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HOME > > Casino City Press Business Profile: Sunkist Graphics

Casino City Press Business Profile: Sunkist Graphics

22 September 2021

Sunkist Graphics President Erik Black.

Sunkist Graphics President Erik Black.

He got his start with the business as a youngster and has been responsible for everything from sales to production to distribution. Today, as President of Sunkist Graphics, Erik Black has dedicated more than 30 years of his life to the company that has become a true industry leader in design and print production for slot ma/chines, casino signs and lighting solutions.

Despite a devastating fire three years ago that nearly burned the company’s building and production press to the ground, and a worldwide pandemic that shuttered the casino industry, Sunkist Graphics’ business is as strong as ever.

Black spoke with Casino City Press to discuss the long and winding road he and his company have traveled and how its survival during tough times can be attributed to not only offering and creating new and innovative products, as well as recently inking an exclusive agreement with IGT, but also because of his team’s hard work, dedication and resilience.

Sunkist Graphics was founded in 1983. Can you give us a brief explanation of what Sunkist Graphics does and how you carved out a niche in the casino/gaming industry?

At Sunkist Graphics we design and print special suited products for the gaming industry. By focusing 90% of our design and print capabilities towards the slot industry we have been able to develop a nationwide presence of clients that know they can count on us for quality, price and service.

We utilize a distributor network to sell our products to casinos nationwide. Our network consists of Casino Network, Midwest Casino Supply and Patriot Gaming. Our current product line includes OEM and custom glass, reel strips, LED edge lit panels, casino signage, Slot Suits and video content design.

How have you managed to survive over three decades working in an industry that has seen drastic ups and downs and technological advancements during that time?

Tenacity, hard work, and a great team of people. Slot machines, in general, require graphics to make them appealing to players. In the early years, slot glass and large printed signage was plentiful. The changes we made for the first 20 years were about updating printing techniques and technologies to produce the finest products possible.

For example, we were the first to apply "bright-lighting" and "sand-etching" to slot glass. These special effects made the glass and design more appealing. Print techniques went from screen printing, to a proprietary process we called "Solitone," to silver halide printing, which allowed for the highest quality backlit printing still available to this day.

More recently, the changes have come not from new print tech, but new slot tech. As game design has shifted away from traditional slot glass, we looked to new technologies and print opportunities to develop Slot Suits, video content, and LED edge lit panel production.

Fortunately, in addition to these new products, traditional products continue to be in high demand.

Please tell us more about the development of Slot Suits.

Slot Suits started in 2008 at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas. They were-undergoing a remodel and wanted all of the IGT Red Game King cabinets to be laminated. They quickly realized the expensive of removing games from the floor, readying them for a trip to the cabinet shop and then returning them to the floor.

Knowing that we were wrapping vehicles at the time they asked if we had ever wrapped a slot machine. At that time we hadn’t, but we were interested in the idea. After some trial and error we were able to dial in our process and we started installing.

We ended up doing 900 cabinets at The Palms, all of their trash cans and ATM kiosks. The idea was vetted and Slot Suits was trademarked and branded.

To date, we have wrapped over 44,000 games nationwide. It is versatile product from a color and pattern standpoint and has proven to be an efficient way to change the look of a casino floor while never removing games from that floor.

Sunkist also has an exclusive deal with IGT. Please tell us what the agreement entails and how it all came about.

As a long standing vendor to IGT I was able to secure the production of their legacy printed products for numerous cabinet styles.

With their focus on new games, old games in the field become too expensive to support. Since these older games still have a following, casinos are finding they need to not only bring in new technology, but they need to keep older games on the floor to appeal that demographic.

The best way to improve the look and earnings in a traditional game is to upgrade the faded and smoke stained glass and reel strips with new. Add in our retrofit light kit and these games are fitting into the new slot floor landscape and seeing continued high earnings. We have the same arrangement for Bally’s and WMS products and are looking to secure a few other manufacturers.

How did you get your start in the graphics industry?

Sunkist Graphics started as Sunkist Printing in California.

Sunkist Graphics started as Sunkist Printing in California.

Sunkist Graphics actually started as Sunkist Printing in Anaheim, California. It was a family business and I was in the print shop as a child. As a teenager, I was working in production and as a young adult I was doing sales and running production.

My father, Steve Black, being the entrepreneur he is, branched out to Las Vegas after learning of the slot glass business from a person on a plane that he sat beside. Three months later, he purchased that business from Dick Thompson.

Sunkist Graphics in Las Vegas was born in 1983. In 1990, we sold the California business and I moved to Nevada. I worked in the Production and Art department for three months to understand this new style of printing. Once I had a thorough understanding or our capabilities I started as Sales Director and developed our sales team and distributor network.

In 2000, I became President of Sunkist Graphics and my father went into early retirement with an advisory role with our other family business.

What have been some of things you have done to help fend off increased competition over the years?

Honesty, I don’t pay too much attention to the competition. I found that when I did it just caused angst. I mean, I can't control what they do or don’t do, so why waste time or energy on them?
What I can control is what we do as a company and if we can provide innovative graphics, fair pricing, superb quality and fast lead time that made sense to me.

Your business was damaged severely by a fire back in April of 2018. Tell us a little about that experience and how you overcame such a dramatic event that could have been fatal to the business.

The fire was one of the most difficult times in my career. It started April 4, 2018 when one of our lasers malfunctioned and caught fire. It quickly got into the drop ceiling and was unstoppable at that point.

Thank God no one was hurt and our entire team evacuated safely. The days after the fire I felt like it may be over, however, due to an incredible team effort, we were able to salvage and clean the back half of the building that was not damaged by the fire. Our production team started working within a week. We set up a triage center in our non-air-conditioned shipping department and we had 10 of us in a space designed for three.

We were able to farm out our core product to a lab in LA that specializes in movie sets. While our color management was out the window during that time our clients understood and were happy that we were able to keep some product going. We also had help from a few vendors here in Las Vegas that assisted us in our time of need.

The battle with the insurance company was unbelievable and one of the best decisions I ever made was hiring Greenspan International, a public adjuster. While they went after the insurance company and our coverage, I was able to focus on a new location, employee retention, client needs and new equipment.

Relocating to Pilot Road in Las Vegas just seemed to make sense as we would be closer to a large majority of our customers. With all new equipment and a new location we were able to relaunch our business one year after the fire. Through it all we never dropped below 20% of our weekly ship totals and never missed a payroll.

Now, I believe our clients really like the proximity of our new facility. The collaboration and meetings at our facility were much higher than our previous location.

Speaking of setbacks, tell us about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected Sunkist Graphics and what you did to survive during the casino industry shutdown.

At this point, I was accustomed to being shut down and living in survival mode due to our fire. This time, however, the whole world was shut down with us. It was scary and the unknown in the beginning had us all reevaluating everything.

Being a sign shop, we were deemed essential and stayed open partially, but when all our customers were closed there was no one to sell to anyway. As things started opening we started creating products that could help businesses as they reopened. We did way-finding and social distancing signage, we built Lexan dividers for casinos and bar owners, and looked for new opportunities as they became available.

I personally want to thank all of our clients as well as past and current employees for their support and business over this amazing 38 year run. We look forward to continuing to provide graphics and new technologies in support of the gaming industry for many years to come.

 
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