Jane you’ve been involved with the business from the start I think? Tell me about the early days and how the family business started. What year did it start and where was the business based?
“The business commenced in 1981 with John Whitehouse as a sole trader operating from our garage attached to our house in Buckley. At that time he sprayed cars at Lookers and he was involved in signwriting vans and large trailers at Spraytec in Sandycroft. John obtained a good reputation for the designs he came up with for the vehicles, using different letter styles rather than just Helvetica.
At this time everything was hand produced using sable brushes, milestick and enamel paint. The letters and logos were drawn up on tracing paper and then chalked onto a vehicle to provide an outline for the signwriting. This was not too bad on small vehicles but quite a job when detailing Safeway on large 40 ft trailers!”
The processes to make signage back then were quite different from now I believe? Can you tell me about some of the most notable changes over the years?
“The most notable change was with the advent of computers which brought with it the first vinyl cutting machines in the mid 80’s. The first machines cut vinyl lettering to 2” in height and then it progressed to 6” in height when they were more viable to purchase as the majority of vans could be de-called.
Advances continued with the first fully printing machine the Spandex Gerber Edge which started the digital printing revolution printing graphics to a width of 18”! The initial machines were very expensive but as competitors brought out alternative machines – cheaper and larger – the digital revolution began. Suddenly jobs which used to be the prerogative of the larger sign companies could now be completed by small set ups. At this time there was also the revolution with smaller CNC machines allowing the majority of sign companies to purchase small sized routers and CNC press brakes to set up full fabrication facilities.”
So fast forward – what was the first big milestone for Impact Signs?
“The first milestone was when I joined the Company full time to manage the finances, HR and to apply for grants from the Welsh Development agency for expansion and acquisition of plant and machinery. This allowed John to come off the tools and act in a full time sales role.”
Why was this significant?
“In that first year turnover increased by 176%! It was the beginning of managing the company in all its elements – setting sales targets, checking man hours against a job, marketing.”
And the company eventually moved to the Flint site – when was this and what triggered the move?
“In 2001 our landlords British Land at Chaser Court in Chester informed us that they had applied for change of use to allow units to change from industrial to retail and that our lease was to go up from £3.25 per sq. ft to £16.00 per sq ft. I set about selling the remainder of the lease in Chester and purchased Unit 1, in Flint so that I would never have that problem again.”
You changed the name of the company from Impact Signs to isGroup? Why was this?
“Our turnover was growing rapidly at this stage and therefore posed a considerable financial risk to the Partners and we also deemed it did not appear professional to our larger clients. All employees were moved over to the Limited Company.”
The company has achieved a number of really prestigious awards from the British Sign & Graphics Association. What do you think it is about the company that has led to this level of success?
“Hard work by all of our team, who are committed to our company and its customers and show pride in their work.”
“We have been winning awards over a number of years when we have entered but basically it is having the opportunity through our sales and marketing strategy in acquiring the chance to tender for complex and exciting projects that stretch our team. It is then down to the skill level of our personnel and our commitment to quality and customer service to ensure our customers return.”
So you’ve now been the Managing Director for how many years?
“Too many to count I suppose I have always been in charge but officially 30 years.”
What do are your plans for the business over the next few years? Where do you see isGroup going next?
“We are in a niche market of specialist projects which requires a highly skilled workforce and management team. To improve on our current model, we require either to expand our current premises or to move location to allow the manufacture of several totems 6 metres in height and above at the same time.
In addition, we aim to acquire more property developers and managing agents as regular clients, launch an e-commerce shop for a range of signage types and further develop the Way2Go range. A busy time ahead!”