Brendan Perring takes a tour of Signmaster Systems’ newly upgraded headquarters, gets the inside track on its sustained success from its enthusiastic and passionate team, and reveals some major news about the company.
Drawing into the car park of Signmaster Systems a little early for my tour of its new showroom and branding revamp, I am immediately stuck with the thought that this is a business on the move.
Its open warehouse doors flood warm light into the winter gloom as forklifts and trucks trundle industriously in and out. Its staff—perfectly kitted out in Signmaster’s new uniforms—also have a real purpose and enthusiasm as they go about their work.
As I walked in I was greeted warmly by company directors Lucy Ratcliffe and Sam Kehoe, who have now fully hit their stride after buying the business earlier in 2017.
We want Signmaster to mean just that, and by having Mimaki technology added to our stable that includes HP, OKI, and Roland DG, we have a very strong offering to help our customers find the technology
that is exactly right for their business.”
Ratcliffe’s journey to her current position saw her work for Shropshire Council as a leisure centre manager, while in her spare time she was an avid hockey player. With a desire to start her own business and a strong skill set in process systemisation, business strategy, accounting, and sales, she saw an opening for sports club kits and uniform printing—thus began a love affair with printed products that has never ended.
The business quickly evolved and diversified to embrace large-format graphics and blossomed as Printmonkey through the early adoption of easy online ordering. Kehoe joined the business full time after coming to help on the production floor with major jobs, before likewise falling in love with the business of print.
Ratcliffe says: “We want Signmaster to mean just that, and by having Mimaki technology added to our stable that includes HP, OKI, and Roland DG, we have a very strong offering to help our customers find the technology that is exactly right for their business.”
Signmaster Systems’ headquarters looks more like an art gallery than a showroom, and is set up not only to demonstrate its suite of print and finishing technology, but also to inspire customers
A fresh approach
This technology offering makes Signmaster a rare bird in its ability to offer all four of these brands under one roof. Listening to Kehoe though, she is emphatic that this is just one element of Signmaster’s strength: “We have a lot of energy and fresh ideas for how we approach being a wide-format print technology, consumables, and materials supplier.
“We want our customers to have as much choice and flexibility as possible, and although it may sound clichéd to say it, we really are customer focused in every action and decision our business takes. If you take care of the customer above anything else, and focus on genuinely giving them the best fit for their objectives, then your own success as a business will come out of that.
“That is what we are about, we want people to come in and test the equipment and buy what is the best fit for their business.”
Ratcliffe also weighs in on this subject: “We have a number of new customers that have really benefitted from this approach.”
Indeed, she describes a number of different scenarios they have seen with new customers that did not do enough research prior to an earlier investment. Some have outgrown their systems very quickly, as they bought units that were just for light production. They have lost out as they now need to re-invest more money to scale up.
Another scenario they have seen with several new customers is they have never managed to fill the capabilities of their current equipment. In this instance they purchased solutions that were far too productive for their needs and are left with a very expensive box with lots of excess capacity.
If you take care of the customer above anything else, and focus on genuinely giving them the best fit for their objectives, then your own success as a business will come out of that”
Others may have purchased low-volume orientated photographic quality products, when they needed to push out banners that were only going to be seen at distance. Finally, the opposite is true in that some bought non-photographic quality systems, when they really needed to hit very high-quality standards and spot colours for their client base.
Kehoe continues: “Our approach with customers is to provide a full consultancy to them. We treat them also like a business partner, and our concern over their investment is the same as if it were our own capital.”
With OKI, HP, Mimaki, and Roland DG technology on offer, not to mention an impressive range of consumables, media, and finishing equipment, there is a solution to conquer any challenge at Signmaster Systems
The right fit
Each one of its technology brackets that it offers have unique strengths and attributes that make them the right fit for a specific business’ needs. A good example is its stable of OKI technology, which can achieve brilliant colour consistency and vibrancy that is right at the top of its class. To make the most of it though, and really maximise the return-on-investment, you do need some experience around how to manage colour. Imagine owning a high-performance sports car—if you know how to safely push it right to the limit, then you can get an awful lot of fun out of it. If you do not, then all that extra performance is lost. This is also why Signmaster Systems’ directors have founded its own training academy that can help its customers learn this expertise.
Ratcliffe adds: “Before we bought Signmaster Systems we ran and owned Printmonkey. This grew from two of us up to a full complement of production staff, so we really can put ourselves in our customer’s shoes. Looking back now, there was lots of our technology we were under-utilising.”
She adds: “We also understand the challenges our customers face, how hard it can be out of there, and the opportunities they are trying to exploit.”
Another important philosophy that underpins Kehoe and Ratcliffe’s approach to running a technology supply business is that inspiring their customers is key. To this end they have completely renovated the Signmaster showroom into something close to art gallery. It features examples of beautiful and innovative print products on an immense variety of substrates and using multiple print and finishing techniques.
We also understand the challenges our customers face, how hard it can be out of there, and the opportunities they are trying to exploit”
Ratcliffe also explains what she feels gives Signmaster a unique edge among some tough competition: “Our technical support side is very strong, not only do we have trained experts, but our background at Printmonkey means we have a lot of hands on experience. This support service is also unlimited, and no matter how much help you need to maximise your business and technology, we will be there for you. In addition, we also provide a print room overflow service, as our former Printmonkey staff still work for us. So, if your machine needs servicing or goes down, we are there to soak up and help customers with any work that needs doing.”
Looking to the future, the crack team of Ratcliffe and Kehoe explain their objectives revolve around strong development from its new Mimaki reseller status and expanding the technical and training services that Signmaster can offer. They also point to textile printing as a technology bracket that is a ripe target for development with its customer base and will be a diversification area for Signmaster Systems. Another important facet
will be 24/7 ordering capabilities via a comprehensive e-commerce site soon to launch. So, it seems that this company really is now a master of its universe, and that its future is in very safe hands.