MacroArt’s change mentality is at the heart of its post-Covid recovery

Green (left) and Rose: Sweeping changes of the past few years are now paying dividends
Green (left) and Rose: Sweeping changes of the past few years are now paying dividends

Branding and signage specialist MacroArt has, it’s fair to say, been quite busy during 2021. Like many wide-format businesses, but particularly those with a big presence in the live events and exhibitions sectors, work started to dry up quickly in March 2020 when the UK was plunged into its first coronavirus lockdown.

Companies had to quickly decide how best to mitigate against the severe effects of the pandemic and, while like many others for MacroArt this pause led to new ways of working and diversification into new areas, the business had already been making sweeping changes before the pandemic hit.

Founded in 1992 by husband and wife John and Gretchen Walker, MacroArt was sold in an MBO deal in 2014, a year after John Walker’s death, to a team comprising then-managing director James Jennings, then-commercial director – and now managing director – Michael Green, and sales director Matthew Guise, with backing from YFM Equity Partners.

Independent Growth Finance (IGF) supplied a further £3.3m in additional working capital to MacroArt in early 2020, prior to the first lockdown, after it outgrew its initial funding.

The St Neots, Cambridgeshire-based company’s turnover was £6m prior to the MBO, and this was doubled to £12m before the pandemic began, albeit this rapid growth was not without its challenges according to Green, speaking to Printweek at the firm’s purpose built circa-4,000sqm site earlier in the year.

“We grew very fast, but as often happens with businesses that grow rapidly, we grew the top line, but we didn’t grow the processes in the business, so at the end of 2018 when I started as MD, I recognised very quickly that we needed to change the business radically.

“I was really fortunate to meet Mark [Rose, who had previously spent 25 years at Service Graphics] who joined the business as a project manager [in January 2019]. I soon realised that I had an operational superstar within the business, and I managed to twist his arm and persuade him to take the role of operations director.”

With a new senior management team in place, things started to change quickly. And despite a “tough” 2018 and 2019, by the end of 2019 – after a period that saw the introduction of new operating systems, a new ERP platform, and a review of staffing levels – Green says “I think we had it pretty nailed on”. But then Covid happened.

The company, which runs printers from Durst, EFI, and Canon, decided to use the lockdown period as an opportunity to investigate and develop other sectors, after many of its key markets were shut down overnight.

“Having been through what we’d been through, we had a real change mentality throughout the business so we took that, looked at Covid coming down the pipe and said ‘okay, we need to now refine what it is we are doing and get leaner, quickly’ – so we did,” Green recalls.

The business ultimately started to expand into areas such as property, heritage, museums, sports stadia, retail, and corporate projects.

Earlier this year the firm also commissioned a ‘top to bottom’ review of its green credentials from Green Circle Solutions as part of a new initiative to reduce its environmental impact.

“This is something you need external advice on. You can get stuck in on the dos and the don’ts, but to formulate a robust strategy you need an expert,” says operations director Mark Rose.

Green adds: “The thing about sustainability I’ve found is that when you start doing it you’ve got to be serious about it, and it is opening Pandora’s box. When you peel the layers of the onion down you realise there’s a lot to do.”

Among its many sustainable initiatives, the business is trying to move away from PVC where this is feasible, and most of its materials are manufactured and supplied by UK businesses. 

Where the company finds this is not possible, it buys in bulk to minimise transport costs and emissions, and it ensures there is a full recyclable route for the materials, with its client base also able to send materials back to the business to recycle them.

This summer the company also appointed a new non-executive chairman, Dominic Riley, who has extensive experience in organisations including FTSE 100-listed Relx, the BBC and the Morgan Motor Company. Green says Riley “is a real driver for the marketing and brand building we’re doing”.

“Both we and YFM decided that we needed maybe a change in focus and a change back to building MacroArt as a brand and growing the business in a sustainable way,” he adds.

“We’ve worked out a new vision for the business which is really simple – to see our work every day, everywhere. We’ve got some hardware investment plans, we’ve invested a great deal into the MIS/workflow processes, and we’ve opened up some new markets.”

Most recently, last month the company launched its new website, which it says promotes its expertise, experience, and capabilities and highlights some of the major jobs it has recently been involved in.

A number of MacroArt’s new revenue streams have remained strong, even with the return of its traditional work for live events, exhibitions, and conferences.

Now recovering from the initial hit of Covid, the firm is looking to finish this year on a turnover of around £8.5m – a large proportion of which Green reports is from its new markets. Its target is to then get back up to £12m in the next two to three years.

Following 10 new appointments in 2021, 88 staff now work across MacroArt and its aluminium display specialist subsidiary Aluvista, which is based in a unit adjacent to the company’s main production building.

The sweeping changes of the last few years are now paying major dividends and Green concludes: “I think the future for us is really exciting”.