When it comes to visual solutions, what makes you stand out from the crowd?
Experience within our team. I think our studio excel at the visually interesting. We have historically differentiated ourselves from the blue-sky creative by picking up the identity for a development once it’s been developed from the client. The client would brief an agency to come up with, or have a round of pitches from agencies to develop the identity for a development, and that is the point at which we tend to get on board.
I’ve always said to clients, don’t feel like you need to get the team who design the website to do the building wrap and the site hoarding and the site presentation. They are very different beasts, so although we have subsequently pushed our offering towards getting involved in the blue-sky creative, we like to pick projects up at the point where you can feel it, touch it, and see it in the real world.
Our offering, and our expertise, is based very much within the physical, so as a result, that’s our starting point. That’s the point at which we begin to differentiate ourselves, and build on that. So, our hoardings work, our site presentation works, because that’s what we do and that’s where our expertise is. We’re not thinking of the development as a giant version of the website.
How much difference does it make to manufacture over 90% of your products in-house?
It makes a huge difference, especially in terms of helping out busy marketing managers! What it means is we are not beholden to, and driven by, suppliers’ timescales and additional costs.A lot of our best work is that which is done under pressure to get the client out of trouble. This can be down to there being something last minute on site, or something unforeseen.
Because of the fact that we make what we sell, the services that we offer are produced in our factories. What that means is that as long as there are enough hours in the day and night between where we are right now and a launch date to physically get the job done, then we will get that job done. Our clients know they can rely on us. Many of our competitors manufacture nothing at all, which means that when deadlines are tight or the unexpected happens they start making a lot of phone calls, trying to get suppliers to work the night shift and bend over backwards for them.
Because of those extra links in their supply chain, we like to think that makes us more responsive and more able to hit the deadline when the deadline needs to be hit. We think this because we have the ability to cope with the unexpected in-house, and the ability to turn stuff around quickly, rather
than relying on outside companies and outside agencies.
Would you say that you are a very hands-on company in that regard?
Yes – we are very much a practical, hands-on company and we have the ability to support our offering. 90% of our offering comes through these. A lot of the stuff that we do is so varied. We have pieces of equipment within areas of ourMaking a huge difference in the marketing world
A lot of the stuff that we do is so varied. We have pieces of equipment within areas of our Making a huge difference
in the marketing world business that we probably only use half a dozen times a year, but when we do it’s because it’s critical to a project. If we outsourced that process we would be a small customer with less control over the supplier. We are not bound by that because we do it ourselves.
When it comes to transparency with the client, how do you accommodate that?
We do have a limited range of standard products, but virtually everything we produce is bespoke, so there is always a design dialogue that starts with a conversation with the client. Some of our favourite projects have started off the back of an envelope. One began life as a sketch on the back of a napkin over a cup of coffee with a client in Bond Street.
That turned into a worldwide roll-out of a particular product. Once that design process starts, there’s then a pretty traditional dialogue and back-and-forth of ideas between us and the client – both in design and costings. Transparency is essential and we work on a ‘no surprises’ basis.
When it comes to investing in the future, have there been any recent developments?
We’ve recently invested in a bespoke workflow system which will allow us to manage projects of all scales through from the initial brief to our installers’ photos and after sales. Clients will be able to log in and see the progress on their projects, with a design dialogue built into that, as well as progress through manufacturing. There will also be GPS tracking and installation photos at the tail end of it as well, but that will be coming on stream later.
Out of the hundreds of projects that you completed as a company, is there one in particular that really stands out?
That’s like asking someone to pick their favourite child! We have effectively six key relationship managers, including four directors, and 35 staff. If you asked each of us about the company’s best projects, we would probably all pick one of our own out of familiarity really and you’d end up with 70 different answers.
I would have to say there’s too many to choose from, but they range from extremely impressive marketing suites and site presentations in tight time scales at one end, through to the project that began life on a napkin and ended up in shop windows from Almaty, Kazakhstan, to Rodeo Drive, Beverley Hills and all points in-between.
In the retail world, that project was in the windows and refreshed for about two and a half years, which at the time was pretty much unheard of because in fashion retail things change so frequently. As for favourite projects within the there are too many to choose from. We’ve had some really nice high-profile ones, from which we get great satisfaction, down to some really satisfying smaller-scale projects.
We get as much pride and satisfaction from working with a smaller developer or a local housing association, and just doing a good job for them, as we would working for one of our more high-profile clients on something with ten times the budget.
The business has been going for 12 years now, what are the key differences you have noticed in the last decade or so?
The introduction of new technology is always important, and always brings change with it. The degree of sophistication within signage and site presentation has increased massively over that time. As client expectations have risen, the level required to achieve a Wow Factor has risen with it.
I remember when we put our first Oculus Rift-equipped marketing suite in place and the clients were able to view a show home that was ten months away from completion. At the time, as with the arrival of any new tech, the talk was of its impact on existing technologies: 3D virtual reality was going to kill off the model, fly-throughs were going to spell the end of the brochure. There is always something that is heralded as spelling the end of whatever it competes against.
Higgins Homes – Clissold Quarter – “We are very much a practical, hands on company and we have the ability to support our offering. 90% of our offering comes through these”
In reality, I think all of the options just kind of shuffle along the bookshelf a little bit. They are all still there: there is still a place for models, there is still a place for a beautifully bound brochure because people like to have something physical that they can take away. There is also still a place for beautifully presented samples and options, because people like to touch and feel, so whilst there has been a flood of new technology coming in and a flood of interior design ideas for marketing suites, and a flood of technological improvements and advancements in exterior signage and client expectation, there is always a place for something done beautifully well, and not using technology for technology’s sake.
You have a team of 35 people, but are you looking to expand at all?
We are always on the lookout for good people. Our growth over the twelve years of our existence has always been organic. We have always pushed our resources pretty hard, we have been led by our work and our ability to get work in, and so as our clients have grown, we have grown with them.
We are continually looking to expand, but organically rather than speculatively or aggressively, because we are a tight team. We have grown every year, since the crash, and it’s always been a steady upwards path. Fingers crossed and touching wood, that remains the same. We have four active, very hands-on Directors, and a very hands-on Middle Management Team. We have no bums on seats, so there comes a point where in order to expand, we have to recruit strategically – this is under constant review and we’re always on the lookout for people who would be a great addition to the team.
What would you say your strongest assets are on a personal level?
We walk alongside our clients, and happily stand with our clients and discuss where we are going next. Most of our clients, have been along for most if not all of the ride for the last 12 years. We foster long-term relationships with our staff too and try to recruit wisely, which means we have very low staff turnover. We are a tight-knit team and a good place to work.
Looking into the future, how do you see things changing?
Our clients often see us as part of the marketing team and those teams are all having to work a bit harder; all having to make their money, or their bosses’ money work that bit harder too. We have found ourselves providing an increasing number of either off-site sales solutions or off-plan sales solutions – in other words, modular marketing suites and alternative premises to act as marketing suites.
I hope the push for creativity, ingenuity and value will continue and that these trends will carry through in signage and hoardings too. I know some developers historically have been in the fortunate position of not launching until they’ve got a product complete. Even those guys are now able to show something impressive and convincing far in advance of having a product to show, and I think that trend will continue.
So what we are expecting is more off-site convertible premises, on-site modular and ground floor converted premises in a mixed-use type development, because that is partly the market trend. While people want value for money and want to get their money working as early as possible, fundamentally there aren’t enough places in this country for people to live.
Running a business is a little bit like, walking in Snowdonia – you don’t realise how far you’ve come until you look behind you, and realise that you have actually come quite a long way, but also there is the feeling that over the brow of the hill it will be downhill the other side. However, usually you get to the brow of the hill, and find there’s a bigger hill beyond! That’s the reality that we live in.
Countryside – Beaulieu – “We have always pushed our resources pretty hard, we have been led by our work and our ability to get work in, and so as our clients have grown, we have grown with them”