Scenic Solutions sets the stage for success

Published: Monday, March 05, 2018 @ 8:35 AM

Dan McLaughlin, partner in West Carrollton’s Scenic Solutions, with a mockup of the front of a vintage Cadillac Eldorado. The company has built a $3 million-a-year business primarily building entertainment sets for clients. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
Thomas Gnau/Staff
Dan McLaughlin, partner in West Carrollton’s Scenic Solutions, with a mockup of the front of a vintage Cadillac Eldorado. The company has built a $3 million-a-year business primarily building entertainment sets for clients. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF(Thomas Gnau/Staff)

When the Lion King show pulled into Dayton’s Schuster Center in 2016 needing stage curtains, the Broadway show needed them immediately.

The production knew just who to call — Scenic Solutions, a small West Carrollton company that builds entertainment and theater sets for customers around the world, building a $3 million-a-year business along the way.

The company was born in 1996 and is led today by owners (and married couple) Dan and Mary Beth McLaughlin. Dan McLaughlin was production manager for the Dayton Ballet for 16 years.

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“Then it kind of blended with this,” he said of Scenic Solutions. “We moved into this building (355 Gargrave Road) in 2005.”

Mary Beth McLaughlin, home in the beginning with two young children, began sewing products with which to launch a catalog business.

“It just got bigger from there,” Dan McLaughlin said.

The company works in theaters here and abroad, on land and on the sea. One can find the company’s elaborate sets on cruise ships, large public venues, TV studios and in many other settings. Their work takes many of the company’s 29 employees to Germany, Florida, Vancouver, Seattle, 80,000-spectator Wrestlemania events and elsewhere.

“I discovered that you can take a sewing machine through the TSA (the Transportation Security Administration),” said Hannah Blosser, Scenic Solutions assistant manager for soft goods.

“All the things we do are cool,” Mary Beth McLaughlin said. “And it’s all different.”

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Said her husband: “We tend to get around.”

The company’s staple is really the cruise ship sector, which right now is offering the highest profitability for Scenic Solutions. Norwegian Cruise Lines may be the company’s chief client at the moment. The business is serving a fleet of 16 ships, with a new ship coming on line in March.

“The ship is being built in Germany right now,” Dan McLaughlin said. “It won’t even be finished by the time we’re done with our scope. We’ll have everything ready to go for the show.”

Cruise ships are a specialty market — a market that requires travel and it requires “people who know what they’re doing,” he said.

These ships are striving to put Broadway-caliber shows on for passengers. So sets and components need to be durable and mobile. They need to be able to collapse, to move through smaller entry-ways, halls and doors. And they need to be buildable in a simple way, without tools.

Crafting all of that takes skill — carpentry, electrical work, computer-programmed CNC metal-cutting work, sewing and much more. The business needs employees who are masters of several trades, not just one.

Sets are put together in a 24,000-square-foot main construction area with a CNC cutting area and an overhead crane. A sewing shop is located across Gargrave Road.

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And jobs need to be done correctly the first time.

“If you’re installing (a set) on a ship, you don’t get a chance to run to the hardware store,” Dan McLaughlin said.

Is it surprising that a small Midwestern company is working for international companies?

Not at all, the McLaughlins say. Dayton is maybe 14 hours from Miami, Fla. for a team of drivers, eight hours from New York City and shipping across the Atlantic Ocean takes pretty much the same amount of time for everyone.

The Dayton area offers a great economy, the couple said. Labor and other costs are lower here. A better quality of life can be achieved here.

“They can’t seem to get enough of it,” Dan McLaughlin said of Scenic Solution’s customers.

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Toys ‘R’ Us founder Charles Lazarus, 94, dies

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 3:16 PM

Toys ‘R’ Us May Close All U.S. Stores

Charles Lazarus, who founded Toys ‘R’ Us, has died.

The retailer confirmed that Lazarus, 94, died Thursday morning. He no longer had any ownership position in the chain, but he started the company when he was 24 years old in 1948. He served as CEO until 1994.

“There have been many sad moments for Toys”R”Us in recent weeks, and none more heartbreaking than today’s news about the passing of our beloved founder, Charles Lazarus. Our thoughts and prayers are with Charles’ family and loved ones,” the company posted on Twitter.

» MUST-READ BUSINESS NEWS: Toys ‘R’ Us files for bankruptcy: What’s really going on?

Toys ‘R’ Us Inc. voluntarily filed for relief under Chapter 11, in September 2017. Toys R Us was $5 billion in debt, as of April 29. At the time of bankruptcy, the company said it would close about one-fifth of its store locations. Closing sales are expected to conclude in April.

The retailer will shut or sell all of its 735 U.S. stores. Customers should use any gift cards before April 20.

Toys “R” Us liquidation sales are expected to start on Friday. Approximately 31,000 employees will ultimately be laid off due to the store closings. The retailer has locations in Miami Twp. and Beavercreek.


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UD official: Fairgrounds, Arcade to complement each other

Published: Friday, March 23, 2018 @ 10:21 AM

            The initial phase proposed in the preliminary fairgrounds redevelopment plan calls for the project to start along Main Street and work from the edges inward. CONTRIBUTED
The initial phase proposed in the preliminary fairgrounds redevelopment plan calls for the project to start along Main Street and work from the edges inward. CONTRIBUTED

The former Montgomery County fairgrounds and the Dayton Arcade are going to be redeveloped less than two miles apart, but a University of Dayton official says the school pictures the two projects as complementary, not competitive.

“We wouldn’t be involved in both projects if we thought they weren’t going to be complementary,” said Andy Horner, chief financial officer at University of Dayton. “There are limited resources to go around but we think there’s going to be enough for both to be exceptionally successful and bring additional investment into the Miami Valley.”

PHOTOS: How Dayton fairgrounds could transform

UD is both partnering with Premier Health on redeveloping the fairgrounds and is also a key anchor tenant at the Arcade. The separate Arcade project calls for bringing the vacant downtown complex back to life as a hub of housing, shops and restaurants.

Horner spoke along with two other project representatives Friday morning to present an update on the fairgrounds project to the I-70/75 Development Association.

The early proposal for the Arcade includes a call for an “innovation hub” that would include housing the University of Dayton Center for Entrepreneurship and some faculty.

MORE: Arcade is definitely happening, developer says: ‘We’re way too pregnant’

Premier and UD are the property owners of the former fairgrounds and earlier this year shared their early vision for what could be feasible as the next phase for the 38-acre site on South Main Street site, just south of downtown.

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Become a rent-a-friend? 6 under-the-radar ways to make some extra cash

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 1:40 PM

Uber isn't the only option for making extra money Become a notary public Start dog walking and pet sitting Be a modern-day disc jockey Or a freelance personal chef Clean garages and attics Be a computer tutor Or a picture framer

Need some extra cash or an ongoing side hustle?

It can pay (literally) to get a little creative. In fact, in today's inventive economy, it can pay even more if you go beyond "creative" and into the realm of pretty weird. Still, as long as they're legal (and the following suggestions are), what does it hurt to bring home the bucks in an odd fashion?

»RELATED: 5 unique side gigs you’ll probably enjoy more than your day job

For those who are open to an off-kilter experience and not ashamed to show it, here are six odd - but perfectly legal - ways to make money:

Serve as an online mock juror

It's fairly random, because it's not guaranteed that you'll get called, but if you sign up on sites like Sign Up Direct, you can get paid to become a surrogate juror.

Here's how it works: parties to a legal case require jury-eligible citizens from particular venues. Those selected listen to the case and decide the issues in the same way they would on a convened jury. Most sessions last either eight to 10 hours on a weekend or five to seven hours on weekdays and pay between $100 and $150 per session, just as soon as the "verdict" is returned.

Get paid to be a buddy

Consider the RentaFriend website, which takes applications for people who are wiling to provide (strictly platonic, no touching allowed) friendship in exchange for hourly pay that starts around $10. Fringe benefits include free meals and entertainment like concerts and sporting events.

The reasons people rent friends include needing a date for a business event or wedding or wanting someone to do stuff with in a new town. Some of the friends employed are able to offer additional services, like tutoring in a foreign language or etiquette advice. Do note that RentaFriend doesn't perform background checks on either its friends or its members.

Deliver phone books to real live doorsteps

While those yellow phone books may be old-school, individuals and charity groups who deliver them make modern-day money for their efforts.

Yellow Books doesn't pull any punches about the difficulty of the work: "Make no mistake, this is no walk in the park," they say. "It's good old-fashioned door to door deliveries so that means lacing up those runners, heading out into the fresh air and getting that blood pumping!”

On the plus side, you only have to be 18 or older, you can earn more the harder you work, you get paid four or five times per week during delivery season and you can often choose your turf. Yellow Books recommends checking out the active delivery locations listed on its "Where & When" page and then attending a 30 minute orientation to get started. 

(Drew Angerer/Getty)

Drop in on lazy dogs. Or maybe iguanas

While Rover is known as the nation's largest network of pet sitters and dog walkers, it also offers a "drop-in" option. That means you can create a business through them (if you pass the qualifications test) where you mostly stop by to feed and check on low-maintenance dogs, cats or caged pets. 

Play video games

Apparently, a few experts actually make a living playing the popular golf arcade game Golden Tee. In 2017, GO Banking Rates advised gamers to check out the earning potential of playing games while streaming live on video platforms like Twitch. "There, fans can interact with you as you play. Of course, it helps if you're actually good at the game, and can talk strategy and character builds. On Twitch, streamers with a few thousand followers and five-figure views earn an average of $3,000 to $5,000 per month playing 40 hours per week, and that's just off subscriptions. On top of that, ad revenue averages about $250 for every 100 subscribers."

According to the Smartasset blog, the three components of a Twitch channel are the game play itself, the webcam video of the player and the audio commentary. "That means broadcasters need a computer or console and other gaming equipment, plus a camera and a microphone headset for broadcasting purposes."

Make your backyard a wedding venue

"Renting out your property for backyard weddings is also a great way for homeowners to generate income while helping couples create a special day their guests will never forget," according to the Install It Direct blog. Venuelust estimated that engaged couples will spend anywhere from $2,500 to $30,000 for a unique venue, but of course you could start smaller in the beginning.

If you're sold on the idea, Venuelust offers a complete guide to renting your home for wedding events. They begin with the advice to avoid potential liability by listing with a venue management company like Estate Weddings and Events that takes precautions to protect you from such risks. 


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178-acre tax incentive area formed in Warren County

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2018 @ 12:46 PM

Warren County commissioners approved 178-acre community reinvestment area on former SUMCO site.

Warren County commissioners approved a community reinvestment area on Tuesday for 178 acres west of Ohio 48 in Hamilton Twp.

The agreement sets the stage for the township and school board to negotiate a tax sharing agreement for commercial or industrial development of the former SUMCO industrial site off Grandin Road, officials said.

The township is working with the owners of the property, the Rippe family and Joe Geraci, on a development there, Community Development Coordinator Michelle Tegtmeier said.

RELATED: South Lebanon annexes 220 acres

The formation of the reinvestment area comes after land, including the former Peters Cartridge Factory development, was annexed by South Lebanon, as part of an agreement for the developer to get a tax abatement on this development, costing the Little Miami Schools tax revenue on developments.

RELATED: History of Peters Cartridge Factory

The abatements granted in the new area would be 50 to 100 percent for up to 15 years.

Commissioner Shannon Jones noted property taxes have dwindled on the land since SUMCO left the site eight years ago.

Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Bruce McGary said the resolution establishing the reinvestment area set up a process including the school district “at the table” for negotiations of more than 50 percent in property tax breaks.

The former SUMCO complex is expected to be demolished in anticipation of new development on the industrial site.

RELATED: $34 million in development planned at formers Peters Cartridge Factory site

Commissioner Dave Young specified that tax incentives would not be used to subsidize residential development.

“The main purpose is to drive commercial, industrial,” said Matthew Schnipke of the county economic development office.

The area also enables Hamilton Twp. “to be competitive with other areas,” including South Lebanon and other cities capable of offering similar incentives in exchange for annexation from the township.

The tax abatement agreements are more lucrative for cities and villages, which collect earning tax from businesses, unless a township is part of joint economic development district with such taxing authority.

“We really think this would be a kick-start,” Tegtmeier said, creating a better tax base for the heavily residential township, south of Lebanon and west of Mason. “Right now, we have nothing.”

MORE: Downtown Dayton housing development growth fueled by tax incentives

Young said he typically opposes creating tax incentive areas through which communities compete with each other.

But Young noted in this case it gave Hamilton Twp. a tool it could use to prevent annexation of potential economic development.

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