Written by The Business Journal Staff
Erma and Larry Duncan’s sprawling business empire started simply — with a passion for art.
The Duncans, founders of Duncan Enterprises and the winner of the 2016 California Family Business Award, run one of the world’s leading arts and crafts supply manufacturing companies.
The family’s business, known today as iLoveToCreate, a Duncan Enterprises Co., is headquartered in Fresno and continues to strengthen its industry-leading position with the recent acquisition of the Color Me Mine brand.
And even as the company, which adopted the iLoveToCreate name in 2009, expands into areas that include urban farming and cosmetics, Duncan Enterprises remains committed to its core ceramic arts product line created by family matriarch Erma Duncan.
Erma Duncan’s passion for ceramic pottery is at the heart of the Duncan family’s phenomenal success. As a young child, Erma was a gifted artist. Her love for fired art — ceramics — began at a very young age, as did her natural ability to share her knowledge with others.
In the early 1900s, before ceramics even existed as a hobby, Erma was winning awards and, while still in her teens, she set up a studio and began teaching ceramics from her home.
After marrying and starting a family, Erma’s art continued to flower and before long, her “hobby” grew into a cottage industry. Eventually, her husband Lee and sons Bob and Dick also became involved, expanding the family garage to accommodate more students and additional art supplies.
In 1946, the business outgrew the garage, so the first official Duncan Ceramic Studio opened on Blackstone Avenue. The new company also began to operate as a wholesale distributor, with Bob handling the marketing and sales of the business, Erma the art and teaching, and Dick the design and manufacturing end.
In 1949, when Dick formulated the first non-settling glaze — the first of its kind in the ceramics industry — the company’s fortunes really took flight. Six years later, Duncan incorporated, with Bob as president, Dick as vice president and Erma as secretary-treasurer.
The company continued to grow and, in 1961, Duncan relocated to its present-day site on East Shields Avenue.
After nearly a quarter century of teaching, Erma retired in 1965. Ten years later, the company changed its name to Duncan Enterprises, reflecting its continued expansion into other areas of the crafts industry.
In 1983, the third generation of the Duncan family took over when Bob’s son Larry was promoted to president/CEO and Bob became chairman of the board.
Today, with the company’s products sold widely in places like Walmart, Michaels, Home Depot and Hobby Lobby, the fourth generation of Duncans are being groomed to take their place in the family business.
Fourth-generation family member Hawk Duncan, Larry’s son, is taking the lead in rolling out a new line of chicken coops tied to the family’s expanding urban farming business.
Both Hawk and Larry’s daughter, Summer Fawn, started working at the family business in high school.
Meanwhile, iLoveToCreate leads the craft industry with comprehensive Fashion Art programs under the Tulip, Scribbles, Puffy and Rainbow Rock brands as well as operating a comprehensive glue and adhesives program under the Aleene’s brand name.
Today, iLoveToCreate is one of the largest ceramic arts, crafting adhesives and fashion art manufacturers in the world. And like Erma Duncan’s passion for ceramics, today’s leaders at iLoveToCreate are passionate about environmental responsibility.
Several years ago, the company was among a handful of firms nationwide to be recognized as a Save Energy Now award winner by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Industrial Technologies Program. And in 2009, iLoveToCreate became a lead-free facility by stopping the production of lead-based products and focusing solely on non-toxic product lines.
“Thirty years ago, we had 100 percent of our business in hobby ceramics and we led the industry,” said Larry Duncan. “Today only a small percentage of our business is in ceramic arts because we shifted to other categories where creativity and personal expression abound.”
Today, iLoveToCreate is the global market leader for do-it-yourself color on fabric, tie-dyeing and temporary body paint and tattoos. The company is also becoming widely known and successful in the urban farming niche with its attractive backyard chicken coops and beehives.
“Each area has been a big success and collectively, each one has allowed us to grow and thrive,” Duncan said. “Our company consistently receives feedback from vendors, retailers and other stakeholders that our team and their work is best in class.”
George Lurie | Reporter can be reached at:
490-3464 or e-mail email@example.com