Signs point to optimism in sector report

By Rhys Handley, Friday 21 June 2019

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According to a new report, the UK signage sector is in rude health, with most firms optimistic about the future despite economic uncertainty.

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Signs Express' Joshi: business leaders from a "diverse range of backgrounds that made me feel confident coming into the signage sector"

Sign sector body ISA-UK has published a report based on a survey of 112 sign industry decision-makers, which states that 58% of respondents have reported an increase in turnover for the past year and a further 24% have remained consistent, while 46% have seen profits increase over the past year, with 31% remaining static.

The industry report is intended to become an annual reading of the sign and graphics sector, according to ISA-UK director David Catanach. He described the results of the survey as “extremely interesting and positive”, with 51% of respondents believing the industry is “thriving”.

“It’s great news that most survey respondents are positive about the state of the sign industry and their own businesses,” said Catanach.  “As an organisation, our role is to support our members and help them thrive and grow so we will be using the research findings to inform our activity over the next 12 months.

“Our aim is for the ISA-UK Sign Industry Survey to become an annual project so that we can track viewpoints and provide an accurate picture to our members and the wider business world.”

Indications from individual companies are broadly consistent with the optimism reflected in the report, though signmakers’ and print companies’ views were still coloured by the uncertainty and potential economic turbulence that could be brought on by Brexit.

Cardiff-based 3 Sixty began 2019 in good stead, following the October install of two Dursts. It has now relocated to new premises to accommodate the additions and is focused on consolidating to improve its efficiency this year.

Managing director Richard Inkin said: “I think signage is a challenging market, no doubt, and there is a lack of consistency right now as everything is up in the air. Summer months tend to be quieter for us than spring and autumn but there is less demand than there has been for a long time.

“You have to ride out the peaks and troughs. Our turnover has stayed consistent, but our margins are under pressure. There are some things we do that are unique in the market and you have to hold onto those as it is where you are similar to your rivals that your margins are going to be challenged.

“It is a case of some people doing well, some people doing not so well, and plenty of people in the middle keeping it level.”

Macroart in St Neots has seen an influx of work boost its business since taking on a raft of new staff following the demise of a local competitor. It is set to take on three apprentices for the first time in early July.

“We are winning exciting new work, but April was a very soft month industry-wide,” said managing director Michael Green. “Like most of our competitors we are recovering from that difficult trading period where everyone took a hit – but I am cautiously optimistic.

“As a business, we are going through a process of maturation to become more professional and efficient. I am concerned about the impact of Brexit on people’s spend, especially in the automotive and retail sector, but we are still winning work for now.

“I do not think anybody is going to break records this year and the worst thing for any economy is uncertainty. That said, we do a lot of international exhibition work and UK signage is full-stop excellent at that. You can go anywhere in the world and, for instance, hear Brummie carpenters setting up exhibition stands – the government needs to make sure signage is part of the UK’s new economic powerhouse if we do leave the EU.”

In the franchise sector, Signs Express is keeping its head high with a slew of new openings across the first half of this year amid a sector it claimed is worth £500m.

Key to its messaging has also been the influx of female business leaders taking the reins, with the number of women opening Signs Express branches in the last 18 months increasing by 40%, including Val Duggan in Leicester & Loughborough, Mayura Joshi in Colchester & Chelmsford and Priya Lawry in Oxford.

Reflecting on her entry into the sector, Joshi said: “Signage was interesting to me because every business needs it – that’s what drew me. I spoke to existing Signs Express franchisees and they come from a diverse range of backgrounds that made me feel confident coming into the sector.”

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