The gone but instantly recognizable old "Caddy's" wall painting was a Holthaus Lackner project. (Photo courtesy of Holthaus Lackner Signs)
CINCINNATI - What does it take for a family business to survive and thrive for 25 years or more? Our new Monday feature shares the secrets to success of local businesses with staying power.
The ancestor of Holthaus Lackner Sign Company got its start in the same year as The Great Depression. Still, with a flair for art and commerce, its founder managed to give the Cincinnati business staying power.
Become a WCPO Insider to read more about Holthaus Lackner's history and meet the man who's the latest in a long line of leaders who put the "family" in this family business.
CINCINNATI - WCPO is pleased to introduce a new Monday feature. "Staying Power" will focus on local businesses, most of them family-owned, that have what it takes to survive and thrive for 25 years or more.
What: Award-winning local sign manufacturer and installer, responsible for some of the area's most well-known and iconic signage.
Where: 817 Ridgeway Avenue, Cincinnati
Founded: 1929 by Gus Holthaus Sr. (under its original incarnation as Gus Holthaus Signs) Number of employees: 46
Gustav Holthaus was born in 1850 and emigrated from to Germany to Cincinnati in 1880. He soon found himself in demand as a fresco artist for many of the area's finest homes. He was also known for his pastel and oil paintings.
Arnold Holthaus followed his father Gustav's lead and, at an early age, became known as a fine artist for his oil paintings, which often incorporated signage in scenic landscapes. The paintings were displayed in groceries and butcher shops throughout the region (see photo below). They eventually led the Holthaus family into the sign-painting business.
Gus Holthaus Sr. founded his sign company in 1929 in the back room of his West End apartment, near the old Crosley Field. The company established a name for itself throuhout the area for quality sign painting, truck lettering and unique building advertisements. By 1940, the company had grown to the point where the senior Holthaus enlisted the help of his son, Gus, Jr., to help him open a shop at 10 W. Central Parkway downtown. They fledgling company began adding services and hired other skilled artisans.
Through the years, zoning laws have changed the way signs are viewed, fabricated and installed. What used to be a form of art and branding is now just a "ghost" that appears on fewer and fewer old buildings.
Growing in the modern era:
1970s and 1980s: The four grandsons of Gus, Sr. became active in the business. As the industry continued to evolve, so did their vision for the future of the growing company. They purchased the first computerized sign manufacturing equipment in the city and set the standard for the industry in the new art of sign-making.
1989: Gus Holthaus Signs purchased Barrows Corporation, a leading regional sign manufacturer, and incorporated additional technology and equipment as well as expertise in larger-scale manufacturing experience.
2010: Holthaus Signs purchased another long-time area sign manufacturer, Lackner Signs (founded in 1928 by George Lackner, a former associate of Gus Holthaus, Sr.) and changed the company's name to Holthaus Lackner Signs.
Meet the Boss: Q&A with Kevin Holthaus, President and CEO
1. Who are your customers?
Some of our customers include the Cincinnati Reds, LaRosa's, UC, Xavier, NKU, and Horsehoe, Hollywood and Belterra Park (the old River Downs) Casinos.
Also, major healthcare facilities of the Tri-State area. We also work closely with all the major general contractors, design firms and advertising agencies of the Greater Cincinnati area. And thousands of local restaurants, offices and retail companies within a 100-mile radius."
2. What's great about doing business in the Cincinnati region?
Being able to take part in the city's many changes, by providing signage for the up-and-coming developments like The Banks and Over-the-Rhine, as well Uptown Clifton. We're constantly helping to change the "face" of Cincinnati, with new unique looks for the businesses of the community.
3. What's challenging about doing business in this region?
There are an enormous amount of small sign companies that come and go, which constantly challenges us to remain THE go-to sign company in our area.
4. What has proven to be the key to your business's longevity?
Our business longevity can be attributed to our employees and their outstanding amount of pride in their workmanship. We have the unique opportunity to see our product on almost every corner of every community in the Tri-State area. This sense of pride has been handed down for five generations and instilled in all our employees along the way.
5. Fill in the blank: "I bet you didn't know...." about Holthaus Lacker Signs:
"This year (2014) will be the 95th year we have led the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade!"
Connect with Holthaus Lackner Signs
(All photos courtesy of Holthaus Lackner Signs)