This ethos, explains Davies, is key to the success of the Fastsigns brand and is behind the recent development and implementation across its franchisees of a new app designed to make training more accessible for all staff.
In an industry that is constantly evolving and changing, particularly in terms of technology and materials, Davies says that although staff training time is already built into the working week, feedback from some employees had highlighted the fact that many of them were simply not finding the time to complete the various courses on offer from the global franchisor, either through its internet-based University of Fastsigns, or more traditional methods of learning.
Davies explains that in order to stay at the forefront of the industry and to stay ahead of the competition, it is vital to understand the company and its clients inside out and to keep on top of new developments.
“Training isn’t something you do and then that’s it you have the training. It is an ongoing process. It’s about continually updating yourself on new technologies, new substrates and new skills,” he asserts.
So, at the start of 2018 with the R&D division on the case, the company recognised that they had to find a way to make the training more accessible and, critically, more fun so that Fastsigns employees would actually be motivated to do it.
On delving into the stats, which included profiling University of Fastsigns course participants, the idea of a training app began to take shape. Davies stresses that the idea was not to replace any of the company’s “key touch points” of training but simply to supplement it and make it more accessible where each person could be in control of their engagement.
“We do have a large number of young people within our organisation and we know that gaming is a popular leisure pursuit among this demographic and has high engagement levels, so we came up with the idea of a gamification app that could deliver training in a light-hearted and also competitive way,” explains Davies.
“So, we went to the marketplace, particularly in the US where there are a number of app providers. 1Huddle is a market-leading provider for game-based training platforms and very soon it was clear that it could provide what we were looking for,” explains Davies.
With the basic 1Huddle platform already tried and tested in the corporate training arena, Fastsigns signed the company to design its own app in what Davies describes as an annual six-figure, ongoing investment.
In terms of content, Fastsigns provided 1Huddle with the training resources and course information available through its existing online portal and this was used to initially develop six games, launched in the second half of 2018, focusing on different areas of the business such as company history and printing substrates.
“There is a basic level of knowledge that we want people to have in certain areas so the first games were simple to create and quite basic to play,” says Davies.
He explains that the first target audience was mainly Fastsigns production specialists, with the majority being in the millennial age category or younger and though largely the same, this has broadened to attract a wider age range as time has gone on.
The games take anything from 30 seconds to five minutes to play, explains Davies, and has the same sort of appeal and intensity as a word search or Sudoku, with the ability to hop on or off them whenever is convenient.
“As we have gained feedback from the people that are playing them, we’ve been able to learn what they would like to see more of so we have developed additional courses and layered on further games,” he explains.
Davies says that the continual development of the games has relied on having open lines of communication across its franchise network getting feedback not just from those that are playing but also those that have chosen not to play, where perhaps the business thought they would have done.
There are around 30 games so far that Fastsigns franchisees and their employees can play on the app, and with 517 courses on the University of Fastsigns online resource there are still plenty that can be transposed into games.
As an additional measure to encourage employees to take part in the training, Fastsigns runs competitions, sometimes company-wide and sometimes in selected groups, where prizes are awarded for those who have scored the highest points.
“As the app evolves, we are noticing significant increases in participation numbers; people are really beginning to engage with the competition, and of course when you hand out prizes and you go to the individual stores that the winners are based at, it generates more interest in the competition,” Davies says.
Return on investment, he says, is difficult to tie down with an initiative like this, but that the overall success of the business reflects the fact that the staff are highly trained and they feel invested in.
Fastsigns UK franchisee Achi Atanda, who runs a store in Saffron Way, Leicester, is a recent winner on one such competition round. Atanda became the global company’s 22nd UK franchisee in October 2017 and she says that since the app’s launch last year it has transformed not just her knowledge but her staff’s too.
“If I want to be successful in this competitive market then I need to find a way to understand my market fully so that’s why I jumped into this app,” she says. “I didn’t start because I wanted to win – it’s a nice side effect – I started because I wanted to be more competent at what I do and to give the best service I can,” she says.
“There is so much information to retain and it is really helpful to have something to fall back on when you realise you have maybe forgotten something or need to refresh.”
Atanda says that she is very aware that after work is private time for her three-staff team, so she doesn’t expect them to play games on the app but she does encourage it because she fully believes that the confidence it has given her will not only boost her staff individually but will give her business the edge.
“I do try to impress on them that whatever knowledge they gain isn’t just for me or my company, it’s for themselves. Once you have knowledge, no one can take it from you.
“I started here with no knowledge about this industry and wanted to build what could eventually be a family business, so I am highly motivated to make it work and I really believe this has greatly enhanced my and my staff’s ability to do that,” she says.
Business Location Fastsigns UK support centre: Stafford, England; US head office: Carrollton, Texas
Inspection host John Davies, managing director, Fastsigns UK
UK turnover Over £7m
Established 1994 in UK, 1985 in US
Products and services Signs, graphics and visual communications, including exterior building signs, digital signs, banners, flags and interior decor signage
Kit Launch kit includes Epson S60 Printer, Kala Mistral Laminator and Mimaki CG-FXII Plotter
Inspection focus Developing an app for team training and skills
Choosing the right developer is vital, according to Davies. His advice is to research the market thoroughly and find out who is delivering similar solutions and has the necessary expertise. The first provider you meet may not be the most suitable. The company that understands the brief, generates ideas and aligns them with the company ethos and values is the right developer for you
Make sure you get buy-in from your teams. “In our case the app is central to our ethos, we place a lot of stock by our training to ensure our franchisee and staff can deliver the highest quality signage,” Davies explains. “We made a large network-wide announcement and introduced the benefits of accessing training in this way.”
Encourage staff to engage with the app in a light-hearted but competitive manner. “We run network-wide quarterly competitions where the staff who were placed first and second on the leaderboard are recognised with a reward. We also encouraged our franchisees to work challenges into their work start meetings to help keep the app at the forefront of their team’s mind. Finally we add more content frequently, ensuring there is always a new course or game for users to undertake and gain leaderboard points.”