When Billings Productions was looking for a new home for its dinosaurs, it found the ideal location in Allen, Texas.
The company got its start nearly a decade ago after Larry and Sandra Billings met in Jakarta, Indonesia, got married, and went to work at Dino-MAE, a company that built dinosaurs. When that company closed, Larry thought he could build more realistic dinosaurs and the couple decided to start their own animated dinosaur company.
In 2003, their first year in business, they built 60 animatronic dinosaurs. Larry passed away in 2007 after the company had started turning a profit, but the company continued to thrive under the leadership of Sandra and their son, Trey. Billings Productions is North America’s leading provider of life-size animatronic dinosaurs and is the only U.S. company that specializes in creating creatures that can withstand the outdoor elements.
Each dinosaur has an electronic brain to produce sound and create realistic movements via a pneumatic system. And its 200 robotic dinosaurs, which include more than 50 species, are in great demand in zoos, amusement parks and museums not only across the country but around the world, says Tim Brightman, director of business development at Billings Productions.
“We currently have shows going on in England, France and Spain, and next year we’ll have shows in New Zealand and Australia,” says Brightman.
Smart Business spoke with Brightman about the world of dinosaurs and why Allen will be the home of Billings Productions for years to come.
How does the business operate?
We lease out animatronic dinosaurs, mostly to zoos, but also to venues such as amusement parks and museums, for temporary exhibits that Larry Billings referred to as ‘edutainment.’ The goal is to encourage discovery and create an awareness of prehistoric life by making learning fun and entertaining. Every boy I’ve ever known, including myself, from about the age of four thinks that dinosaurs are the coolest thing in the world. It’s something you never get over, and Larry felt that way, as well.
We currently have 10 shows out and have more going out in the next few months. Our biggest dinosaur is the T-Rex, which is 45 feel long and 25 feet high. However, that collapses down so that several dinosaurs can fit in the trailers for transportation.
Exhibits generally go out for two to three months at a time. It is a fun and growing business. However, the industry is becoming more competitive and we have to keep moving forward with new ideas.
What precipitated the move to Allen?
When the business first started, it was operating in what was essentially a 20,000-square-foot old aluminum airplane hangar in Texas. We had just outgrown it. We had too many dinosaurs and too many projects we are building to remain in that space. When dinosaurs were coming back, the building was completely full and we needed more room.
Billings Productions has gone from a mom-and-pop business that was run in an ad hoc manner to being a real business. We are getting the business organized and structured, and as we continue to grow, we needed more space.
We scouted all over the place to find a location that was suitable and that had enough space, and we found what we were looking for in Allen. We looked at other locations, including a small town in Texas where fossils had been found, which seemed like a natural fit. But we were very concerned that if we moved 100 miles away, we would lose our core personnel, and we found everything that we needed in Allen. That allowed us to keep our talent and cost effectively locate in a bigger, nicer building. The new space is state of the art and doubles the amount of space we have, giving us more room to store our dinosaurs.
We moved in this spring, and so far, it’s been great. We’re still moving in, but as far as the facility goes, we’ve shipped out a couple of shows since moving there, and it’s so much easier. We have a good loading dock and other things that we didn’t have before, things that make it a whole lot easier to do business. Going forward, as we settle in to our new location, we’re looking into expanding our product lines, and eventually, we are going to set up tours so that people can come through and see how the dinosaurs are built.
In addition, the Allen Economic Development Corporation has made us feel very welcome and wanted. We’re starting to work with them on where the company is going over the next five years and some expansion plans. We plan to be in Allen for the long term and we’re excited about how that relationship will develop over time. Everyone has been amazingly helpful and generous with their time and support, and we really look forward to being here for a long time.