When the coronavirus pandemic initially took hold in the state in March 2020, Zak Designs CEO Irv Zakheim didn’t know what to expect.
State regulations had required the dinnerware and drinkware company, at 1603 S. Garfield St. in Airway Heights, to temporarily cease operations for two weeks.
Zakheim, however, petitioned Gov. Jay Inslee to allow Zak Designs to continue shipping products to suppliers, including Target, Walmart and Amazon.
The company’s business began to flourish as demand rose for its licensed children’s mealtime products and branded lines of water bottles and tumblers.
Last year, Zak Designs exceeded $100 million in sales for the first time in its history and the company built an e-commerce addition to its headquarters, bringing the building to more than 270,000 square feet.
The company also celebrated the 30th anniversary of its Airway Heights headquarters this month.
“Our business was already on the rise, even with inflation and all the other issues,” Zakheim said. “Our business is booming and we feel very fortunate to be in the position we are in right now.”
Zakheim founded Zak Designs in 1976 in Los Angeles, California.
In 1988, Zakheim partnered with Disney to spotlight the Chip ’n Dale Rescue Rangers on his dinnerware products, which included sets of plates, bowls and cups.
He was granted licensing deals for two new movies the following year, one of which was The Little Mermaid.
The Little Mermaid licensing deal kick-started the company’s growth, he said.
“We immediately got into Target and all grocery stores with that product and it did so well,” Zakheim said.
Zakheim and his wife, Angela – a Spokane native – relocated to the region in 1992.
Zakheim chose to open Zak Designs in Airway Heights after finding a 62,000-square-foot building on 40 acres.
“We walked in and I said, ‘This is perfect.’ It had the office space and everything we needed and it was less than 10 minutes to the airport,” Zakheim said.
The company continued to make licensed children’s dinnerware products for other Disney movies, including Dick Tracy, Aladdin, Lion King and Toy Story.
By 1995, Zak Designs’ workforce expanded from four people to more than 100. It was also named to Inc. Magazine’s list of the top 500-fastest growing companies.
“It has turned into a great thing for all of us that we did what we did at that time, because we sort of were out here and everything’s been built around us now,” Zakheim said about Zak Designs opening in Airway Heights.
“I had no idea this would be what it was. It just suited our needs, which was enough for me and coming from Los Angeles, I had a nice space. We had plenty of room to grow.”
In 2015, Zak Designs experienced an uptick in demand for its products with artwork from blockbuster films such as Frozen, Minions and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, according to the company.
Zak Designs expanded its presence worldwide, opening offices in Europe, Canada, Australia and the Far East.
Zakheim attributes the company’s success to its employees, some of whom have been with Zak Designs for several years.
“When we moved to Spokane, we were able to get really good people who wanted to work and who were educated, hardworking – all the things you look for,” he said. “I think that helped us grow.”
Zakheim expects the company to double its business in the next three to five years based on sales forecasts.
“I’ve done this for 46 years and I never get bored,” Zakheim said of the company. “I don’t think any day has been the same.
“It’s always an adventure. And being in licensing and all the stuff we do – it’s just fun. We work hard, but we have fun doing it.”
Mark Losh, CEO of the West Plains Chamber of Commerce, said he is impressed with Zak Designs’ warehouse expansion and the company’s culture.
“Zak Designs is a key business partner for the West Plains and the Chamber,” he said. “To have a steady employer that’s consistently growing, treats their employees with respect and loves the community is a plus.
“We can always use more businesses like Zak Designs.”
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