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Low-profile, high-volume graphics business growing in Fortville

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A homegrown business with a global reach plans to invest as much as $3 million to grow its Fortville operations, building and equipping a 42,000-square-foot facility and nearly doubling its staff by the end of 2018.

Established in 1999 in founder Kyle Sherman’s garage, PlaqueMaker.com sells laser-engraved products online, employing 33 workers who handle graphic design, production and customer service.

At any time, PlaqueMaker has about 1,000 orders in the works, Sherman said. Sales topped $5 million last year, he said, and annual growth has averaged about 25 percent.

PlaqueMaker moved into leased space in Castleton in 2002, and then relocated to Fortville Business Park in 2006 after expanding its product mix to include personalized gifts and memorial plaques. Adding industrial signage fueled more growth.

Now it’s running out of room in that 18,000-square-foot building, and Sherman expects business to boom with the spring launch of a redesigned website and additional products.

By this time next year, he hopes to have about 5,000 products available, up from 500 now.

Construction is set to begin on the first 6,000 square feet of new space, which will accommodate the company’s growing office staff. Plans call for adding production and warehouse space as it’s needed. A ground-breaking ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Fortville and Hancock County offered a 10-year property tax abatement for the project, potentially saving PlaqueMaker almost $270,000. The state chipped in a $50,000 training grant.

“It’s great to see an entrepreneur like Kyle be successful,” said Skip Kuker, executive director of the Hancock County Economic Development Council.

Sherman, 43, is a graduate of North Central High School and Indiana University who was working as a graphic designer when he started the Web-based business as a sideline. His boss at the time wasn’t interested in an online enterprise.

Technology is the key to keeping the high-volume operation running smoothly. Customers place orders online and get electronic proofs within 24 hours. Crews fire up the 14 lasers once payment is made, and orders are shipped in less than two days.

Since the customer service work can be done anywhere, Sherman considered adding less-expensive employees overseas. The financial incentives, arranged with the assistance of Fishers-based FairWinds Advisors, help offset the costs of staying local.

“The more money we can invest in people and products, the better,” Sherman told IBJ. “It helps us grow more quickly.”

The company plans to use the training grant to get employees up to speed on the new website, which will integrate the customer-focused e-commerce function with PlaqueMaker’s cloud-based accounting and logistics systems.

Sherman lives in the Geist area with his wife and their two children.

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