Spotlight: Hardy Signs

Note from the editor

For this month’s issue of Spotlight, CJ and I did not have to travel far; we went to visit the local powerhouse that is Hardy Signs at their offices and manufacturing facility on Wetmore Road. Nik Hardy and his team are long-standing clients and good friends of Davies + Scothorn, so it was enjoyable to have an in-depth conversation about the history and journey of the 26-year-old business, how they got to where they are now, and how they see the future of the signage industry developing with the influx of emerging technologies such as digital signage and UV printing.

Fact File: Hardy Signs

Hardy Signs Ltd was established by Nik Hardy in 1993 and has since grown into one of the most recognised and preferred signage suppliers in the United Kingdom. Hardy Signs is an award-winning company that through constant innovation has become the leading signage company in the UK.

Their portfolio includes a wide range of physical and digital signage for which they offer a complete solution – from project management, installation and maintenance through to content creation and system management.

An interview with …
Nik Hardy: Founder & Managing Director
Adam Bates: Marketing Manager

Millie: “Nik, what was your background before setting up Hardy Signs?”

Nik: “I started work when I was 15 years old at a local traditional sign writers, just for a few hours on a Saturday morning, practising with the easel, paintbrush and mahl stick, and then they took me on a YTS scheme when I left school which followed onto an apprenticeship. After 7 years there, I finally took the plunge and set up Hardy Signs in 1993, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Millie: “Adam what is your role and how long have you been working here?”

Adam: “I’ve been working at Hardy Signs for 18 years, I initially started as a general manufacturer and sign fitter. There were only 2 or 3 of us when I started and worked my way up into design, and then printing; I actually went to college and did an NVQ, so I was familiar and up to date with the new design and printing technologies we were incorporating into the business, which gave me a head start. I then transgressed to working in the digital signage department, and now I head up the marketing department. As you can see over the years I’ve worked in lots of different areas, I’ve seen the growth first hand, so I can see where we have come from and where we are going. I think that’s why it’s fitting that I work in the marketing department because I understand most aspects of the business, which makes it easier to promote.”

Millie: “Over the past 25 years of business, what would you say was the most demanding project you undertook and how did you overcome any obstacles?”

Traditional signage tools

Adam: “I think our project with B&Q back in 2011 was quite challenging at the time. It was the first major job we won after moving to this facility on Wetmore Road, even to date it’s the single biggest contract we have ever won. It was quite demanding working with a big blue-chip company, with us being a much smaller business. We were fitting various internal signage throughout their brand new distribution centre in Swindon. Previous to that we had a number of big contracts where we supplied a certain amount of signage to different areas, whereas with B&Q we supplied everything all through the internals and the outer site, it was a completely empty shell, which was, and still is, their biggest building in the UK. We had to do all the health and safety signage, and we had just had the stress of moving ourselves, but of course, you bounce back and the project was a success. They favoured us because they had lots of tight deadlines and they needed someone to do the job quickly, which was a service we could provide where others couldn’t.”

Millie: “How has your team structure and manufacturing facility developed over time?”

Nik: “We’ve got a more rigid management structure in place now, which includes myself, Tom my brother as Operations Director, Adam in Marketing, Scott Sudale in Sales, Adam Swingler who is in charge of the workshop. In the fitting and manufacturing department, we have some long-serving employees who have helped the business grow. This helps to build a solid foundation, you know the work will be done to the right quality that you expect. In terms of new recruits, we have an apprentice scheme which we formed 3 years ago in partnership with Burton and South Derbyshire college called the Hardy Signs Print Academy. This was a really proud moment for me to have the department named after myself, and through the academy we are taking on apprentices that we hope will be the sign makers of the future. The first learner that progressed through the academy is now working full time as a sign fitter and it’s going really well for him. From a one-man operation, we then progressed to an SME, now employing 24 full-time workers.”

Millie: “As a company, you do a lot of networking and have a notable social presence within the Burton business community – what benefits do you feel this brings the business?”

Nik: “We have always been prominent in the community, charity-wise, and networking is the greatest way to get yourself recognised. I think what has helped us over the years is that we are quite an advocate of reciprocal work; we will quite happily promote charities and similar organisations because they, in turn, will promote us, they become our extended sales force in a way. It is all about building up that trust – and also it’s fun! Burton has got a good core of businesses and a community that wants to help each other.”

Millie: “To a lot of people the term signage means literally just the making of physical, static signs, but we know that you do much more than this – are there any unusual projects you have undertaken that people might not immediately associate with your company?”

Nik: “The first thing that I think of is digital signage. Whilst it is still a bolt-on to our core business, which is the standard signage that you mention, for me it shows that we are forward thinking, we are not stuck in the past. We embrace technology as it arrives, rather than shy away from it.”

Adam: “I was asked last week what the hardest thing is that I face in my role, and as you say it’s conveying to people the wide variety of things we do aside from our core business. You can easily get pigeonholed. Digital signage is 10% of what we do, we’ve also completed a Helicopter wrap, and a wrap for the Burton Albion Promotion Bus, for example. We are keen to illustrate the range of our services which is why I think our website that Davies + Scothorn made for us is so crucial in showcasing what we do.”

Millie: “What new technological or mechanical developments would you say have really had an impact on the industry in the last five years?”

Nik: “I would say the UV printing has definitely had a massive impact on the industry, the large format printers that we have in our studio print direct to substrate, the ink dry instantly, and the finished product can be fitted immediately. This enables you to produce signage in record time, in the days of old you would be putting on and peeling off individual vinyl letters.

Adam: “This advance in technology applies to vehicle wrap also, you can get the job done in a day or two rather than a week.”

Millie: “What does the future look like in the next 10 years for the signage industry?”

Nik: “It’s an interesting question. We’ve mentioned already print technology, which is getting better and better, but ultimately, there’s going to be more digital.”

Adam: “Technology is becoming more cost-effective and more advanced, all the time, in every area, so I think interactive digital signage will play an important role as it becomes more readily available. We are seeing that in McDonald’s restaurants with their interactive kiosks and I think that will be prevalent in the next 5 years. The young generation of today almost expect it, so I can see it becoming commonplace.”

Nik: “Initially we started to see more demand for digital signage when we worked in London with the hotels and now it’s also being seen a lot in retail and healthcare. The difference of having digital signage is the flexibility you get; you can change the signage as and when you want, you can talk to the machines remotely, and it’s a single investment, you don’t have to keep repeating your print costs. Hotels use it as a welcome message board and for wayfinding; they give off an impression to your client base that you are a forward-thinking establishment.”

Adam: “The latest project has been a kiosk we put into a sports retailer in Surrey called Simply Sports, we have also been commissioned to make a big external waterproof totem next month at the Rep Theatre in Stoke.

Millie: “You operate from your state-of-the-art production facility in Burton and you have established yourselves as a preferred supplier to national organisations throughout many sectors. As a Burton business, how do you manage to compete consistently with London and city-based competitors?”

Nik: “I often think that the mark of a good company is what they do if things don’t go to plan, everybody expects quality, that’s a given, especially when operating at this level, but it’s how you handle things when they don’t go right. I think we deal well with those situations, and that’s where we score points.”

Adam: “I think the brand is also really strong, we are very recognisable, not just in the Burton area, but all across the country. We are sponsoring the finish line at a motorsport event called the Chateau Impney Hill Climb for the third year, because it’s a great profile raiser and we gain many useful contacts from it. What pleases me is when people say ‘your vans are everywhere’, our vehicles are very noticeable. Davies + Scothorn obviously designed that van wrap and it works wonders for us from a marketing perspective.”

Millie: “Hardy Signs has been around for 25 years, would you say that in the early years there were any big clients that you worked with that really helped to put you on the map?”

Adam: “I think Nestle was a lovely feather to add to our cap, just because of the size of the project and the high profile factory at Tutbury. They built a new factory which cost £300m and they bought us in to put the Nestle logo on the building. It was one of the highest signs we’ve done, and it was nice to say that we were working with such a strong brand, which was obviously still local but with a national reputation.”

Nik: “I think that’s the same with St George’s Park; we still work for them on a regular basis they are an ongoing client, and on the back off that we have worked at the FA Headquarters and even Wembley Stadium.

Millie: “Nik, how did you come to be the President of the Burton Chamber?”

Nik: “It’s a two-year position which I took on last May at the AGM. Previously I was the vice president and before that a general council member. My role is to champion local business, not just in Burton, but in Greater Birmingham and surrounding areas. We do need Burton businesses to get as much coverage as possible, we can be a bit forgotten. It’s not talked about enough how many businesses reside here, because not all businesses are good at PR, which is where you guys come in.”

Millie: “Last year Davies + Scothorn redesigned your website, repositioned you, gave you a new strapline, produced a company video and redesigned you a unique new van wrap. How do you feel this has impacted your business and what kind of results have brought you?”

Nik: “We did put our 100% faith in you guys from the beginning, it was quite a big investment for us, but we have always found you really helpful, and at the end of the day you know your stuff don’t you. With the new website, traffic is up 21%, the bounce rate is down 17% and overall contact intent is up 68.5%. We spoke earlier about the benefit of our eye-catching van design, and the video helps showcase the range of services we offer to our customers in an exciting way. We have a growth plan for the next 5 years, and we look forward to involving you guys in that.”

Adam: “I think you have a similar ethos to us really, we want to make sure people see us in the best light from every point of view. Gav and Blair are particularly forward thinking, even with things such as Spotlight, no one else is doing that, or anyone that is doing it isn’t doing it very well because you don’t hear about it. This attitude of thinking outside the box is how we see you and it’s what we buy into.”

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