When Joe Castellano came to Las Vegas to attend a trade show in 1994, he immediately saw something.
It wasn’t a cool display, or a new high-tech gadget. Castellano, working for a large-format printing company in Houston, saw something much bigger here. He saw an opportunity.
“When I got off the plane for the show, I said to my partner, ‘Look, if you open another store, it has to be in Vegas … and if you do, I want it,’ ” Castellano said.
Six months later, he packed his van and set his sights on Southern Nevada, and a new beginning.
Castellano has served as owner and president of Color Reflections Las Vegas since opening in 1995. He started in a 7,200-square-foot space with seven employees, using a traditional photo lab blasting light through negatives and transparencies. But his journey began in Texas years before.
“I knew what was going on in Las Vegas in the early ’90s, and it was the same thing that was going on in Houston in the late ’70s when oil was booming and Pemex and ARAMCO were building country-sized refineries,” Castellano explained. “Back in the early ’80s, I was in the oil and gas business and sold gas compressors in Texas and Louisiana. I got laid off and couldn’t find a job. I started talking to a friend who was a printer, who suggested I become a print broker. I started to use other vendors and ran across a guy who is now my partner.”
Once he opened the shop, he soon began to realize that digital printing machines were essential to the growth of Color Reflections Las Vegas.
“In 1997, we purchased the first Durst Lambda digital printer in Nevada. It took a computer file and created the image on photographic materials. From there, we went purely digital. We knew it was the future,” Castellano said. “At the time, we had one strong competitor that had been in the business for 20 years. We knew if we didn’t get that machine, they would. As it turned out, they never did, and it changed the way we did business forever.”
With the newest equipment in place, Castellano began to assemble the real foundation for CR Vegas and its success – the people.
THAT FAMILY FEELING
Sarit Mor was born and raised in Israel. In 1985 she traveled to Europe and the U.S., with no intention of moving. She fell in love with Texas and the people there and decided to extend her stay.
“One week led to another week, one month led to another month, and I decided this is where I want to be, she said. “My hobby in Israel was photos and graphics, so I found jobs here like that because I couldn’t speak English very well.”
She moved to Las Vegas 12 years later and someone told her about Color Reflections.
“My goal was to learn and get better and to make a difference. My English was not strong, but my work ethic was. Still today, I come early to work, and I leave after everybody.”
Mor’s attitude was infectious and fit the culture Castellano was building perfectly.
“I love this country and work hard for the privilege of being here. If CR employs me, I give my 100 percent. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” she said.
Mor gradually moved from working in the dark room to assistant manager, to manager, to her current position as Vice President of Operations. She is in charge of all hiring and firing, scheduling and organizing large orders and ensuring deadlines are met. She also works with Castellano on purchasing the shop’s equipment.
She said she knew CR Vegas was the perfect fit for her because she shares Castellano’s hands-on, lead-by-example style.
“Joe is my biggest influence because he has a great work ethic. He always involves himself with customers,” Mor said. “Joe is the biggest part of CR and does whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Shannon Martin, another 20-plus-year employee who paved her own path to success at Color Reflections, agrees.
“Joe is like a dad to me. I have the utmost respect for him. He’s loyal, and we’re loyal to him. We share the same common goals: to make our clients happy with the highest quality of work. We all enjoy what we do,” Martin said. “One of the great things about Joe is that he doesn’t pretend to know it all. He’s very open to hearing different ideas. We bounce ideas off of each other. It’s very collaborative and you feel vested, like it’s your company.”
Martin began her CR Vegas career in 1998 as a receptionist. Through the years, she’s been a customer service representative, an office manager, a project manager, an account representative and has risen to Director of Business Development.
“Working my way up gave me a great knowledge and respect for each position.”
Martin also is a shining example of Color Reflections’ willingness to take on new challenges and give its employees the opportunity to help create new and exciting business opportunities.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUMS
“I stumbled into it, really, watching (then Las Vegas Mayor) Oscar Goodman talk about the Mob Museum. I thought, ‘Gosh, that would be a great project.’ I followed its progress through the city and saw there was a call out for vendors. I went to a few city meetings on my own and a few weeks later, I started getting calls from fabricators, looking for a local graphics company to partner with.
“It’s really been an incredible experience, Color Reflections didn’t do half of the stuff they were asking for at the time, but we had always done an exceptional job with quality control so I knew we could handle it. We fabricated over 850 graphics for the MOB Museum before it opened in 2012. Now almost 10 years later we are a leader in industry of providing experiential graphics for Museums, Theme Parks, Medical Centers, traveling exhibits and so much more. We have increased our equipment and services to accommodate the needs of those industries and it has been successful. It’s was a whole new world for us,” Martin said.
Vice-President Mark Baker, for whom Martin was once an executive assistant, also touted the potential for opportunity and personal growth working at Color Reflections.
“My father was in the banking business for over 20 years, and he’d always come home and complain about the corporate struggles. I didn’t understand it. He was consistently one of their top producers and always winning awards and accolades and I couldn’t comprehend why he didn’t just ignore it,” Baker said. “Then when I got my first real corporate job, six months into it I was complaining about the exact same things. When the opportunity came up with Color Reflections, I saw it as a great opportunity to work for a company with a ton of growth potential. By not working in a corporate environment, things happen quicker. If I ever have a problem, I go to one person – Joe. It’s easy to get answers and quickly, unlike the corporate environment. Many of us have been here for so many years and it says a lot about the company, and Joe. I’ve been in this city my whole life and have tons of friends in different businesses. People change jobs so often these days. I know I wouldn’t have been here for 20 years if not for the way he treats people and allows them to do well for themselves.”
SOMETIMES, A WORKOUT WORKS OUT
For T.J. Dietz, a project manager and customer service representative, a simple workout would change her career path.
“I met Joe through a mutual friend, and we ran in to each other at the gym one day. He mentioned that he was looking for a temporary receptionist. I answered the phones for a few weeks, and here I am, 14 years later,” Dietz recalled.
Her longevity with Color Reflections, like so many others, has a common denominator: Castellano.
“Joe is a people person. He’s business minded, and hands-down the best boss I have ever worked for. It’s just his attitude and how he works. He’s really great at keeping people motivated. He communicates very well. Everyone always knows what’s going on. It’s refreshing to have someone you can call a boss, but also a friend. I work with him so closely and he’s so helpful, and he’s also president of the company. It’s more like ‘let’s figure this out together.’ That’s a big thing here. Everybody wants to help each other and that trickles down from the top. That kind of thing doesn’t happen that often. He’s caring and passionate about all of the employees,” Dietz said.
Dietz says that attitude permeates with clients as well.
“Our clients aren’t just clients to us. They are people we are in contact with frequently. They have our cell numbers. It’s not just someone saying, ‘Hey, I need a poster done,’ and us saying, ‘OK, here’s your poster.’ We don’t treat customers like business clients. We treat them like friends,” she said.
It’s all part of that family feeling.
“We are just one big family just working together. We are a whole unit,” she said.
One employee who is literally part of the family has seen this company grow through an entirely different lens. That’s Jay Castellano, Joe’s son.
“I remember when we opened the first shop in the middle of town and it was a lot smaller shop than we have now, with a bunch of equipment crammed in a small space,” the younger Castellano recalled. “There were aisleways to walk and I had to be really careful; they were always moving graphics around and it was a bustling activity. My sister and I would ride around in the back of the store on furniture dollies and skateboard throughout the shop. We had a dark hallway and that led to the dark rooms, and we’d run up and down them and run into each other in the pitch-black dark.”
When Jay Castellano reached a working age, he began in digital production. But this wasn’t a situation where the president’s son was going to cakewalk into a job, and Jay had other aspirations as well.
You know, the usual things. Traveling. Learning new trades. Swimming with tiger sharks.
SWIMMING WITH THE SHARKS
“My parents weren’t so excited about that part, but they were very supportive,” Jay said of his four-year stint running a shark-diving operation off of the Florida coast. “A cooking job opened up on a shark boat. I didn’t know how to cook, but I took the job and cooked and did dishes and I got to dive with sharks all day.”
Jay says he was bitten “a handful of times” but got to the point where he was comfortable looking directly at large predatory sharks.
“They’re smarter than we give them credit for, but they are still predatory killing machines. The key is to stare at them. They don’t want to fight.”
Jay eventually worked his way up to captain, and master. But the money wasn’t there, and it was a very difficult schedule being gone 25 days a month with no cell phone or wi-fi. Jay knew his days at sea were numbered.
“I had a few close calls and was getting concerned about the industry as a whole. It was definitely time to come home,” he said. “After I returned to Color Reflections, I had an extended run in production to learn a lot of the processes of operating the machines. Then I started working in sales.”
“I grew up kind of absorbing this job my dad had. He was the boss that everyone came to when they needed help, trouble or advice. I just wanted to be near that again, in a different way. It was really neat because when I started working in sales, I felt like I already knew a lot of the answers because I had heard him so many times and knew how to speak to customers and actively listen to what they want and need.”
RISE OF THE MACHINES
Technology has also played a big role in the success and growth of Color Reflections Las Vegas. More importantly, the ability to keep up with it.
“In 2000, we were buying 5 mp (megapixel) digital cameras. Today we’re buying 80, 100 … they’ve got them bigger than that,” Joe Castellano said. “Tech changes so quickly. And nowadays there’s much more. Now you go to the trade shows and you’re looking for something as simple as a new table to use in the back of your shop, and you’re seeing multiple of everything coming out.”
That change in tech, along with a growing clientele, also forced a change in address. Color Reflections moved in 2008 to its current location, a massive 30,000-square-foot facility.
“The machines we have don’t really become obsolete, but new equipment comes out. Probably since 2008, about every two years we would get rid of everything and get all new stuff. It’s all software. The heads change a little and the equipment improves a little bit. It can go pretty fast, but the heads have to keep up. So, the software gets faster to help the equipment keep up,” Castellano continued.
Baker applauds the company president’s efforts to ensure clients are benefiting from the latest technology.
“It’s something that has really helped us with our growth. In our industry, the way technology changes, these machines – these massive devices – change and upgrade to become quicker and more efficient, with quicker output and superior quality. One of the great things that Joe always has done is stay up to date. We are constantly purchasing the latest and greatest on the market. The absolute best devices that enhance our quality and production times,” he said.
“For us, quality comes before speed,” Mor added. “Our customers demand the best quality and they are used to great quality from us. We reject anything and re-do it if it doesn’t look perfect, and the quality on the new tech products just gets better every year.”
Baker testified to Mor’s diligence and insistence on the best quality prints.
“Sarit handles quality control and is such a stickler, you’d be shocked at the work we produce in the back that she will reject and have reproduced. You’d be shocked at the level of quality we turn back. If it isn’t the absolute highest quality, it gets reproduced,” he said.
“We encourage our customers to come and see our facility. We want them to see the devices that produce their projects. They are massive and to see them run live is really impressive and gives great context to the “behind the scenes experience.” Seeing this process in person really surprises a lot of our clients.”
BIG GAME, BIG PROJECT
Having the best technology available at your disposal can come in handy when you face your company’s biggest printing and installation job. Such was the case in February 2016 when CR Vegas tackled its largest challenge yet.
Super Bowl 50.
No, CR Vegas didn’t have anything to do with the Broncos’ win over the Panthers. But when it came to housing a 5,000-person ultra-VIP party in Santa Clara, under a massive, branded, 750,000-square-foot mini-arena, Color Reflections was up for the task.
“I think the biggest project in our 25-year history has to be that one – Super Bowl 50,” Joe Castellano said. “It was such a challenge getting it done on time. We printed 400 or 500 panels; each 20 feet wide by 40 feet long. It looked like a tattoo parlor when it was done. There were hooks, loops, Velcro, slits, and reinforcements all over the place.”
“The panels had to slide into a custom tracking system to create a roof for the party celebrating the biggest event in the world, Super Bowl 50. For me, that was the biggest highlight of what I’ve worked on,” Baker said. “We also produced the graphics for Super Bowl 49 and the NFL Draft, but Super Bowl 50 was the largest mega structure installation in the world and by far the single largest project I had ever been involved in.
Mor remembered the pride her team had working on the project.
“It was long hours, but when we saw it on TV, we couldn’t wait for the Super Bowl game. The customer was happy, and we were happy to be a part of something as big as the Super Bowl,” she said.
NOT EVERYTHING ALWAYS GOES AS PLANNED
Just like in football, sometimes in the printing world, you have to call an audible. About 15 years ago, CR Vegas was hired to construct a life-sized Monopoly game board right outside Harrah’s in Reno. It was 70-feet by 70-feet, complete with 6- to 7-foot tall game pieces. You could literally park a car in the free parking space.
Castellano, Baker, and a team of project managers and installers, had printed, shipped and pieced together this massive rendition of the popular game as part of a promotion for the resort’s high rollers. It took upwards of 48 hours to install and under a tight deadline. The end result was perfect … almost.
“The event was set for a Saturday morning, and the resort executives wanted to take us out for a thank-you dinner that Friday night,” Baker recalled.
One problem. Apparently, Mother Nature was left off of the invite list, and she wasn’t happy about it.
“About an hour into dinner, my phone started ringing, multiple times,” Baker said. “It was pouring rain and the game board was flooding. Joe and I had to figure out a way to cut slits into the material to allow the water to escape. By the time we got down there the gameboard was a foot underwater,” Baker said.
They made the necessary alterations and the event went off the following morning without a hitch. Just another day at the office for Castellano and his team.
TAKING CARE OF EACH OTHER
Color Reflections Las Vegas has been a fixture in the Las Vegas community since opening in 1995, working with such organizations as Safe Nest, Opportunity Village, the Boys & Girls Clubs and St. Jude’s.
Giving back is more than just offering a little help to those in need … it’s part of the fabric of the company’s philosophy.
“You just have to give back,” Joe Castellano said. “You have all this good luck as a company over the years and you have to pass that good luck around. Safe Nest is a great charity. Taking the kids back-to-school shopping to buy them clothes and school supplies feels so good. The kids had a chance to wear new shorts, shoes, and shirts to school. These kids came from terrible circumstances, and we want to make it a little better for them. Jay would go, my wife Elizabeth, Shannon, Mark and their families … These kids were so happy to see us. So happy picking out clothes. It was fun to watch.”
“It makes me very proud to be part of something bigger. Any time I see a charity, I try to give to it myself,” Dietz said.
“Color Reflections has always supported my philanthropy with Safe Nest and various other local charities. From donated signage to sponsorships to support the events Joe has always stepped up and gotten involved. I have always been very proud to be a part of a company that gives back. Over a span of 10 years we helped raise over $650,000 through a local event called the Advertising Community Talent Show. All the proceeds went to Safe Nest, a local domestic violence non-profit.
Baker added, “It’s great. Joe has dressed up as Santa in past and we love catering to less fortunate children, to see the look in their eyes when they open brand new toys and gifts is so gratifying. Every year I would do Boys Night Out at the Boys & Girls Club. Partnering with those kids feels fantastic. There’s no better feeling.”
EVERYBODY MAKES A DIFFERENCE
When it comes to business, the company president ultimately makes the decisions, but employees’ input is always encouraged. At Color Reflections, everybody truly can make a difference.
“People that work here have a huge say, from the equipment we buy to their vacation days,” Joe Castellano said. “They have a say-so in how the company is run. They have over-ridden me in decisions many times. And then there are times where I’ve said, ‘no, you have to trust me on this one.’ But the amount of input these people have is incredible. I will buy a $500,000 piece of equipment because of what an employee tells me.”
“We’ve got six of the best outside sales reps and then we’ve got five of the best project managers and we’ve got a great digital crew and a great production crew. All of the people that make it work, that’s what sets us aside. It’s always been that,” he added.
“Every single person in our organization is extremely important. What we do is very complex. …
and we may only have 12 hours from start-to-finish. Every employee in the process is so valuable.”
Still, it’s those same people that not only do the job, but also maintain that sense of togetherness.
“We’re more like friends instead of co-workers. Helping each other. Learning from each other. We take the time to listen to someone else’s thoughts and ideas and grow from that,” Dietz said.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the people. We’re not corporate. We’re still a large mom-and-pop collaborative group that does everything together,” she said.
It all stems from the culture Joe Castellano established early on and continues to foster today.
“Work has never been a job; it’s always been a hobby for me. To be able to do what I love with people that I love, and to keep friends for decades and work for people for decades. Think about that. They walk in that door and I’m sitting in the same corner every day, and for decades, they showed up for work. That’s amazing to me,” he said.
“I would hate to work in a job that I hated. How terrible would that be? I worked at a lot of different companies. I told myself I would not run a company like that if I had the chance, and I got the chance. I got lucky.”
In a place that feels like family to so many, it’s fitting that Jay Castellano explain his favorite part about Color Reflections.
“I get to work with my dad every day. That’s the best part.”