Factory Floor: Dust City Designs
Out of the dust at one of the world’s most inventive music and art festivals has risen a company determined to make custom stickers more sustainable. Dust City Designs (PPAI 678997) in Denver, Colorado, manufactures wood stickers from maple and cherry, laser-cutting intricate designs to create memorable gifts and giveaways for a variety of promotional applications.
“People often refer to the Burning Man festival as the ‘Dust City,’” says CEO and Founder Josh Glisan, referring to the annual multi-day cultural festival in Nevada. “Most everyone who works here has been to ‘the Burn’ or one of the regional events [hence the company name]; we have an extremely creative and expressive team here.”
While there is no nationally recognized training or certification for the type of work done by Dust City employees, Glisan says his team undergoes rigorous training on the equipment. “It does take quite a bit of training to learn to operate our machines. We work with extremely tight tolerances on our stickers and it takes quite a bit of practice to be able to correctly align wood tiles in our machines,” he says.
Glisan says his company is founded on principles of “creating a work environment that makes everyone want to come to work, and creating a product that leaves our earth better than we found it. Our favorite tag line is ‘Keep vinyl stickers out of our waterway.’”
Dust City initially launched its products in the gift and souvenir industry, and quickly saw demand rise. “The product took off at a speed that shocked us. The reorders were constantly coming in,” says Glisan. “As we saw more and more distribution in gift shops across the world, we started getting more inquiries from companies who wanted their logos turned into stickers.”
The sheer volume of orders led Glisan to seek out opportunities to work with distributors, who he says have helped by taking the work of responding to branding inquiries off the supplier’s plate. “The distributors have really helped to make life easier for us,” he says.
Handling promotional orders wasn’t the first or only hurdle to Dust City’s success. Glisan says the material itself created production challenges for his crew. “We are doing things with wood that have never been done before. Wood veneer is not meant to be flexed around items with small circumferences, like water bottles,” he explains. “So, we spent a lot of time working with our veneer suppliers to get some of the most flexible veneer we can. Our stickers are so flexible that you can wrap them around a pencil!”
The next task was to find a way to protect the stickers from water and UV rays. “There isn’t a clear coat in the world that is meant to be flexible … no clear coats worked without breaking and cracking, so we spent several months working with a manufacturer to create a protective coating for our stickers that flexed with them,” he says. Dust City’s wood stickers can even be washed in the dishwasher multiple times without any negative impact.
“We have an extremely strict quality control department and reject stickers for multiple reasons,” he says. “We know that every sticker we send out the door may be the only sticker someone gets. So, if there is even something slightly wrong, then they won’t have a good experience with our product. We want everyone to love our sticker and quality control is No. 1 here.”
The final hurdle in the early days of selling the product was education. “We’re doing something with wood that blows most people’s minds,” says Glisan. “We’ve worked hard on our packaging to make sure that there are no questions left when it comes to this product. Once the end user understands that wood stickers work just like vinyl stickers, they instantly fall in love with them.”
For Glisan and his team, the best part of the process has been the reaction to the stickers. “Absolutely everyone loves them when they get one,” he says. “They love them so much that they end up showing them off to everyone. (Isn’t that the best reaction you could get from a promotional product?) We also love the insane amount of designs that we get to turn into stickers. We’ve worked with multiple Fortune 500 companies all the way down to mom-and-pop shops in the middle of nowhere.
“Every employee here has wood stickers on absolutely everything,” Glisan adds. “If there is a blank surface around the shop, it gets a sticker!”
About Dust City Designs
Founding date February 2015
Principal CEO Josh Glisan
Number of orders filled per month 20,000 units
Notable accomplishments: Best Made In America Product 2016, Urban Expo
Size of production facility 4,000 square feet
Number of employees 12
Types of specialized equipment Multiple Epilog laser CNC machines
At The Office
“One of the best things about our shop is how much fun we get to have here. There are Nerf wars all the time; we also fly drones through the shop from time to time. We try to get out quite often to have some fun as a family. We’ve gone to music festivals as a team. We’ve also gone to our local amusement park. It was such a blast to watch so many of our team members conquer their fears and go on rides they never had before. When everyone is egging you on, it’s hard to say no. We are a very tight‑knit family here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”