl. About three of those rolls will cover one semi trailer.
Working for Featherlite Graphics is gratifying for the employees, too. Jeremy Pedersen handles graphic design and makes sure all the measurements fit. He sees the Cedars’ bus or Riverland Community College truck and is proud of the work Featherlite Graphics did. Schaalma feels the same way, especially when work is showcased in a magazine or on TV, for people around the world to see.
“I love doing this,” Schaalma said. “You turn a motocross race on and you see a trailer you did. Not a lot of people can say that.”
Featherlite has wrapped trailers for Ford, State Farm, KTM Racing, Drag Specialties, Medtronic and many more companies.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, it prints simple things, too, like stickers. Most people, Durst said, think Featherlite Graphics just works with large trailers and expensive accounts. That’s not true.
“We want to do more local stuff,” Durst said, “Vehicles and stuff like that. … And that’s what we’re after, the vans for the newspaper, the TV station. That’s what I want.”