When Kelly Hollatz sleeps, she dreams in orange. When Hollatz is awake, all she sees is orange, too.

That’s not surprising for a CEO who’s made her life’s trade out of supplying orange barrels and other highway safety equipment to roadway construction workers across the Tristate.

It was 2005 when Hollatz decided to found First Star Safety LLC. “My dad had owned his own company, and my brother owned his own company. And I’d had a few internships in college and decided corporate life — working for someone else — wasn’t for me,” she says.

“I had already worked basically my entire life up until then in the restaurant and hospitality industry,” adds Hollatz, who earned her degree in communications at the University of Cincinnati.

Hollatz decided to spend six months researching the area markets to see what new consumer concept might fly — or drive — best. She quickly realized there was a lack of local suppliers meeting the needs of the highway construction industry: Orange barrels, safety cones, barricades and the like.

“I went to some banks about small business loans, and was basically laughed out of their offices,” Hollatz recalls with a smirk. “I finally ended up taking a second mortgage on my house, and took a ‘If you build it, they will come’ kind of attitude.”

The customers did indeed come, and Hollatz, who now works out of her warehouse and front-end office in Loveland, has expanded the business into diamond fencing, caution tape, earplugs, barricade lights, first-aid kits, portable strobes, goggles, wet floor signs, flags, respiratory protection gear, flares, safety vests and glasses, and even hard hats.

Another product that’s become popular in the First Star line is shirt imprinting. The company can supply safety green and OSHA orange T-shirts, with or without pockets, that are printed with any company name and logo.

“The large majority of my customers are construction workers out in the field,” rather than anybody sitting behind a desk at an office, Hollatz notes of her targeted, and unusual, market.

Her company has grown to 18 employees during the past four years, and now she’s looking for a new, larger warehouse. Serving any institution from airports and hospitals to schools and governments, Hollatz rents and sells “to everyone who has a parking lot or road where the public travels and needs to safely drive.”

Hollatz is currently expanding her firm into a new realm beyond construction safety equipment — and she supplies real live human beings to go with them. “We have personnel, crews that can monitor the exterior of a job site, to flag down the public and direct and detour them to where they need to go,” she says. This frees up actual construction workers to do what they’re being paid for: building and repair.

First Star’s crews can provide temporary line striping, as well as installing and maintaining temporary traffic patterns. And, of course, Hollatz’s crews are happy to deliver and pick up any equipment, from barrels to barricades, directly at the job site. No muss, no fuss.

So, now the question of the day: Where do old orange barrels go to die?

“I would like to think we recycle whenever we can,” Hollatz laughs, disputing the notion that there is an elephant graveyard somewhere out there for our orange friends. “We take them to a recycling plant in Lockland, or, at worse, a scrapyard. … It does become a safety issue when the reflective strip becomes too worn,” she concedes of the barrels’ limited lifespan.

Hollatz is certainly big on the environment: She converts from battery power to solar energy on the illumination equipment whenever she can.

And whenever Hollatz can find a unique “home” for a used orange barrel, she is happy to do so. “I do have quite a few nephews who think it’s cool to have one in their rooms,” she says. “I’ve even gotten requests at Halloween from people who want to ‘go’ as an orange barrel to parties!”

Whether worn as flashy duds or serving their given purpose, orange barrels are a product Hollatz is happy to provide.