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Rick Crowley happened upon his business by a stroke of luck.
In 1979 he ran into a few acquaintances who were working on a project for a local advertising agency, building a large replica of a telephone for Rochester Telephone Corp.
Crowley joined the project, realizing it was a perfect outlet for his background in design and fine arts.
"I was working with them and realized that I wanted to do this," says Crowley, 59. "So we finished the project. And by the time it was done, the agency we were working with said we should be doing this full time, because there was really nowhere to get quality props built between New York and Chicago."
The group took the advice and started a business, Scale 2 Display & Graphics. The other two partners departed over the next few years, leaving Crowley the sole owner.
Scale 2 now specializes in designing and fabricating custom and portable exhibits, kiosks and product replicas. The company does much of its work in trade show materials, including signs and graphics.
In 2010 the company created a fish sculpture for Eastman Kodak Co. using 800 small pieces of Kodak's new Trillian SP Thermal Plates. These plates are intended to help the printing business by reducing waste and energy use; to display them at a trade show, Kodak had Scale 2 create the sculpture and also featured its design in a promotional video.
Crowley says much has changed in the 34 years of the company's existence.
"Things have evolved quite a bit," he says. "Initially we did a lot of props and sets, but through computers our capabilities quickly changed and we grew into being a full exhibit company."
Creativity is the cornerstone of the work Scale 2 does, Crowley says.
"Our approach has always been an artistic one, to think of how we can do things to make the displays really interesting as we create the product replicas and process simulations," he says. "When we design a display or install a lobby, we're often telling a story for that company."
Today Scale 2 has between five and seven employees, depending on the time of year and the projects it is working on, Crowley says. While the company does not disclose annual revenue figures, he says Scale 2 has dozens of clients that use it for repeated projects.
Scale 2 works with local and national clients, including area colleges, health care providers and companies such as Paychex Inc. and Kodak.
Design ideas come in different ways, Crowley says. Sometimes companies have a clear idea of what they want built and simply give Scale 2 the task of putting it together; at other times, the client has only a rough idea of what it would like to create. Much of the work comes through local advertising and marketing agencies, Crowley says.
"It usually starts with a concept from a creative director at an agency," he says. "It might be something like a pencil sketch, and sometimes they rely on me to help them through the creative process. I often listen to their ideas and sketch it up for them to bring back to the clients.
"A lot of people have creative ideas but can't necessarily express them well on paper. We take our ideas and modify and change things as needed, then give them a timeline and a price and go from there."
Once the concept is set, the fun begins, Crowley says.
"I've always had a fascination with materials," he says. "I love taking that pencil sketch and figuring out what the best materials are to use. We have a range of wood, metals, plastics and vinyls that we fabricate with. We do 95 percent of all the creation work ourselves right here in the company."
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