From the outside the premises of Kremer Signs in Newbury looks like any other industrial unit. But when you go inside you will see where the signboards for 70 per cent of all sales and lettings branches across the UK are manufactured, in its 15,000 sq ft of quiet industry.
On the day we visited there were boards being made for Hamptons, Felicity J Lord, Strutt & Parker, Belvoir, Mann Countrywide and a host of small independents all staring out from the factory’s flat-bed printers.
Kremer Signs has approximately 6,500 branch customers but despite making boards for so many different brands, the company’s Sales Manager, Tom Cummuskey, says innovation is still at the heart of its business.
Last year the company acquired its current premises on the outskirts of Newbury in Berkshire at a cost of £1.45 million. Within it are three Inca Spyder printers which produce about 45 boards each an hour as well as a new £750,000 Canon Oce Arizona capable of producing 110 boards an hour, which will soon be joined by another very soon.
“We’re expecting our order book to carry on growing so we’re getting ready for that,” says Tom. “Last year we manufactured half a million signboards.”
One aspect of the Kremer Signs factory is that it’s a noticeably hands-on production process requiring skills and well as expensive machinery. “Before printing on to the Correx boards we prime them with a special solution that clears it of any dust.
After going through one of our eight-colour printers it’s passed through a UV light – a process other signboard suppliers don’t use – which strongly bonds the Correx and the ink together to maximise durability.
“This means that, although our boards are slightly more expensive than our competitors’, agents don’t need to replenish their boards as often because the boards can be used over and over again. That’s one of the major factors that has made us the market leader.”
One perception among the public is that signboards are yet more plastic waste to go into landfill. But not so. The Italian-made Correx that Kremer Signs uses is 100 per cent recyclable.
“After the boards come to the end of their lives we collect them for recycling and last year we recycled 480 tonnes of Correx. It’s something we take seriously and nobody else does. It’s all about trying to make them last as long as possible for the agent,” says Tom.
Small things mean a lot in the world of signboards. For example, Kremer Signs heat welds boards together instead of using double-sided tape. The Boards are also UV treated, pre drilled on rigs for alignment to suit posts, slips and fittings and produced with a unique ‘black out’ Correx.
“We have worked for 30 years making signboards, pushing the boundaries with materials and production techniques” says Tom. “These simple but effective processes mean that all boards will be made to suit the customer’s specifications and last the test of time.”
The biggest innovation, trialled in 2011 was the use of NFC technology, which was used by Strutt & Parker, Northwood and Sheldon Bossley to name a few. “The concept is very ‘forward thinking’ but unfortunately the smartphone technology has not been rolled out on all devices, so this is something to look out for in the future,” says Tom.
Two other recent innovations that have proved popular are its mirror vinyl which enables boards to have a metallic surface onto which artwork is then printed, and reflective vinyl, which lights up at night when car headlights shine on it – like a safety vest.
“We’ve also developed double-sided board that prevents ‘show through’ – which is when sunlight shines through a white board and makes it difficult to read due to the post shadow in the middle or dark text on white backgrounds, the ‘grey back Correx’ is particularly useful for agents with predominantly white board designs.” says Tom.
But it’s not just Kremer that is innovating. Agents are too. Many are realising that signboards are a blank canvass that they can use for other purposes and play around with, says Tom.
“Using boards to say something other than ‘For Sale’ or ‘To Let’ is becoming very popular because you get your boards up for longer and into areas that you might normally get boards into,” he says.
“Every year now we have a huge influx of requests for eventbased boards particularly during Easter, Summer (during the school fête season) and Christmas. It’s become a recognisable sub-sector of our business.
“This year we had an agent – Southernbrook Lettings – who added a Christmas hat made of Corex to their boards. Another asked for their boards to be made into the shape of a rabbit to use during the Easter weekend.
“Also, James Edwards in Boston, Lincolnshire had their boards redesigned into a football kit shape during the most recent World Cup. Agents are always phoning me up and asking ‘what can I do that’s different’ with their boards.”
WOULD EWE GO THIS FAR?
If you were hoping that winner of the Innovation award at The Negotiator Awards 2015, Glenn Ackroyd, co-founder of hybrid estate agency EweMove was sheepish about his in-your-face ovine-based For Sale boards then you’ll be disappointed.
The company sources them through the Besley & Copp trade portal and they are printed by Signboard but it’s how EweMove uses them to generate new business that is unusual.
After a property is sold the company then takes a picture of the vendors next to the board and adds the photo to the company’s Facebook news stream with a humorous sign-off. The company says it proving to be a highly effective way to get instructions.
Glenn decided to base most of his company’s brand identity around humour, so you won’t be surprised that he’s officially the firm’s Head Shepherd not its Managing Director. Its boards and website follow this woolly theme but there’s a serious intent underneath the light-hearted mirth. But you could say it’s a bit of a gambol.
The sheep iconography is playful and fun, it removes people’s preconceptions of an estate agent.
“Our model is very much the best of traditional agents – which means local people on the ground but without a high street presence – and then allowing technology to do all the bookings and use innovation to take it to a whole new level,” he says.
“When we brainstormed the play-on-words name and sheep iconography we wanted to get away from the traditional image of agents and instead use something that was playful and fun.
“We believe this removes peoples’ preconceptions of an estate agent which is the same idea behind CompareTheMeerkat.com for insurance brokers, for example and give people something they can relate to much more easily.”
Glenn also recently signed up TV presenter Carol Smilie, most famous for her 1990s BBC show Changing Rooms, to promote the brand. “We’ve had a massive increase in conversion rate since we started using Carol because she’s widely recognised among the 35-year-old to 65-year-old demographic that use us,” says Glenn.
DOING THE MATHS
Before the days of online data being available on every angle of business, estate agency managers used to tour their patch to see how many boards their competitors had, compared to their own listings. The results could lead to drinks in the pub on a Friday night or a severe pep-talk in the MD’s office.
Now your market share is available to you without moving a muscle, but the data is also used to great effect to measure national and regional market changes – and it’s not just about prices.
A leader in this field is Agency Express. Working with almost all of the national chains and many independents, Agency Express handles well over 4000 board movements every working day.
It’s a challenging task, which is managed by their SignMaster 3 system that gives clients the online facility to book all their board changes and view their current status as well as a complete history of all the company’s board movements, giving them an instant insight to their success on the streets.
All this information is used to create a monthly Property Activity Index in both sales and lettings. The March Sales activity report, for example, showed that the number of property ‘Sold’ signs erected during March showed a fall of 10 per cent, while newly erected ‘For Sale’ signs dropped by 4.7 per cent. Regionally, however, ‘Sold’ signs erected in the North East increased by 20.3 per cent, while Wales recorded a drop of 19.3 per cent for the same month.
The Agency Express Lettings report shows even more dramatic changes, with their February report showing a sharp drop of 8.1 per cent in new boards across the UK, with the worst figures again coming from Wales, recording a drop of 28.2 per cent in new listings.
For agents, the combined services of top quality affordable sign manufacture, simple, economic board management systems and first class specific market reports are invaluable.