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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Digitally Printed Wallcoverings Fulfill Designer Needs

By 2:30 p.m., Aaron Kirsch has already worked a full day. The man gets into the office every day at 6:30 a.m., where in addition to running a growing business he is overseeing construction of a new space where a brand-new 10-foot-wide printer being shipped from Austria will be installed. He’s excited about the machine, which Astek will be the first in the U.S. to have. “It’s cutting-edge technology as far as wide-format digital printing goes,” said Kirsch who is the president and CEO of Astek Wallcoverings, adding that it’s “even eco-friendly.” By that he means that it uses a zero-VOC (volatile organic compounds) technology and prints on stock that Kirsch said is, “probably the most eco-friendly type you can afford for wallcoverings in today’s world.” The machine will increase the company’s capacity to take on more work and send more of its custom-designed offerings out to places like Canada, Dubai and Europe, as well as throughout the states. “We will probably have a 30 to 40 percent increase over the numbers you have (from the end of 2007),” said Kirsch. It’s quite a step up from 1980 when Kirsch first started the business in Boyle Heights. Kirsch moved the business to the Valley about 17 years ago, purchasing the Arminta Avenue building in Van Nuys a couple of years ago. That grew the company’s space from 7,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet. There are presently 23 employees. The business has a well-diversified, four-pronged client base. First, there’s the architectural design trade, which he said is holding steady. Their custom-designed prints can be found in hotels and restaurants all over the world. “We’ve done work everywhere in L.A., from the Standard Hotel to the Viceroy to the new Conga Room, that’s Jennifer Lopez’s nightclub and the newly completed Shangri-La hotel, in Santa Monica,” said Kirsch. Then there’s the feature film and television arm which is also thriving, albeit with some tension surrounding fears about another entertainment industry strike. Astek’s products have been featured on the likes of Extreme Home Makeover and Top Design on Bravo. On the Top Design website blog, one of the most frequently asked question seems to be, “Where can I get that wallcovering?” A lot of that success can be credited to part-owner and designer Scott Pitters who has been with the company for 10 years. “He works closely with Ty Pennington on custom designs for the Extreme Home Makeover whipping them up in a day and shipping them in a day,” said Kirsch. “He’s also done designs for the Style Network on E! Retailer BCBG Max Azria Group is one satisfied customer. “They’re great people to work with,” said Isabel Moreno, project manager for BCBG. “They do a lot of wallcoverings for our retail stores, both the freestanding and mall outlets.” She relies on Astek for large orders of stock product but says their custom design work is where they really shine. “They do it really fast,” she said, “They’re really good at turning the designs over quickly and then the actual production time is amazing with the custom designs. They can literally produce it in a day.” Of all of the segments of Astek’s business, the wholesale trade with national retailers like Lowes and Sherwin Williams is the weakest segment right now, said Kirsch. And then there’s the retail website that has been up and running for about two years. “Design Your Wall has blossomed,” said Kirsch. “That’s doubled in volume in one year. We get orders from all across the world on that site. I think we just had an order go to Bahrain and another go to Spain.” Running a retail entity has been a big shift for Astek, requiring that a completely separate division be set up with several dedicated employees. “It’s more than a challenge,” said Kirsch. “Retail is more holding hands and definitely more maintenance and you don’t sell as many custom prints, it’s off-the-shelf type products.” It’s clear Kirsch takes a lot of pride in the custom work. “In Hollywood, the art directors and set decorators we work with like to put their own stamp on the products so it’s unique, it’s different. They’re one-off,” he said. The new equipment coming in will also expand on that, Kirsch added, giving the company the ability to digitally print on glass, metal and wood rather than having to use the more toxic silkscreening process. “That’s the future of the print industry,” said Kirsch. ASTEK WALLCOVERINGS Van Nuys INNOVATOR No. 9 Fastest Growing Company $5 Million to $9.9 Million (76%)

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