Milton man realizing his big-screen dream

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

— Before Milton entrepreneur Carl Markestad began making giant projector screen systems, he used to project his favorite Mario Kart video game onto the side of a barn.

That was in 2006. Now, Markestad's startup company, Carl's Place, routinely produces projection screens 30 feet wide or bigger.

Carl's Place does systems as simple as "pull-down" office projection screens, but it has also produced projector screens designed to be mounted inside real airplane cockpits for use in electronic flight simulators.

Markestad, 28, who was a mechanical engineering major at UW-Madison, said his company has less than a dozen employees, but it produces and ships hundreds of custom screens and screen systems a month.

Carl's Place is in a 5,000-square-foot leased building at 1223 Storrs Lake Road, just west of the future Highway 26 overpass.

The building includes offices, customer service areas, a production facility and an inventory warehouse.

The company starts with prefabricated cotton, vinyl and poly-blend cloth that it sizes, cuts and sews to custom specifications.

For the work, Carl's Place has a series of four huge drafting tables with checkered surfaces and huge reams of cloth mounted on the ends.

The facility has two sewing centers—one for hemming the edges on the big screens, another for punching heavy grommets into them. The grommet holes are used to lash the screens taut to giant metal and wood frames using heavy bungee cord material.

It's similar to the way a trampoline is secured to a frame, Markestad explained.

Every customer's design can be different, Markestad says, but the type of orders Carl's Place fills depends on the time of year.

"When it's cold and people are inside, they tend to want to install inside screens—basement home-theater systems. But when the weather gets nice, we get customers who want outside screens for graduations, giant animated window displays for Halloween and video-game stores, outside church services, all kinds of things," Markestad said.

He said one of the company's most popular screen systems is the backyard "mini drive-in" movie screen, which usually measures about 9 feet tall and 16 feet high.

Usually, the screen systems are built for small block parties in residential backyards, but Carl's Place has made a few inflatable models for use at parks during city-sponsored movie nights, Markestad said.

"We have lots of customers who have been projecting movies on their garage door or the side of their house. Having a big projection screen instead of the side of a building, it's a little bit of an upgrade," he said.

Carl's Place has even helped people design outdoor sound systems that deliver audio similar to that at a classic outdoor drive-in movie theater, Markestad said.

Some of the indoor and outdoor theaters that Markestad's screens are used in are space-shuttle elaborate.

"I've got hundreds of pictures of these systems that are out of this world. I end up being jealous a lot of the time," Markestad said.

The bread and butter of what Carl's Place does is custom work. Instead of making systems that customers must tailor to their homes or businesses, Carl's Place makes the screen systems fit people's needs exactly.

Almost all of the screens and screen systems that Markestad's company produces are built to custom dimensions.

Markestad said Carl's place works with customers to help design the systems so that frames and other components will match any wall covering or woodwork.

The kits are designed to be simple to sort and assemble, and customers can find companion parts at any hardware store, Markestad said.

"We wanted to try and make them as handy as we could make them for people who might not be all that handy," Markestad said.

His company ships out about 200 or 300 screens a month and about 150 to 200 grommet-and-bungee-cord frame systems.

The company also works as a middleman to help customers find the right projectors for their needs, Markestad said.

Customers all over the country order Markestad's systems, and his market keeps expanding.

His clients include: video game designers, mega-event DJs, professional concert venues, churches and professional wedding planners.

Markestad said his client base and production is booming so fast, it could be time to find a bigger facility soon.

He dreads the idea of moving all of his equipment and inventory, but at the same time, he's thrilled the company is growing so fast.

"The fact that an expansion will be needed, to me, it is awesome. I'm proud of how we've grown," Markestad said.


Last updated: 10:30 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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