Record project, new storefronts cap big year for third-generation family business
When the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino opened this summer in the former Trump Taj Mahal, it represented more than a big resurgence for Atlantic City.
The casino signage, feature walls and flooring inside the $500 million property also equal the largest project for Sioux Falls-based Creative Surfaces, a family business entering its third generation.
“If you walk in virtually any casino in the country, you’re going to see our products,” said CEO Jud Pins, who took over the business from his parents, Ted and Bev, almost 25 years ago.
The signature project caps a big summer for the family business. In the past week, it opened two new storefronts along 57th Street west of the tunnel at I-229. Cambria Gallery, which includes a full working kitchen and complete slabs of Cambria Stone, and Creative Surfaces Countertops & Tile, a showroom for all counter material displays and in-home consultation, are located in a retail center near the new JJ’s Wine, Spirits & Cigars.
Next week, Cambria will serve as the presenting sponsor for the Sanford International PGA tournament. Creative Surfaces provided the signage for the event and many of the finishes at the newly remodeled host site, Minnehaha Country Club.
It’s a long way from the business’ beginnings as a laminate countertop company in 1988.
“We went from cutting five kitchen countertops a week to four divisions and 50 projects in the shop at any given time,” Pins said. “We didn’t have a sign company then, and now in the casino sign business, we’re one of the biggest in the world.”
Ted and Bev Pins became business owners in Sioux City in 1972. They later sold their kitchen cabinet business to employees, but their children, Jud and Jessie, grew up sweeping floors, answering phones and cutting weeds for the family business.
Their parents founded Creative Surfaces in 1988 in Sioux Falls to meet a void in the market, Pins said. At the time, he was working in Sioux Falls for a division of StarMark Cabinetry.
“I couldn’t wait to get away from the family business,” he said. “Then we got bought out, and I felt I wanted to build my own business. My dad’s business had eight employees doing primarily countertops, and I thought I could take this business and grow it on my own.”
He and Jessie rejoined the business weeks apart.
“My dad and I handled the shop and the commercial cabinetry side, and my mother and Jessie worked on the laminate counter side,” Pins said.
“My dad loved the shop. He loved to go out there and build. I handled the sales, and he drew it and built it. So when I pushed to grow, he would get concerned. I went out and bought a $45,000 piece of equipment, and he about died. Then, I explained it could do the work of four or five people, and he said, ‘Sure.’ ”
As the business grew fast, his parents decided to exit. Jud and Jessie bought them out.
“Jessie was a good partner because she let me go and I traveled a lot and she stayed here at home base,” Pins said. “It was growing fast, and that was putting pressure on her too, and she was starting a family and decided to transition out.”
His wife, Denise, has overseen marketing and special events for the past decade.
Big early customers Orion Foods and Hot Stuff Pizza provided a base for further business development.
When South Dakota legalized video poker, it opened up a market for casino signage that Creative Services began to dominate.
“We walked up and down the street in Las Vegas and cold-called, and at that time there was really only one other person making casino signs. We had a better workforce and a better price,” Pins said.
Like he did, Pins’ children grew up working in the family business and didn’t enter it after graduation.
Justin and Ashley Pins remember it as an “all hands on deck” approach as children.
“I was 8 years old when I actually started ‘working’ at Creative Surfaces,” Justin said. “At the time, our largest client was Orion Foods, and the project was these 3-foot-tall cookie jar displays. Ashley and I had to wrap white vinyl around the cookie bins at the bottom of the display, but the issue was the cookie bin was bigger than either one of us. We had to flip them over in order to wrap the three sides of the display.”
While they damaged several and caused additional work, “our staff were so patient with us,” Justin said, adding he remembers staff picking them up from child care to help their parents and driving them around on deliveries.
Ashley remembers arranging office supplies with the secretary and learning from her aunt how to answer the phone, take messages and learn the intercom.
“One of my favorite memories was lunchtime, though. There used to be a huge conference room that everyone would gather for lunch – my grandparents, my dad, my aunt, my great-uncle. Looking back now, I can’t help but think how important it is that we were exposed to day-to-day happenings at such a young age,” she said.
A blended family, Denise’s children also worked in the business while in school.
“I think all the kids saw how Jud built the company through hard work, dedication and commitment, and they learned those traits from their parents,” Denise said. “Success doesn’t happen overnight. You have to work at it.”
Justin went to the University of Kansas and worked for the school’s athletic department. Job-hunting led him home, and he has spent the past decade at Creative Surfaces. He now serves as vice president of operations.
“I always had plans to come back and work in the family business,” he said. “I loved what our company did and our staff, and I wanted to continue what my grandparents and dad had built, so my children can have the same experiences I had growing up.”
Ashley and her husband, Matt Kayser, moved with Matt’s military career to the East Coast and Texas before coming back to Sioux Falls. Ashley works on bids and manages the properties while Matt is the company’s controller and division manager for signs.
“It’s not always easy to be part of a family business – both for the family members and the employees,” she said. “The people you have working for you really are what make any business. To me, seeing so many longtime employees and their families at work picnics or while walking through the office is the best part.”
They both have become connected to the Prairie Family Business Association after being referred by their family friend, attorney Brian Kirby.
“I heard great success stories about other family businesses finding guidance and resources with Prairie Family,” Ashley said. “There are webinars and articles that seem to pop up in your email at just the right time.”
The family business is a welcome addition to the association, said executive director Laura Schoen Carbonneau.
“It’s wonderful to see multiple generations working together to build an industry-leading business from Sioux Falls,” she said. “We’re excited to be able to help them build relationships with other family businesses, connect to a wide variety of resources and learn from them as they share their own best practices.”
Both generations say the association will be helpful as they transition into ownership.
“We’ve had discussions amongst the family and consultations with an attorney, so the wheels are turning, but I’m only 54,” Pins said. “We want to transition out but haven’t decided on the best time. It’s worked out well having our kids in the business. They push us too. They’ve brought a lot of new ideas, and I can see now how my dad felt when I did that. It’s a different dynamic, and it’s more to get your arms around now than it was.”
His son, Justin, agreed.
“There’s incredible value just in knowing we have support and access to other business leaders in similar positions experiencing many of the same things in their business as we are as we plan for the future,” he said.
“My advice to anyone going into the family business is to be patient. You come in with your own ideas and energy, but you have to pay your dues too and honor all the work that’s come before you.”