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Signarama Milton Keynes

Jo Golding talks to Tracy Clark, managing director of Signarama Milton Keynes, about flying to Florida to get a feel for the organisation and how it maintains its fantastic reputation

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(Above & below) (L to R) Tracy Clark and Martin Varney started Signarama Milton Keynes and won ‘Franchisee of the Year 2016’

How to build a business

Running a franchise in the sign industry takes an incredible amount of hard work, both in preparation to opening and after, which is something I discovered whilst talking to Tracy Clark, managing director of Signarama Milton Keynes. Clark has a background in marketing, graphic arts, and exhibition management. She managed the launch event for the first computer-to-plate system and has project managed attendance at shows both in the UK and overseas, including the launch of one of the first software RIPs.

It was this wealth of experience in project managing that led Clark to the task of opening a branch of sign franchise Signarama, which has more than 900 locations currently. Clark tells me about the preparation process: “Leading up to starting the branch, I spent about six months solidly working on my business plan, right down to the finest detail. When it got to the crunch point, I used that as well to secure a really good asset finance deal, so I was really happy about that.

“I met with quite a few existing franchisees. I also went on a Discovery Day tour to the United Franchise Group headquarters in West Palm Beach and quizzed everyone from the top down to get a feel for the organisation we were going to be a part of. It was great, I was only out there for two or three days, but they looked after me well.”

I went on a Discovery Day tour to the United Franchise Group headquarters in West Palm Beach and quizzed everyone from the top down

Once Clark and partner Martin Varney found the premises for their business, it was back to Florida for an introductory training programme, but the weather certainly made for an interesting time.

Clark continues: “We went to the Signarama University in West Palm Beach for two weeks during the really horrible gales of 2005. There was no hotel accommodation, no transport, and we were about 25 miles up the Florida coast, so every day we were ferried by stretch limo, which sounds fun but it is not very comfortable on a long journey.”

On their return, Clark and Varney worked for a week in an established Signarama store in the UK. Next, it was two weeks of full-time set up of the Milton Keynes branch as equipment, desks, chairs, and other pieces were delivered. In the second week, they went out and started telling people who and where they were.

In 2005, the branch opened and now has four members of staff, but will return to its core team of five once they have recruited a new sales administrator. Clark highlights how everyone plays a large part in the team.

Local at heart

“At our heart, we are a local sign company and we’re serving the Milton Keynes business community,” explains Clark, adding: “We’ll go from stickers, vehicle livery, and building signage right up to everything you need for a full re-brand. I really enjoy project management, so we’ve done a few re-brands on multiple sites up and down the country, which is all about logistics and planning.”

Signarama Milton Keynes has worked on a range of jobs, some of which have been more technically challenging than others. For example, a few years ago, the company produced a whole series of bespoke shop front signs in north London, including hand painted glass signs, illuminated signs across four shop fronts with LED tubes, hand woven metal signs, and festoon lighting. The company also produced 39 built up halo illuminated letters for the new entrance of Milton Keynes University Hospital, which opened at the end of May.

The company produced 39 built up halo illuminated letters for Milton Keynes University Hospital

Clark adds: “We really do offer the whole range. We’ve never cherry-picked, which has an up side and a down side. If you want to be in control of your own destiny, the name of the game is to attract the type of pieces that you want, but we’ve always responded to what people have asked for. That’s how we’ve built our knowledge and experience.”

Sign projects are completed by Signarama Milton Keynes in its 1,700sq ft production space, with equipment such as its HP Latex printer, Summa plotter, and Seal laminator, as well as a host of other tools and cutting equipment.

Proud achievement

For a local sign company, it is important to keep growing and Clark says growth has come from two main areas: “First, a growing customer base with minimal attrition, obviously some customers do drop off, and secondly, adding to our portfolio as our experience and confidence has grown which has meant that we’re able to offer more.”

(Above & below) Signarama Milton Keynes created a series of bespoke shop front signs in London a few years ago

Recently, Signarama Milton Keynes saw off competition from other Signarama sites to pick up the much-coveted ‘Franchisee of the Year 2016’ award. Aliyyah-Begum Nasser, managing director of Signarama, handed over the honour to Clark and Varney at the firm’s business support centre in London.

Clark says of the achievement: “Signarama puts a lot of effort into championing the success of others and as a large organisation, we’re able to call upon each other for help and advice. Everybody here is really proud that we were recognised in that way. The way we see it is an acknowledgement of the contribution that we’ve made to the network over twelve years now. We’re really pleased.”

The company says it has built its knowledge through always responding to what people have asked for

So, what are the top traits of Signarama Milton Keynes that see it thrive? Clark pinpoints customer service, teamwork, and attention to detail, adding: “We very much value our reputation within the local area and we do everything that we can to ensure that people are happy with what they receive and they come back to us again.

 We do get a lot of repeat business and we have a healthy amount of word of mouth referrals. Hopefully that backs up that we are practising what we preach.”

We do everything that we can to ensure that people are happy with what they receive

With a potential move to new premises next calendar year and future plans to buy a flatbed printer, it is clear that Signarama Milton Keynes is thinking ahead. This, after all, is key to success, which is something the company has achieved in spades.

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