Signs, Sealed and Delivered
A day in the life of iSpi Trade
The sign industry in the UK is worth a staggering £500 million. Signage was once the preserve of hand sign writers, but not anymore. The sign trade now covers every element of large format printing, digital display, LED window displays, way finding and vehicle wraps. It is one of the most diverse sectors in the economy, with more advanced kit coming onto the market every year.
The sector is constantly changing with technological advances and current trends dictating product demand. iSpi Trade has been a part of the sign trade supplies world for over 20 years.
iSpi Trade Managing Director Stephen Ferrie spoke to the company's Online Editor about how the business has evolved. During the interview, we chatted through the company inception, products and customer support, right through to a typical day at iSpi Trade, supplying the UK and Ireland with sign installer products.
Online Editor (OE): Tell us a little about the company's background.
Stephen Ferrie: My late Dad, Chris, started a sign company in 1997, but as there was a lack of quality sign trade suppliers, he evolved the business into a wholesale signage fixture and fittings supplier. There was a gap in the market for someone to provide a good range of products required by most sign installers. Like my Dad, they were frustrated by the quality, trade price and availability of products in the UK market.
OE: What about your journey Stephen? How did you end up in the sign trade supplies business?
SF: I started helping my Dad during the school holidays and weekends (If I'm honest, he press-ganged me and my brother Sean, who runs the business with me today, into helping with the promise of extra pocket money [laughing] ). I quickly realised I liked interacting with customers and helping them find the right products for their signage projects. At that time, there was only a basic range on the market. It wasn't easy to get quality at the right price. Still, we started speaking to the manufacturers and importing in bulk to keep the costs competitive.
OE: I know from working with the webshop how competitive the prices are. How does iSpi Trade manage to supply high-quality items at low trade prices?
SF: Unlike many of our competitors, we’re particular with our core product range, and through close conversations with customers, we stock items we know sign installers use regularly. That approach is essential for us and our client base. We add new products now and again, but we spend the time assessing the marketplace, our competitor's pricing and the quality of the products we can source.
OE: Tell us about some of the top products for the sign industry that iSpi Trade supplies.
SF: We split our range of sign trade supplies into four main categories; Sign Fixings, LED Displays, Cable Display Systems and Digital Displays. As you know, Sign Fixings are our bread and butter and probably always will be.
Sign Fixings cover a wide range of products and variants, from our classic Aluminium Sign Fixings in Satin Finish and Clear Acrylic Sign Standoffs to our Signalite LED Sign Fixings and LED Sign Clamps.
OE: I was looking at the product sales stats for last month, and the Polished Chrome Finish Sign Fixings were the top sellers.
SF: Yeah, the Solid Brass sign fixings are regularly a top seller. These are very durable for indoor and outdoor use.
OE: Talking about outdoor use, what about the marine grade fixings? I assume these were again a product you introduced through customer demand?
SF: Yes, exactly. Most sign fixings will be fine for "normal" outdoor use, but in very exposed areas with lots of wind and rain, they will start to show signs of wear over the years. The 316 Stainless Steel Marine Grade Sign Fixings are designed for coastal use or areas where the signage is likely to take a battering from the elements. Also, in a leisure centre setting, near a pool with high moisture, we recommend stainless steel sign fixings. This product is an excellent example of the correct tool for the job. OE: Thanks, Stephen, that helps explain their benefits.
OE: Tell me about the LED Displays. Why are they so popular, and how are iSpi Trades prices so competitive?
SF: As I've said previously, at iSpi Trade, we only stock items when we know we can be very competitive on price. Part of our lean approach to stock control is striving to predict sales volume every quarter to help us not overstock and take up warehouse space. We have carried the A4, and A3 LED Window Displays for many years before most of the competition! We sell lots of these because they are very adaptable to different locations. OE: Yes, the Estate and Letting Agent market for these is huge. SF: That's right, Estate Agents were the first to start replacing their traditional Ceiling-to-Floor Cable Kits with LED versions. The non-LED Ceiling-to-Floor kits are still popular, but the LED Window Displays are perfect for the high street. Even when the business is closed in the hours of darkness, footfall past shops and offices allow customers to view house sales and to let posters.
OE: I agree. I've been aware of these myself; we now see A2 and A1 LED Window Displays. They seem to be popular nowadays. I passed a hairdresser a few days ago, and they had an A1 in the middle of the window, with A3 LEDs on either side. SF: You're right, we started stocking the larger LEDs last year, and they have gone down well. We can work with customers to help design the layout for the window display to ensure they maximise the space available.
OE: So who buys these LED windows Displays? Is it the Estate Agent Direct?
SF: It varies; we sell directly to the end user. However, some more prominent Estate Agents use Facilities Managers or Sign Installers to provide the product as part of their overall service. We have also supplied several travel agents and retail stores who find the LED kits very effective in promoting their business. We have several case studies demonstrating the broad uses of all our products.
OE: What about the rest of the iSpi Trade product range?
SF: You're right; we have many more products, in fact, quite a few designed for use in the retail sector. You know when you're walking through a supermarket, and you have the signs hanging from the ceiling down each aisle? OE: yeah, the ones they forget to change when they move products around [both laughing] . SF: Yip, that's the ones - well, we sell them and retail shelf fixing used on the nice glass displays you see in the high-end shoe shops and fashion stores.
OE: Wow, it's a pretty varied range? SF: Yes, but we always try to stay within that signage and fixings market. OE: I've noticed some trade competitors offering complete sign and design, manufacture, plus installation. SF: Yes, so have I. We would never go down that root. We are predominately a sign trade supplier. Yes, we sell to a few non-trade customers, but it tends to be one-off products. If anyone asks us about installation, we recommend one of our customers who is local to them. We would never try and take work away from our trade clients.
OE: Thanks, Stephen. This conversation has been great, and thanks for your time. SF: No problem. We have talked about doing this for a while, but after a few hectic months, you finally managed to pin me down [laughing] .