Follow-up File: Building a playful business

One of the treehouse designs that Daniels Wood Land in Paso Robles has created over the years.
One of the treehouse designs that Daniels Wood Land in Paso Robles has created over the years.

Name: Ron Daniels

Job: Co-founder and president

Business: Daniels Wood Land Inc.

What he said then: In September 2009, The Tribune’s Follow-Up File featured Daniels Wood Land Inc. of Paso Robles, known for its whimsical luxury treehouses and commercial theme décor.

The company’s work can be seen at businesses in Paso Robles such as Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ and atop Maynard’s Mountain at the California Mid-State Fair.

With residential sales of treehouses dropping, Daniels Wood Land had been laying off workers and struggling to adapt to a new market.

“We’ve gotten leaner and meaner,” said Ron Daniels, who founded the business with brother John Daniels in 1997. “We built too much fat into the system.”

Ron Daniels had also just launched a new line: animatronic shooting galleries. With early models at the Big Fresno Fair and the Paso Robles fairgrounds, the company was preparing to exhibit at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

What he says now: After a few more years of dwindling sales, the focus on commercial clientele — especially for the shooting galleries — is beginning to pay off.

“We took our beatings over the last few years,” Daniels said. “There were many days I wondered if I should continue.”

But things seem to have turned around in 2012, and he expects to hit a new sales record — “or close to it” — this year.

Employment went from a peak of 53 workers around 2007 to a low of 17 employees around 2010. Currently, the Paso Robles manufacturer employs 35 people, with 15 new hires in the past six months.

Attendance at the international trade show has become a key venue for Daniels Wood Land to advertise its shooting galleries and other work to those who own and operate parks, entertainment centers and casinos around the globe.

“It represents the lion’s share of our marketing investment,” Daniels said. “To build our display, rent the space, ship everything and fly people out for 10 days is around $120,000 to $150,000.”

But, he notes, “It’s a good investment.”

One of the advantages of the shooting galleries — as opposed to the residential or purely decorative theme items — is that they offer buyers a potential revenue stream.

“It’s a themed environment with dollar-bill acceptors attached to it,” he said. “We broke seven figures this year in sales on shooting galleries.”

A pirate-theme gallery earned the attention of a maritime museum in Canada. The Paso Robles business is negotiating a contract to build three-quarter scale replicas of historical ships for it.

About 25 percent of all Daniels Wood Land’s sales are now exported, with customers in Thailand, Ukraine, Colombia and the United Kingdom. Domestically, its work can be found from Alaska to Florida.

Looking ahead, Daniels foresees developing a department to provide maintenance and parts as their shooting galleries age.

But he’s cautious about trying predict the future, saying: “It’s never been the same year twice.”