May 2005

Creating Environments

A Southern California store fixture company offers its customers display and branding options through its newly-created sister company.

By Michaelle Bradford
Moon Design Mfg. fabricated a complete retail interior build-out for Stuart Moore, a high-end jewelry store. Materials used include European steamed beech, custom-machined aluminum components, solid billet aluminum case, fiber optic lighting and optically clear glass.

Apparently, Bruce Moon, president of Moon Design Mfg. of Vista, CA, was not joking when he wrote under his high school senior photo "on to be my dream, a cabinetmaker." Twenty-five years, two buildings and two companies later, Moon is still aiming for the stars with his quest for "creating environments for success," as the company's tagline states.

According to Ed Cleary, chief operations officer, the company has evolved over the years from its beginnings in Moon's parents' garage with neighbors complaining of him running his table saw until 11 p.m. Moon Design is now a national store fixture manufacturer with innovative strategies on how to expand its market.

Key to any successful business growth plan is experienced personnel, and Cleary says Moon started with the best.

"In the early stages, he realized that unless he hired guys that were as good as or better than him to actually do the manufacturing, his business was never going to grow," Cleary says. "[That decision] has put him in the position now to be an entrepreneur and vision-maker for the company. Yet, the company still has a distinctly personal feel. Today, he is actually out onsite [at Oliver Peoples, a luxury sunglasses retailer] making sure an installation goes according to plan."

Although the company started out as an architectural millwork firm, Cleary says that it was in the 1990s that Moon Design found its niche in store fixtures. With the changes in the economy and marketplace, Cleary says the company began doing a number of government and retail jobs.

Just last year, the company officially changed its name from Moon Custom Woodwork to Moon Design Mfg. to further emphasize its focus on the store fixture market.

Following the vision

The entrepreneurial spirit of the company was illustrated just six months ago, when Moon Design opened its new division, Visual Merchandising Group, which is incorporated under its on own name to give it financial autonomy, Cleary says.

Moon Design Mfg.

Vista, CA

Year Founded: 1980

Employees: 29

Shop Size: approx. 34,000 square feet

FYI: Six months ago, Moon Design started a sister company, the Visual Merchandising Group, to deal with the display needs of its store fixture customers.

VMG was formed because Moon Design wanted to create a clear distinction between fixtures and displays.

"Fixtures being what we all traditionally recognize as fixtures, and displays being merchandising, point-of-sale and point-of-purchase," Cleary clarifies.

"The perfect marriage between Moon Design and VMG is that we have shared customers," he says. "So instead of fractionalizing what Moon Design focuses on, we created an entirely separate company that solely focuses on display."

VMG deals with tangible items in a commercial environment that are not for sale. "It is everything that helps the store owner communicate what he is trying to do in his environment to help sell the product," Cleary says.

VMG can now go back to all of the customers Moon Design has had success with over the years and offer them these new options, which are significant because of the direction in which the store fixturing market is heading.

Cleary says that one of the growing trends is for retailers to set themselves apart with unique environments and to incorporate branding into their fixtures. He feels his company is ideally suited to meet these needs because of the creation of VMG, as well as Moon Design's penchant for taking on

difficult projects.

Getting started

As with any new company, there are always some difficulties to overcome. However, Cleary feels that VMG is in a better position to meet many challenges because of the resources and assets it has acquired, along with the new staff members, who have customer contacts as well as a substantial background within the display industry, he says.

Moon Design Mfg. has done many projects for Landry's, including this lighting fixture for its Charthouse restaurant.

"Instead of starting from a dead stop, we started with a little motion already," Cleary adds.

The overall personnel is approximately 29 people with four employees in the VMG office and seven in the Moon Design office. The remainder of the personnel works in the shop. The companies occupy two buildings for approximately 34,000 square feet of combined space, with Moon Design occupying just under 30,000 square feet of that in the first building. The second building, which now houses VMG, was acquired in 1996 and is located in the neighboring suite of offices just across a narrow driveway.

In the short period of time VMG has been in operation, it seems to be having an impact.

"The response from customers has been great," Cleary says. "Part of the process has been educating fixture customers about just what we can do for them on the display side and educating display customers about what we can do for them on the fixtures side. Through that process, we are creating more and more crossover. But there is plenty of business on the VMG side that is not reliant on someone purchasing fixtures as well."

Proof is in the projects

Moon Design and VMG's two-fold approach is best exemplified, says Cleary, by the Oliver Peoples project.

"Moon Design is not only doing fixtures for the store, but VMG is also working with Oliver Peoples on some of its display needs," Cleary says. "We like to focus our time and attention on knowing what our customers' needs are and how much more we can service those needs."

One way to meet the needs of Oliver Peoples was to help the retailer create an environment that would highlight $300 to $500 sunglasses in such a way that its customers believe that the glasses are worth that much. Cleary says this project has "incredibly interesting installation and very tricky architectural components.

"One piece we did was a round set of drawers that has a diameter of about 4 feet and a height of about 4 feet. The top is optically clear glass and underneath it are bowls that we built out of MDF and painted. [These drawers] are 9 inches in diameter and about 7 inches deep. Those three bowls become drawers that are pulled out from the top underneath the glass," he says. "All the way down that round element is a series of drawers that store inventory displayed above. That is a completely custom piece."

According to Cleary, complicated designs such as Oliver Peoples' set of drawers is where the company shines. "We always say, 'The hairier the project the better,'" he says.

Other notable projects for the company include Via Spiga shoes, Stuart Moore jewelers and Macys.

In the shop and future plans

Automation has been a "great" advance for the company when it comes to repetition and meeting a tight time frame, Cleary says. Still, he acknowledges the importance of having craftsmen involved in the process.

Moon Design Mfg. fabricated a complete re-build of Macy's' Northridge, CA, location after an earthquake. Materials include cherry veneers and solids, brass, electrical and lighting.

"We might be able to knock out the parts, but when it comes to assembly and detailing - the finer aspects of manufacturing - it gets down to the people involved," he says.

Equipment in the shop includes: Holz-Her CA-80 computerized beam saw; Morbidelli Author 504 point-to-point; IDM 66 computerized edgebander; Altendorf sliding table saw; Holz-Her 1410 edgebander; Morbidelli Globo boring machine; Holz-Her 1270 vertical panel saw; Onsrud pin-router; SCMI joiner, shaper, planer and widebelt sander; Hoffman PU2 mortise machine and Castle TSM20 mortise machine.

Although the company is a wood-based manufacturer, Cleary says the company typically uses other materials as well, such as glass, stone, acrylics, metal, electrical and fiber optics.

The last year has been one of expansion and growth for Moon Design and VMG. "We have put a lot in place," Cleary says. "But we believe that controlled growth is the way to do it." Annual sales for Moon Design are between $3 million to $3.5 million and sales for VMG are between $1 million and $1.5 million, Cleary adds. He believes that the corporate structure has been put in place for continued success for both companies.

"Our mission and concept is, 'If we can help our customers create an environment where they can succeed, then we are doing our job well,'" Cleary says. "The long-term goal is to come in and work with a customer's vision and have the resources in place on all levels to carry out that vision."


Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.