Enterprise gurus and management consultants are wont to say that the first four-to-five years are the “survival years for any new business. If this is so, it’s unlikely that the analytical skills of the same experts – or indeed a doctor – would be required to determine that Manchester-based, Carrick Signs is very much alive and kicking.
Five years after opening its doors, the large format printing company, which offers of a full range of display applications using a wide spectrum of rigid and flexible substrates, continues to go from strength to strength, having survived the growing pains that can sometimes hamper the growth of start-ups.
Central to the production capability of the 12-strong company, which is led by managing director Chris Palmer and business development director, Mandy Roscoe–Enion, is its digital inkjet flatbed printing capability, which the business first invested in three years ago to print onto boards.
Soon afterwards, with a growing requirement for increased capacity and improved all-round performance, the pair began to research the flatbed market and review potential successors to the original machine and address its short-comings.
“A couple of years ago, we went to Sign UK to get a handle on the latest options available”, says Mandy. “In addition to the company’s need for much higher throughput, customers were increasingly asking for things which we struggled with, such as the ability to print good quality white.”
As Mandy explains, the trip to Sign UK in 2010 marked a pivotal moment for company.
“We didn’t want to leave Birmingham empty-handed, and made sure we used the opportunity to talk to all the dealers and see the latest large format devices in action,” she says.
Following lengthy discussions with HP dealer, CWE Solutions, an HP Gold Preferred Partner, Carrick selected the 64-in (1.63m)-wide HP Scitex FB500 Printer to provide the firepower it needed to meet its capacity requirements. Printing to a wide range of rigid and flexible media at speeds of up to 398 ft2/hr (37m2/hr), the HP Scitex FB500 Printer enables Carrick to print four colours with matt and gloss finishes, and faithfully reproduce white.
“The ability to properly print white ink with brilliant vibrancy is a real bonus,” she explains. “This has made a dramatic difference to applications such as Perspex display panels used in corporate environments where company logos and branding needs to be accurately reproduced.”
According to Mandy, the installation made an immediate impact on the business, bolstering its range of direct-to-rigid applications and enlarging its range of substrates while taking productivity to new levels.
“Having the HP Scitex FB500 Printer meant that we could not only offer larger sizes of board, but we could also output them 50 per cent faster than our original machine,” she says. “If a customer wanted a five-foot display board we used to print it in two separate pieces, whereas the FB500 can handle the same job as one piece, effectively halving production time.”
Also a making a significant difference to workflow is the machine’s ability to print direct to substrate.
“Previously we would have printed a graphic onto vinyl separately before applying this to the rigid substrate to ensure quality,” adds Mandy. “However, as CWE Solutions explained to us, the FB500 allows us to print directly to the substrate, which means that we’re not constantly looking at the clock, fearful of missing a deadline.
“This capability also means that we can take on new work, including the printing of wood panelled doors, which we couldn’t do before,” she continues. “In fact, the FB500 eats pretty much everything we feed it: wood, Perspex, Foamex, Correx and aluminium. Basically, if it’s flat, we can print on it.”
The new-found ability to take on much more work and offer new applications for both existing and new customers meant that Carrick Signs was soon working flat-out to keep up with demand.
“The HP Scitex FB500 added to our production capability and all round versatility, but despite running it continuously, we couldn’t cope with requests and realised that a second unit would be needed to relieve the strain,” says Mandy.
What followed was the second pivotal point in what was still very much the initial growth years of the company.
“It wasn’t simply a question of bringing in another machine”, continues Mandy. “At only 1,100ft2 (102m2), our existing premises were too small to accommodate a second HP Scitex FB500, so given the rapid growth we were experiencing, we decided to re-locate the business to a larger facility.”
Fast forward to the present and Carrick Signs has transformed itself once more, moving to new, 6000ft2 (560m2) facility during the summer and taking on three additional staff. Moreover, the company’s engine room is now powered by two HP Scitex FB500 Printers, which between them provide a twin-propelled large format print capability to meet customer demand.
Integrating the second machine, which was once again supplied by CWE Solutions, was very smooth and the printer was quickly put to work.
“Last month we printed almost 3000 boards on the two HP Scitex printers, a quantity which, with our previous machine, would have taken two-and-a-half,” Mandy explains. “Our production throughput now is effectively 150 per cent faster than it was before we invested in HP printers.”
Importantly, the dual-HP installation gives Carrick’s team the ability to take on more work with the confidence to deliver on time, including last-minutes orders.
“If we get a job for 100 boards on a Wednesday afternoon to be printed and delivered by Friday morning, we can now say ‘yes’, rather than having to turn down the job,” says Mandy.
Carrick Signs serves a nationwide client base representing a cross-section of customers, from local councils to schools, advertising and design agencies, as well as individuals. Among jobs recently undertaken is one that typifies the performance credentials of the HP Scitex FB500: a project to promote the Wigan Youth Zone, a state-of-the-art facility in Wigan Town Centre offering young people a place to spend their leisure time.
Carrick was asked to print striking graphics onto 90 10×5-feet aluminium boards that were installed to form one gigantic display hoarding measuring 4,500ft2 (418m2).
“The project for the Wigan Youth Zone exemplifies what the HP Scitex FB500 can do,” says Mandy. “It came in fairly late, but we were able to output it in a very short space of time. Most importantly, the client was thrilled with the finished result which looks fantastic.”
As for the all important bottom-line, according to Mandy, the figures speak for themselves:
“Our turnover increased by around 33 per cent last year, and for the first half of 2012, it’s 41 per cent. Considering we only installed a second HP Scitex FB500 in the summer, this can mostly be attributed to just one HP printer,” says Mandy.
Still in its relative infancy, Carrick Signs has built itself a solid production base and varied client portfolio with which to move forward, proving that the early years of a business can be focused on growth with a capital ‘G’.