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Scenic Solutions sets the stage for success

Published: Monday, March 05, 2018 @ 8:35 AM
By: Thomas Gnau - Staff Writer

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.