For many years, Sandy and Norman Ruth dreamed about expanding their business, Deluxe Design. On May 2, they are expected to start construction of a 24,000-square-foot building where J&R Vintage Auto Museum used to be. (Gregory Hasman/Observer)
I think now is the time to grow, now is the time to expand, now is the time to plan for the future — Vice President Norman Ruth
Deluxe Design once faced the possibility of bankruptcy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two years later, it is planning a move to a facility that is double the size of its current location off Quantum Road NE in Rio Rancho.
The company, which performs screen-printing services for clients across the country, will be moving from a 12,000-square-foot building to a 24,000-square-foot facility where the J&R Vintage Auto Museum used to be off New Mexico Highway 528.
Construction is expected to start in early May and be completed in August or September.
“I think now is the time to grow, now is the time to expand, now is the time to plan for the future,” Vice President Norman Ruth said. “It’s not a time to hesitate.”
An opportunity came
In 1986, Norman and his wife, President Sandy Ruth were looking to add a jewelry engraving service to their jewelry design and manufacturing freelance business.
That was when they learned about Deluxe Engraving Service, a company that a retired Detroit, Michigan, businessman was running out of his spare bedroom in Rio Rancho.
“What started out as a reconnaissance mission to evaluate competition turned into a friendship and an opportunity to buy his company,” Norman said.
They purchased the business and moved it into a one-car garage.
The Ruths later changed the company’s name to Deluxe Design and in 1998 moved to a larger location at its current site, 561 Quantum Road NE. For a while they even thought about expanding but the right time had not presented itself until recently.
“When the opportunity (came) to purchase the J&R Vintage Auto Museum from our friends, the Joiners, then it became a reality and all the pieces seemed to be in place,” Norman said.
The museum closed down in summer 2019. Some of the classic vehicles were auctioned off while others remained in the Joiner collection, he said.
Getting through a pandemic
Deluxe Design was bringing in about $4 million a year when it closed March 17, 2020, per the governor’s COVID-19 orders. It did not reopen until two months later.
It reopened fairly quickly because it was considered essential. The company produced acrylic protective shields, COVID-19 safety signage and stickers, and services products for essential industries in semiconductor manufacturing like Intel and Samsung, as well as fire and police departments.
However, the size of the company’s workforce during the pandemic dropped from 35 people to 14 people, which was “all we could afford,” Sandy said.
Business only brought in about $800,000 in 2020 and that was mainly from January and February, she said.
Deluxe Design got some help to stay open.
It successfully applied for a grants and loans including one from the U.S. Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program, which provided small businesses with funds to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs including benefits. Funds can also be used to pay interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. The company also later received $100,000 in American Rescue Plan Act grant funding through Sandoval County.
The grant has been important because small businesses are the employment drivers in the community, Sandoval County Commissioner Katherine Bruch said.
The grant money could only be used to reimburse the costs of business interruption caused by required closures or a reduced size of operations, provided that those costs were not paid for by insurance or by another federal, state or local program.
Norman declined to say how much in total the company received in pandemic-related loans and grants, but said the money was used “to shore up staffing, keep key personnel on board, then rehire furloughed staff, and ultimately increase staffing.”
The company now has 28 employees.
If it weren’t for the grant and other pandemic-related funding “we would be bankrupt,” Sandy said.
The company plans to hire more employees to help with the current workload and when the new facility opens.
Norman said he will pay them higher wages, but not because of inflation.
“We want long-term relationships with our employees and that’s been a cornerstone, a foundation, of our company,” he said.
Deluxe Design is one of many Sandoval County businesses that have been hiring recently and that is reflected in the county’s February unemployment rate of 4.6%, which is the lowest it has been since the start of the pandemic, 5.5% in March 2020, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
The 4.6% unemployment rate is about a third of what it was in April 2020, 13.1%.
‘You got to be patient’
The funding Deluxe Design received not only helped it bring back employees, but buy new equipment like a UV flatbed printer.
It allowed the company to take on more work, Sandy said.
But now, it needs more space to run its operations.
Part of the new location will include a 15,000-square-foot space that will give the company the ability “to plan out all of our equipment, all of our work flows in an efficient manner that will ultimately allow us to be more profitable,” Norman said.
The facility will also have more storage space for equipment that can be easily accessed for when they need to travel to live events.
One thing that has caught Deluxe Design off-guard is the cost of supplies.
Its new location was supposed to be ready before late summer, but everything was pushed back due to expensive materials and supply chain issues.
The setback, however, has not discouraged the Ruths from investing in the company’s future.
“The name of the game is patience and it’s costing a little more,’ Norman said, “but you got to be patient.”