Give Us a Week
A week allows little time to fabricate all of a new retail location’s storefront and signage, yet Austin, TX-based Ion Art completed five such projects this October alone. The architectural signage is for Kendra Scott, a jewelry retailer with a yellow color scheme and a golden touch. Ion Art already has 20 more stores on its schedule (and 50 complete), part of a 300-store rollout that began in 2010. These week-long windows of opportunity require collaborating with general contractors, other suppliers and vendors, and pleasing both govern-mental authorities as well as local landlords.
Every store begins with an entrepreneur and an idea. Founder Kendra Scott built her brand from a startup in her spare bedroom into a multimillion-dollar company. In doing so, she needed considerable design and architectural help. Sharon Keshishian, president of Ion Art, recalled being introduced to the store’s namesake by an architectural firm that did not end up remaining with the project. “We got along very well with Kendra,” Sharon said. “She liked the quality of our work, from design through complete installation, and also our being a small and personal local company.”
A period of refinement
At first, according to Sharon, Kendra Scott planned only three stores, all in Texas. “We did a lot of brainstorming early on,” Sharon said, “to develop all the various architectural signage elements, as well as many of the store’s other branding facets, such as tables, planters, drawer handles and special fixtures.”
“We would take drawings from those brainstorming sessions and turn them into shapes and 3D forms,” said Kris Woo, Ion Art’s chief operating officer who also had a hand in the initial Kendra Scott design concepts. “We did a lot of tests with samples and played with LEDs to check the lighting and the warmth of colors,” she said. Though the process at first was slow and drawn out, it accomplished the important goal of standardizing most of the store’s elements. Kendra Scott herself changed and refined the look and feel of her stores somewhat over the first couple of years and [the first] few locations. Ion Art continued to work closely with Kendra to carry out those changes.
Ultimately, Kendra settled on a logo of four stylized circles interlocking to create a classic wood-print flower image. Ion Art integrated this basic shape into a repeating pattern for the storefront’s “screen,” which serves as the background to the projecting and wall signs themselves. This high-end, refined look, perfect for a jewelry store, helped to brand the first few stores, and the expansion schedule began. As the rollouts increased in pace, Ion Art stayed in stride. To streamline the design-to-finished-product, all designs that Ion Art is responsible for are com-piled into art books by designer Mali Recai. Each unique store’s art book is delivered to its landlord six months prior to fabrication for review and sign-off. Then, Ion Art schedules its critical week’s work.
The 168-hour marathon
“After the design, it’s hammer down,” said Eric Makela, the company’s project director, architectural fabrication. “I do a site survey and measure everything, then it’s back to the shop to sit down with the art department.” From there, production artists make the designs into workable files, which are routed, cut and welded. Ion Art employs an AXYZ Automation router to cut all of its plastics, aluminum and wood, and a MultiCam CNC Plasma for steel cutouts. All of Ion’s welders, such as the Millermatic 252, come from Miller and are set up to weld both steel and aluminum. Ion also uses Miller TIG welders for more specialty welding.
All of the aluminum and acrylic elements are dispensed to fabricators to finish by hand. “Then comes painting and reassembly, test lighting and inspection,” he said. Ion Art uses Matthews Paint System’s Low-VOC Satin line for all its painting needs. Next, the completed storefront and sign-age elements are loaded up and delivered, the whole process taking just one week. On occasion, a specific landlord will require work with a particular vendor, which is fine, according to Eric, but a rare circumstance.
Consistency within a range
Kendra Scott demands a consistent, but not cookie-cutter, look. Different locations, dimensions, local signage codes and other considerations also require customized designs. “We have about 20 different versions to match specific locations’ needs,” Eric said of the range of designs required.
A question that comes up often with inspectors is: Where does the architectural (construction) aspect end and the storefront signage begin? In short, it depends. “The pattern in the storefront screen is also something that varies,” Kris said. “The color bar on the wall has to be measured every time.”
Despite these variances, everything still has to happen quickly. “Sometimes something looks good on paper,” Kris said, “but when it’s built the client wants to go in a different direction.” Sharon agreed: “We have so little time to do our part after the architect and GC have done theirs.” When adjustments have to happen, the team at Ion Art acts quickly.
This yellow rose going nationwide
Having expanded well outside of Texas, Kendra Scott’s new bright yellow locations are taking Ion Art’s team all over the US. “The logistics are the big challenge now,” Sharon said, citing travel times that further squeeze a busy schedule. It helps to have the right people, Eric said, to clear unexpected hurdles. Ion Art’s newfound efficiency has allowed them to fit five “weeks” into a single month.
“We’ve been surprised at how fast Kendra Scott has grown as a store,” Kris said. “We didn’t expect 300 stores in five years when she was first starting out in Austin.” New locations Eric recently visited, one in California, the other in Miami, are set to open soon. Looks like Ion Art is set as a jewel in the crown of one of the faster-growing retailers of its kind in the US.
About Ion Art
Ion Art Inc. was founded by husband-and-wife team Greg and Sharon Keshisian in 1986 to create and sell neon art. Over time it has grown into a “design-build” shop, employing a wide range of employees skilled in glass and metal work. Over the past 20 years, Ion Art has compiled a list of increasingly high-profile clients, and continues to offer unique neon and custom signage, architectural lighting and environmental solutions.
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