Les LaMOTTE: Imagineer / Author

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  • Tell us something about yourself, your background:

Introduction to Kites and Tension Structures

“A half-century ago… my grandfather taught me the wonder of designing, building, and flying my first kite. It was a remarkable experience, the kite was made of sugar pine, wrapping string, newspaper, and white glue.”

Those very valuable insights and introduction to handmade creativity” combined with my Eagle Scouting experience using lightweight tenting structures sparked the flames of creative thinking.

My Artistic Development

In ninth grade I began a self study course through Art Instruction schools who 50 years later became a clients of Xtra Lite Displays. My further concentration and study in high school and at Moorhead State University in Minnesota provided my Art degree with emphasis in Graphic Design. My senior project in college was on displays and it later gave me the integrity to join as Design Director of Skyline Displays. I was allowed the freedom to build a design culture and special design tools and training for all of their national and international distributors. While in this display culture I learned of the beginning wave of large-scale digital printing and my further experiences in Nashville lead me to design and found Xtra Lite Display Systems, Inc. of Burnsville, Minnesota USA. As one the first display companies internationally with a light weight display solutions we were first recognized worldwide and even to the Skyline international distributors in Australia and New Zealand and then to a larger group of domestic distributors in the USA.

How I Succeeded

With only $14 dollars, a list of magazines worldwide, and armed with a single photo of my newly designed Xtra Lite Display System. I road the crest of the wave of the advent of large format digital graphics which was the “Chocolate” and aerospace aluminum tenting tubings the “Peanut Butter”. When they collided the result was this aerospace aluminum structural tension display graphic system. Within a few weeks of the mailings, I instantly began receiving orders from places like Argentina, Brazil, Spain adding up to over 36 countries around the globe. My displays sold over $14 million in revenue over the 14 years of my business.

Support for Succeed

My rock is my beautiful, and wonderfully talented wife Vicky, of almost 50 years, we have raised our family of three outstanding gifted children to grown adults with their fantastic supportive spouses giving us twelve beautiful and amazing grandchildren.”

I have become a motivational speaker, writer, designer, and multi-award-winning ASCAP singer/songwriter. Some say I possesses a charisma all my own. I am an expert generalist “MacGyver” and leader in all that I accomplish. I am a connector of people with the keen ability to quickly win friends by genuinely caring about them, motivating, and connecting them to others who can help them to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

  • Can you list your ventures with a brief explanation of each:

Graphic Design

I have had the pleasure of designing hundreds of logos, logotypes, and product Names and Brands, for many companies and corporations both extremely large fortune 500’s, 100’s and upstarts. Some are: Padco – paint pad company, Skyline Displays, Xtra Lite Displays®, Innovation for Results®, SolarTrek™, 3M – Scotch Audio Tapes, Mobile One Race Team, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, DynaFoam, Pepsodent Toothpaste (Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand), Best Seminary – French Speaking Africa, Wenger – music products, and many others.

Structural Display Products & Systems

Xtra Lite Display Systems® family of products XL1, XL2, 2 Graphic, 3 Graphic, Strato, ParaScope, XtraView, TableTop, Billboard, Quad Tower, Tri-Tower, EZ View, X-Kite, Mini-Lite, Elegance.

Product Design

Xtra Lite Displays – Cord wheel insertion mechanism, SolarTrek – iHold Solar Charger, PlusPower – 2 Variable Voltage from a Removable Ryobi Battery, and 18V Solar student learning panel.

Electrical & Electronics

Xtra Lite Lighting, and Powered Turn Table, SolarTrek – iHold Solar Solar Charger, PlusPower – 2 Variable Voltage, and 18V Solar Panel.

  • How/Why did you start as an entrepreneur? What set you off?

Small Beginnings

Of course my early lesson in kite making with my grandfather. I also worked closely with my father who was a carpenter and amateur architect and inventor as well. He designed and patented his automotive hot water injector to reduce gas consumption and keep the engine cylinders clean.

Show Time!

We loved to setup shows in our basement with all of the blankets in the house for curtains. We took great care in bringing everything down to our level including printing and making the tickets ourselves using my father’s sewing machine.

Up Up and Away!

In my early years it wasn’t uncommon to after dinner to out and burn the trash. There were many of those extremely cheap ads showing hot air balloon kits for under a dollar. So, I probably tried 2-3 times to build a large hot air balloon and launch it over the night trash fire, many cheap thrills and it begins to awaken your inner creative spirit.

Toot Toot To Woodworking

When I was 8 I received a train set for Christmas and put it together learning to build a platform and wiring it was my first exposure to electricity. When my grandfather move next to us he brought all of his power tools and we made a large shop in our basement which was my go-to place with power table saw, jig saw, grinding wheel, and all of the hand tools.

Start Your Motors

Another inspiration in learning electricity was in seventh grade. We built our own motors and I was the only one in class that their motor started up without any help from the teacher producing great pride and keeping me on track.

  • How did you get to where you are now?

The Next Shiny Object

Most of the business in the world today are busy looking for the next new thing or product or service, and they need to because that is just what they have been programmed by their customers to think about, or the opposite is true—the customers are preprogrammed and wired in their DNA to always search for the next new thing and especially if it is on SALE in the Minnesota mind-set.

Pursuing Your Childhood Dreams

I was just a youngster in the fifties, and Walt Disney had produced many new films and begun working on the Walt Disney theme park in Anaheim, California. I thought he walked on water, as I stared at the black-and-white TV soon to be in “Living Color” every Sunday night with the creative visuals and characters he created. I drank the Kool-Aid, and when I was in eighth grade, my family took a trip to Los Angeles to enjoy this world wonder and modern marvel known as the Walt Disney theme park. So way back in my childlike mind, I felt a tug in my spirit, drawing me to become an “Imagineer” but at the time, I had no idea what it meant until almost fifty years later when Disney became one of my largest clients.

The Dorris Connection

Actually, my product design quest didn’t start in Nashville or even in Minneapolis, but in Jakarta, Indonesia. What? How did that thread happen? At the time, I had spent five years working for one of the best-known designers for Unilever products, Dorris duCret from NY and moved to Dallas Texas where shed did all of the branding for her husband’s company, 7-Eleven. For five years I worked with Doris designing bottles, logotypes, and product packaging all over Southeast Asia. The work we did together won the contracts from one of the most prestigious design firms in London at the time.

Working with Doris gave me a fresh perspective about doing global business and it initiated by worldwide knowledge and gave great confidence in pursuing putting my new business to a worldwide commitment and emphasis.

Threading the Needle

How did I get from working as a graphic/packaging designer to beginning a record label and going to the GMA Week in Nashville? My thread connection was my work in the prisons, and the result was making my own CD in 1994, Sonrise A New Tomorrow, containing nine of my original songs that were refined during my ministry with Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship throughout Minnesota, Texas and Arizona.

Seize the Opportunity

I was always a tinkerer; I played with broken products, tested them, tore them apart to see how they worked. I found out new ideas and learned the imagineering process which does not come from a committee. It comes from individuals who see what others cannot see. Like Michelangelo who didn’t carve a statue, he saw a work of art in the stone, and “he was only chipping away the rock to release it to the world.”

Nashville or Bust!

After having recorded my first CD album Sonrise A New Tomorrow and doing the jacket and insert designs I decided to take a musical diversion; and exhibit at the Nashville GMA (Gospel Music Association) Week on April 21, 1994, (on my wedding anniversary—sorry, dear).

The Need is the Seed

Sometime during the GMA show, a man with cameras hanging from around his neck and arms by the name of Scott came by our booth and said he really liked our exhibit design and wanted to know if I could make one like it for him, only much lighter weight and extremely portable. I found out later that he from Minneapolis and was the designer ofReal Radio” and needed an exhibit to bring with him to Los Angeles promote his business.

The Art, Science, and Math behind the Display Structure

After struggling with the metal banner standards we had drug to Nashville, I realized that possibly they weren’t that far from a tent. It had four corners, with the poles arched and connected together. I realized that what I needed to design was simply a tent standing on its side, and the floor as the graphic. I had not designed something absolutely original; I had absolutely innovated a technology-like tents that could now support graphics and banners. It was so simple; why hadn’t anyone else thought of it before? It just goes to show you that the NEED is the SEED” of Invention. I learned early on in my training in graphic design that describing the challenge and all the limitations that the answer to the problem or challenge was within the definition. If you simply turn the complete challenge into words, the answer will pop out at you.

The “X” pattern that the Wright Brothers used in their first planes that would cause the stress to unite and strengthen the entire structure. Buildings and bridges have to contain these same kind of stress loads. They simply apply cables running through the insides of them to secure them in place but allow for the fluctuate to balance the wind forces presented against them.

I just borrowed the same principles in my design and placed the “X” at the back of the graphic, transferring the back “X” tension through an imaginary “X” through the front of the fabric or graphic to equalized and distributed the forces to allow it to stand straight and tall. I then added a pole straight down the back that was held in a right angle to the opposing “X” forces, causing the banner to stand upright and stabilize the self-standing tension structure.

I realized that it was a combination of all that I ever learned about kites, Boy Scout tenting, and graphics. These became my three legged stool and the keys to my success. It wasn’t simply my design drawings or whimsical concepts, but that I had employed the triangulation to support the structure.

My First Solid Approval of Concept

I began working on the prototype that I was asked to build. My brother Al, saw it for the first time and he was speechless for a few moments as he observed just what it was about then broke into an absolute smile of wonder as he was so impressed with this first initial prototype. He exclaimed that I had to make and market this infant new display product because it was too ingenious and absolutely demanded that I had to do it”.

 Threading All The Concepts Together

Repeating the exacting proportions no mater what the size was the key to getting the same results for every size display, quickly, and accurately. It was the XL1 Custom Calculator” that would visually and reliably define the right cuts and estimating the cost with the most economical use of the aluminum tubing with a reliable proportions.

Sourcing From South Korea

Now I had a product, but where would I get enough aluminum poles to begin making it in mass quantities? So I called REI at their Washington State headquarters and they informed me to go to South Korea and I did and found the source of tent poles made from Japanese aerospace aluminum and for 14 years spent about $250,000 a year with them.

  • Let us know of useful resources that helped you:

Call Out The Calvary

“My life has certainly been surrounded by oceans of fantastic friendships, business partners, and those willing to help in times of life’s greatest storms”. Most important of all of these relationships is my daily walk with my Lord Jesus Christ who has gifted me with five core passions that empower me each day.” My Core Passions® are; Recognition, Enlightenment, Mastership, Change, Power. Knowing and understanding yourself and your gifting and your weaknesses will help to balance your life.  If you wish to find out yours and take the Core Passion® evaluation.  

Starting Over with New Products

9/11 put a big hole in our sales. We revisited our sales prices as to what was selling in the market, and literally had to start all over again as we had to let our six employees go and go back to selling, managing, and building once again.

Design a New Product and Search for Suppliers

A one fiberglass pole and flat folding metal banner stand began to emerge as the solution we need to survive. We began by search out a supplier in China. We soon realized after getting far less than the very best in product to maintain our high standards we had to make it here in Minnesota locally. We found out it was a real benefit right off the top by reducing our shipping to 0”.  In addition we received better quality metal, and powder coating for a more satisfying feel and achieve an acceptable customer look and better control of the overall price. We negotiated the price by agreeing to giving our manufacture a Purchase Order for number they wanted to manufacture and then having them put them on the shelf and we agreed to purchase all of them but only upon our need therefore keeping control over out spending.

This one new product allowed us to rebrand and give us out New Shinny and Less Expensive Solution” allowing us to remain a winner and competitive in the display Industry. The new product also rode on all the great marketing and branding we had built for the prior six years, and we continued to capture more market share worldwide while having a price competitive Brand reducing cost to our distributors allowing them to rebuild as well.

It turns out this was the product the market was totally acceptable and was the right product for the right price, and they began to move off the shelf and we had to continually make reorders of them. In the end, we had made all the critical calculations for our customers and served them Xtra Lite Display® success with a new product. Soon, we began selling them in the thousands, increasing our in-house printing, which increased our graphic revenue and reduced our workload by not having to make them. The end result was increasing worldwide traffic once again.

Moving fast and nimble in producing a new product kept us on the road going forward even if slowly in some very debilitating and long dry times. In the end, it kept us out of closing our doors and brought us back from the dead and saved our distributors’ base from moving on as well.

Getting a Sharper Pencil

We also used a conversion ratio to reduce our overall pricing structure with a formula to ensure enough profit but lower the wholesale and retail price. This worked very well and put us back on an upward direction and sped up our product sales numbers.

Streamlining the Production Flow

I was convinced that instead of paying rent for our large space that was cut up and very inefficient to moving product and people through the manufacturing process efficiently. I did some research and found a great alternative and we purchased an office / condo warehouse at approximately the same payment per month but we were able to retain ownership in the property instead of throwing our rent payment all away each month to the tune of $6,500 with the hope of eventually owning a building as a salable asset.

–End of Interview–

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