Thake Sign’s managing director, Barrie Mann, highlights its website as a key area of focus and development, resulting in a significant number of regular enquiries. (Pictured) The company demonstrates its prowess with these digitally printed full body wraps on its vehicle fleet
An innovation state of mind
Now in its 123rd year of business, yes you read that right, Thake Signs is perhaps one of the best examples our industry has of a company committed to consistent hard work, good stewardship and quality workmanship.
Barrie Mann has been at the company more than 40 years and is only the third managing director of the business, learning the ins and outs of the trade from his predecessor Maurice Thake, who in turn learnt all he knew from his father and company founder Frank Thake.
“We are a company you can always rely on for quality, service and reliability. This has been our credo since 1890. When I first arrived we employed six members of staff because at that time we were sign writers and you needed more people to cater for production. This was made up of three sign-writers, an apprentice, a carpenter and a painter. It is a sign of the times that we now have four members of staff and tremendously higher output.
This commission by Thake Signs
exemplifies the company’s approach
to innovation, while the structure
appears to made from high-quality
timber, it is in fact aluminium wrapped
in digitally printed Metamark vinyl
“This lasted until the mid 80s, when we became one of the first company’s in the UK to invest in automated machine technology with Spandex and their Gerber systems. We have now been computerised in our sign making operation for more than 30 years. We have always been a company that has looked to flexibly to address the demands of our customers and thinking outside the box to achieve them.”
According to Mann, the core philosophy that has helped see Thake Signs through its history is keeping a firm eye on the future, without investing in new technology for the sake of it. In this spirit, Thake Signs currently outsources all of its engraving, routing, and illuminated sign fabrication.
“You can get dragged in too many directions and end up doing nothing well,” counsels Mann, adding: “It is very important to embrace the latest developments, but these are areas where you do not necessarily need to produce everything in-house. We produce the vast majority of our products on the premises, but it makes sense to build good working relationships with trade suppliers and in time they become an integral part of the service you offer.”
Barrie explains that in addition to its approach to research and development, another important element that has seen the company remain profitable is the contacts it has accumulated through providing a reliable and high quality service. The result has been the retention of clients in fields such as motorsport, in particular the company is a regular supplier to Formula 1 racing teams for their logo, graphics branding and wrapping requirements.
We have supplied F1 for more than 30 years and you have to stay at the very forefront of technology development to keep them happy”
“We have supplied F1 for more than 30 years and you have to stay at the very forefront of technology development to keep them happy. They now require vinyl that is the very lowest microns thick, as any more will add hundredths of a seconds to a lap. This type of work continues to remain a constant learning curve, but is something we enjoy being involved with,” says Barrie.
A final element of Thake Signs that Barrie highlights as a, ‘constant source of strength’, is the staff it employs and their approach to using standard materials in innovative ways (see SignLink December p14 or search Thake on www.signlink.co.uk ).
“Of our four staff, one has been here all his working life, and longer than I have. He may be of the old school, but when it came around he embraced all the latest computerisation and has kept up with it. My co-director worked here as an apprentice and then moving on for ten years to try other things before coming back. Our newest member of staff has also been here 15 years. You simply can’t buy experience like this today,” enthuses Mann.
(Above and below) From 1890 to the mid 80s Thake Sign’s was primarily a
sign-writing company, before becoming one of the first sign shops in the UK to
embrace computerised automation and cutting technology
Looking at the development and evolution of Thake Signs, perhaps what Mann has touched on here is one of its strongest assets. Essentially it is the ability to marry extensive expertise and industry experience with modern techniques and equipment, allowing the company to innovate and adapt when obstacles or problems arise.
Mann explains that many modern start-ups are set to fail before they have even begun: “A new breed of sign-makers today rent a warehouse, buy a graphics package and a few machines and then call themselves a sign shop. I am all for competition, but many fail to do any proper learning or research and lack the grounding experience of learning a trade properly-they tend to wait till things go wrong and then try to learn on the hoof.
“You will see a tradesman van in a car park, it has vinyl lettering and graphics, and they look ok. But they will be very poorly laid out, the colours and font style will be wrong and the over all effect will be poor. Getting it right either comes with intensive learning or experience, and they haven’t got it. Another problem is some sign-makers fall into the trap of sourcing cheap products from locations like China, and that means they can’t be assured of delivery on time, or getting it fixed when it goes wrong.”
Mann highlights that the single biggest area they will continue to work on is their online presence and the capability of their website to drive customers to pick up the phone.
“A large number of enquiries are now driven from our website, so much so that we will not be advertising in the Yellow Page for the first time. We have not over complicated it, and while we designed the clean and clear look in house, we took the hosting to a professional company who could get all the technical elements right,” says Mann.
While many older established companies have failed to make it into the modern era of technology, looking back across 123 years of business, Mann highlights that Thake Signs has jumped the divide and prospered by taking best practice from a pre-global communication world, abandoning what does not work, and embracing the latest technology and techniques, not just for the sake of it, but for their intrinsic worth.