Eleven years ago, Bill Levine found himself without a job after the signage display company where he had worked for two decades closed.
Little did the disabled veteran know that a lost job would eventually turn into a growing $3.5-million-plus operation that now employs 20 but could add six people within a year.
He runs his own signage, graphics and visual display firm, WL Concepts and Production, in Uniondale and Freeport.
"I'm very fortunate," said Levine, 60, who started his company in a bedroom of his home and is now an industry leader servicing some of the top brands in the world, including Tommy Hilfiger.
The company is expanding and renovating a 15,000-square-foot facility in Freeport, where it will consolidate operations and increase production thanks to a $300,000-plus investment in new technology.
"It will ramp up production at least 25 percent," said Levine, who started his business after going through the state Department of Labor's Self Employment Assistance Program.
He discovered the program after losing his job at Electra Displays in Islandia, where he'd served as vice president of sales until it closed in 2000. The program helps qualified unemployed individuals become self-employed by providing free entrepreneurial training and counseling.
During the program he met his mentor, John Narciso, program coordinator for the NYS Veterans Business Outreach Program at the Small Business Development Center in Farmingdale, said Levine, who served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, where he incurred a service-connected disability.
Narciso, a retired Navy captain, assisted Levine with his business plan and helped him earn designation as both a veteran-owned and disabled-veteran-owned business, a status that would help Levine later compete on a federal level.
"He had the motivation and drive inherent in himself, but having the clients and knowing the business, he was able to hit the deck running," says Narciso, adding Levine was one of the first inductees into the SBDC's Small Business Hall of Fame.
The company's growth has been swift. After starting the business in 2000, Levine purchased a 5,068-square-foot facility in Uniondale a year later. And by 2007, another 7,000-square-foot facility in Freeport. He'll move the company's headquarters from Uniondale to the renovated 15,000-square-foot Bennington Avenue site in Freeport by early fall. It's unclear yet whether the smaller Freeport facility will be part of the consolidation.
The new facility will incorporate several new pieces of machinery, including a laser capable of cutting, etching and engraving full-sized sheets of acrylics, wood, metal or stone in sizes up to 50 inches wide and 100 inches long at extraordinarily high speeds.
"Bill's smart enough to know that you can't sit back," said Eric Feigenbaum, New York editor of VMSD, an industry trade publication for retail designers and store display professionals. "You have to be up to date in terms of what's going on in technology."
It's this kind of forward thinking that's helped him turn the company "into an industry leader," said Feigenbaum.
"They get it," said Melissa Schor, store planning senior project manager for Tommy Hilfiger in Manhattan. "They know our brand." WL Concepts' work for the company includes designing and manufacturing all of Hilfiger's wall logo plaques that hang in Macy's stores throughout the country and, most recently, a large custom mirror with the Tommy Girl logo on it being displayed at Macy's Herald Square and Macy's South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif. "They never let us down," said Schor.
AT A GLANCE
WHO Bill Levine, president
COMPANY WL Concepts and Production
BUSINESS Display and graphics
WHERE Freeport / Uniondal
REVENUE $3.5-million plus
TRIVIA One of the company's largest visual projects was a 255-foot-wide and 35-foot-high "Many Faces of Holiday" exhibit that was displayed for several holiday seasons at Kennedy Airport's Terminal 4. It was co-designed with Koulian Design Group in Huntington.