Set up a sibling to assist a new endeavour

Jez Abbott
Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Peerless is almost peerless, and that was the challenge. The plastics and coatings company is one of the UK’s largest and best known specialists in creating UV-cured hard coatings for plastics that backdrop illustrious projects and the occasional big-name performer.

The company recently produced hard-coated polycarbonate sheets for the stage flooring of the West End hit Photograph 51, starring Nicole Kidman. Although it is well known within its specialist field, outside of plastics Peerless doesn’t enjoy the same level of celebrity of some of its Hollywood A List end-users.

Yet here was Peerless Plastics & Coatings wanting to move into print and signage. Would its hard-won reputation for excellence in the tight-knit world of coatings help it move in another direction and forge a reputation no less excellent? Or would it be impossible to emulate such excellence a second time round as it edged beyond its coatings comfort zone?


VITAL STATISTICS

Peerless Plastics & Coatings

Location Thetford, Norfolk

Inspection host Managing director Peter Llewellyn-Stamp 

Size Turnover: £1.5m; staff: 44 

Established Late 1990s

Sectors Abrasion- and chemical-resistant interior- and exterior-grade UV-cured hard coatings for plastic sheets and molded parts for automotive, rail and aerospace sectors, rigid, vinyl and canvas signage. 

Kit Two purpose-built large-format coating lines, spray technology, cutting kit, computer numerical control (CNC) machine, Signracer 2500 H-LED hybrid UV printer.  

Inspection focus Setting up a sister company


The challenge

The Peerless pitch has been honed to near perfection for well over 20 years and today two purpose-built coating lines thrum away in air-managed clean rooms surfacing everything from large sheets to small mouldings, automotive lenses and other 3D products. The plastic coatings can be clear or anti-glare, and abrasion- and chemical-resistant, and that’s pretty much it. 

They can be applied to plastic sheets up to 2.5x5m or much smaller surfaces for clients including leading car manufacturers, retail outlets, lighting specialists, airlines and the rail industry. They are flexible but lack the creative wow factor so redolent of all-things signage. 

“We have many customers that operate in such a wide range of industries,” says managing director Peter Llewellyn-Stamp. 

“When I spoke to them it soon became apparent one of the biggest industries that requires direct-to-media capability was signage. But we were immediately conscious as a company we had no presence there.”

He needed “something the sign industry would specifically look for”, and that something needed its own unique identity and branding. Having a separate, standalone print company would make it easier to expand into a new sector and market itself as a dedicated trade house for signage and shops rather than offering direct-to-media as an add-on service that could easily get lost in the blur of activity around the Peerless brand, he reckons. 

Llewellyn-Stamp explains: “It just made more sense to be able to market ourselves as a direct-to-media specialist in our own right rather than as a coatings company that happened to also offer print as a sideline. It’s a presentational thing: the two disciplines may seem to go hand in hand, but they are very different. Print is about design, cutting-edge creativity, brightness and colour.

“Peerless meanwhile is more practical; it’s a clear coating with performance qualities and that is more of a technical sell. It requires a different sales strategy, a different team of people and a different kind of people. Signage people are more design and graphics based with attention to a totally different kind of detail.” 

The method

When it came to launching the new company, to be called Direct to Media (DTM), Llewellyn-Stamp was in good company. One of his business’s majority shareholders, former managing director in the signage industry James Grint, threw in all his expertise. Another, Phil Little, has a strong chemicals background, while Llewellyn-Stamp is a finance and accounting whizz.

“Phil led the research element of the project and identified both the need and the opportunity. We looked at pricing benchmarks and then at machines. There are a lot out there and we knew we had to get the right one, so we spoke to several firms that manufacture and sell printers before opting for our final choice of kit.”

Little checked out various potential print contenders but finally went for the Signracer 2500 H-LED printer, chiefly on its capabilities although price did play a role. The machine and software cost £112,000 and were commissioned in March. Llewellyn-Stamp was able to fund the purchase of the digital printer with the help of the New Anglia Local Economic Partnership.

The Norfolk-based printer bought the machine at Fespa this spring and what swung it was the kit’s hybrid quality. Llewellyn-Stamp’s team wanted to be sure its new purchase could serve not just existing customers but the future requirements of new clients.

“That’s why we went for a hybrid model rather than a large-format flatbed or roll-to-roll machine. A hybrid system can do pretty much any kind of direct-to-media work our customers would require and allow us to expand into different areas in future.”

DTM is based in the same premises as Peerless Plastics & Coatings in the historic market town of Thetford. A new 230m2 clean room is dedicated to the SignRacer and associated computers with enough room for two or even three more printers. Total spend to date is between £150,000 and £200,000, “with more spending expected”.

The result

DTM started in April, offering customers a smooth transition from the print bed to the coating line for a fully protected, UV-cured hard coat, says Llewellyn-Stamp. Protective coatings can be applied gloss or matt and the 2.5m-wide SignRacer prints on to rigid media up to 50mm thick. The company also prints on to flexible media such as vinyl or canvas.

The DTM team, which started with one minder and a graphic designer, now totals six staff and Llewellyn-Stamp, who heads up both companies, has plans to grow both DTM and Peerless “significantly”. But where the latter offers a niche product, the new outfit offers something “not so specific and much more open to competition, so we need to be strong on price, service and quality”.

Key to growth will be the company’s presence on the internet and social media: “We have a website and will be looking to expand our presence on social media, for which this is an ideal business to take advantage: we can show potential customers the kind of jobs we can do because social media is great for showing off exactly how bright and colourful this kind of work is.”

Llewellyn-Stamp has appointed a marketing agency and from next year will be looking to attend print industry exhibitions to “showcase what DTM can do with print, highlight its benefits and raise knowledge and understanding within the industry”. If this works, within two years years, he reckons DTM will be in a position to buy another machine and push its turnover to £500,000 or even £1m.

“To do that in two years would count as successful,” he says. “I would not have done this venture if I had just hoped it would be successful – I expect it to be successful. We have had great success with Peerless in the last two or three years and have strengthened our core team. We have a skilled business management team and a strong production team.

“The businesses are separate but will complement each other: we believe the coating company will bring in more print, and the print company will bring in more coating. Together they will grow.” 


TOP TIPS

Background Research and plan before launching a sister company, and analyse your market to help you build a successful business plan and brand. 

Advice Get professional advice beforehand, speak to your accountant as well as people who have taken the leap into starting a business.

Skills Make sure you have the skill base required to operate any new equipment and that relevant staff are trained to the required level before you start trading.

Strategy Have a strong sales strategy in place, so “map the territory before you chart the course” by working out the market dynamics and competitive landscape

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