Hard Profit from Soft Signage

We at Venture Banners have always looked at ways we can apply our economies of scale to parts of the large-format market that enable our customers to increase their product offerings, and in turn their revenue streams. There is no downside to this business model – our customers can offer a complex array of large-format and exhibition products without huge investment but with plenty of margin. We work on large volumes of these products but with small margins and this works well for us.

With textile and soft signage becoming more and more popular in this country over the last couple of years, we decided we wanted to offer our customers our considerable economies of scale in this sector as well. So at the beginning of 2017, we embarked on an eighteen month capital expense exercise that turned out to be the steepest learning curve we had ever faced in our ten year history.

We’ve learned about the advantages and disadvantages of inline ink fixation, how humidity—or in this case, a lack of humidity—can have a disastrous effect on your ability to print literally anything. We learned about different materials, their different applications and then we had to learn their individual stretch and shrinkage properties.

We vigorously researched the various different types of sewing machines available that do vastly different jobs. Single needle, twin needle, overlock—there was a lot to take in. And I don’t care what anyone says, people who can sew properly are few and far between. Finding someone who can join two pieces of material together without it looking like Eeyore’s bottom has turned out to be a huge challenge for us. Sewing has been a dying art in this country over the last few decades and as textiles become more prominent in our product line-up, it has become clear we need to act to bring in more young people to train in this skill set.

So, our kit list has expanded considerably to include seven sewing machines of various types, a production-wide humidification system, and if you’ve been to Disney in Florida, think those fine mist sprays you get around the park. We’ve bought an MTEX 5032HS 3.2m high-speed dye-sub machine with inline fixation for our flag production, as well as an EFi FabriVU 340 3.2m machine and a separate Klieverik calender unit for backlit, display and stretch materials (which indecently, gives the best print quality I’ve ever seen on a large-format machine), as well as a 3.2m-wide Zund with a textile cutting system to make sure that after we’ve printed all this stretchy stuff, it gets cut out accurately.

If you’ve seen our marketing over the last few months, the result is the most impressive line-up of hardware and materials we have ever had, which will enable our customers to offer new products and find new markets and profit streams—without all the headaches, barriers and costs associated with getting into dye-sub.

You’re welcome!

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The Fabric of Life

FabriVU 340As a stereotypical middle-class family, we have two cars. My neighbour only has one. But his is a Bentley Continental GT and in a game of top trumps his Bentley will always beat the pickup truck and the Mazda SUV that frequent my drive.

I drive an old pickup because we seem to spend all our money buying really expensive printers. Last year we had a new EFI FabriVU installed for dye-sublimation printing onto textiles. We had the production environment humidity-controlled and if you’ve ever been to Disney in Florida, think the fine mist sprays that cool you down… but on an industrial scale. The purpose of this incredibly expensive humidity system is to reduce static in the textile printing process, which as a result gives a sharper print quality, on a machine that is already considered to be the Rolls Royce of fabric printing. And boy does it work.

We’ve entered into the fabric market because the cost to entry for the jobbing printer is extremely high. You can buy a small dye sub printer but what they don’t tell you is that you’ll need a calendar unit which, I can almost guarantee your building won’t have the electrical capacity to run, as well as a humidity system and a team of sewing machinists to rival Armani.

By doing it properly, the Venture way, we can share our economies of scale and give our print trade customers an easy route to this lucrative market and another revenue stream.

Prior to buying the FabriVU we did some market research on the entry level dye-sub printers available, but the speed and print quality of these machines were nowhere near what the VUTEk produces. In fact, we would have had to buy at least ten to do the volumes the FabriVU does, and still not match the quality.

To continue the automotive analogy a Rolls Royce will always eclipse a carpark full of Nissan Micras.

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Here Comes The Sun

Solar Panels at Venture Banners

It’s January, and as I sit here in the office looking out of the window, the sky is grey, the drizzle is falling and every now and again the roof patters with the sound of a brief hail shower just to remind you that it’s cold out there as well.

It all suggests that Great Britain isn’t the best place in the world to promote solar energy. Which is unfortunate, since we at Venture have just had one hundred and seventy six, two-metre solar panels fitted to our roof.

However, all is not as it seems. Our Solar Panels have their own web-based control panel and it is telling me that we’ve offset 3.27 tons of carbon, planted 8.96 trees (I am assuming metaphorically) and saved over £600 in electricity costs! The project was only commissioned at the end of October, and what’s more it’s been grey and miserable ever since!

If I am honest, we spent a small fortune on these strange black panels, not to metaphorically plant trees or save polar bears with our reduction in carbon, but rather it was expense reduction that was the driving factor. You see, ever since we bought a FabriVU 340 and installed a huge calendar unit for sublimation, which basically means heating a huge drum of oil up to 200 degrees and keeping it there all day, our electricity bill has been going skywards at a dramatic rate with seemingly no signs of stopping.

So if the figures on my screen are to be believed—and they seem to be backed up by a reduction in this month’s electricity bill—I can conclude that covering the roof in Photovoltaic Cells has actually been a canny investment. I’m remembering the great summer we had last year, and I’m already looking forward to March when the sun starts occasionally peeping out from the clouds.

We’ll be reducing our expenses and our carbon footprint at the same time—that’s a win-win in anyone’s book.

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Suppliers and Demands

Complaints are not a common occurrence here at Venture. Though mistakes occasionally happen, I am of the opinion that it’s the measure of a company as to how the mistake is rectified, and so we bend over backwards to resolve any issue that arises.

Last week, one of our customers complained of poor customer service, which immediately triggered me as a Director getting involved. The complaint was centred around the fact that we had rescinded his credit account. After some initial investigation, it turns out that this particular customer had a very poor payment history with us, which at one point, after months of us being actively ignored by this customer, resulted in us (as a complete last resort) threatening court proceedings to recover an outstanding debt.

None of our numerous and varied attempts at contact looked unreasonable to me, and yet here was someone screaming ‘poor customer service’ because we had rescinded his credit account and ultimately his trade access, which is a matter of company policy following the threat of court action.

His argument was that his customer hadn’t paid him. My response was that you can’t make YOUR cash flow issues MY cash flow issues. He then said he couldn’t badger the customer for the money, as they were a really good customer of his. To which I had to disagree again. Customers who don’t pay their bills, you can get anywhere.

The whole sorry scenario caused me to think back to when I first started in large-format print, working from my spare room outsourcing banners and roller banners to a multi-million pound company in Leeds. I was putting through a reasonable volume of work to them, but I was always acutely aware that without them, I had no business whatsoever.

Understanding this, I always paid my account on the day it was due, even if I hadn’t been paid, and that meant using my own personal credit card. In fact, I distinctly remember in the early days a time when I duly cleared my supplier account and a couple of hours later my wife phoned from Asda saying our card had been declined at the checkout. Supplier: happy. Wife: not so much.

Eight years on, and my opinion hasn’t changed one iota. As a company we have evolved with several million pounds worth of kit ourselves and of course our suppliers have changed with that evolution but they are as much the lifeblood of the company as the customers, and are treated as such.

A good supplier should be treated like a good customer, because when you find someone who does exactly what they say they will do and provides a good service and a good product, they are worth their weight in gold.

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Received in Good Condition (Except When it’s Not)

As a national supplier of large-format print to the print trade, the most effective way of getting our finished product to our customer or the end-user is using couriers. We’ve been sending out approximately five thousand separate items every month for the last six years, so we like to think we know a thing or two about couriers. I can confidently say that TNT, who we use, are among the best in the country for handling what is known in the industry as ‘ugly freight’ i.e. the large unwieldly packages we send out every day.

Of course, there are one or two ‘rogue’ depots that seem intent on smashing everything they touch but overall it’s a superb service.

Thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often, but today was a prime example: we are emailed a picture of a Foamex board hanging out of its shredded (yet considerable) protective packaging with the accompanying content stating that it has turned up damaged.

Our immediate response was to apologise on behalf of the couriers and get a re-print into the system, asking if—more assuming that—the recipient had signed for the delivery as ‘damaged’ or ‘unchecked’. However, the ruined package wasn’t signed for as damaged. It wasn’t even signed for as unchecked. In fact, when we looked at the courier tracking system, it had actually been signed for as ‘received in good condition’!

Now we have a problem. Because the customer has signed for a clearly damaged package ‘as received in good condition’, they have absolved the courier from any further responsibility for that package. We can’t claim back the cost of a re-print from the couriers, which is normal practice when an item is damaged and signed for as damaged. We can’t even claim back the cost of the delivery as it could (and would by the courier) be argued that the board was damaged at the recipient’s premises after they signed for it (in good condition).

There is no question a re-print needs to be produced, but now it’s going to cost someone money. And not the people that damaged the board—they’ve got a get-out-of-jail-free signature.

So who pays for the re-print and subsequent delivery? Venture Banners? The courier is our subcontractor and therefore our responsibility. But the original board left here in perfect condition, well packaged.
The customer? It’s not their fault that the board has turned up looking more like a jigsaw because their receptionist signed the courier’s PDA whilst on the phone and without looking at the package.

Answers on a postcard please.

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The Print Show 2017

Earls Court 2002, the London Boat Show. I found myself sipping champagne on the top deck of an 80ft boat (should it be called a yacht?) with a very nice man in chinos and a blazer who was showing me how the flybridge barbeque worked.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t have afforded even the tender to this leviathan (let alone the yacht itself), but that meeting cemented my, albeit slightly one-sided, relationship with Sunseeker.

And that, in a nutshell, is the point of shows in general and trade shows in particular; to put companies and prospective customers together, to put a face to the company and encourage business to be done.

Every year we go to Sign and Digital as visitors and it’s rare that we don’t get an idea for an additional revenue stream or find ourselves a super-efficient new supplier. We once bought the demo GS series on the VUTEk stand at FESPA and spent the rest of the day smiling as we walked past the machine sporting a sign that said ‘Sold to Venture’ on it.

We are very excited to be exhibiting at The Print Show in October, and I am hoping it will be a chance for us to meet some of our existing customers and perhaps attract some new ones. What I didn’t comprehend is the hard work it takes exhibiting at one of these shows. I have a new-found respect for the organisational skills of anyone who exhibits regularly at shows. The Print Show has taken our working lives. For the last few weeks, we have been organising our stand, designing branding, ordering flooring and sorting out electricity and Internet. Also working out who of our staff is going to be on the stand and what they are going to wear. Writing risk assessments and method statements… the list is endless!

I am sure, however, once the organisation is completed we are going to have a great show and it will be a blast, but better than that, just imagine what it could do for the business!… “Hello, is that Sunseeker?…”

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Scams And How To Avoid Being Caught Out

We’ve all laughed at the email from the wealthy African Prince offering a cut of his millions in return for help to get those millions out of the country. ‘Who an earth would fall for that?’ we snigger as we hit the delete key. Unfortunately that is the easily-spottable tip of a very large iceberg of cons.

Have you ever wondered what would happen next if you responded to one of these scams in the positive? What’s the scammer’s next play? At what point would they try to relieve you of your hard earned dough? It is reported that fraud costs small to medium businesses in the UK around £9.2 Billion in 2013, which is frankly an astounding sum of money and would suggest that the scumbags are getting away with it.

Worryingly, there are a number of scammers out there that seem to be targeting printers in general, and large format printers in particular. Out of interest and for research purposes, we at Venture Banners followed several scams through, and though most are shallow and easily identified, some are quite ingenious…

The Shipping Scam

We received a quotation request for 100 banners with the words ‘Arms to the Poor’ printed in black text on a white background. The broken English contained in the email and the content of the banner (we’re guessing that should have read ‘Alms’) immediately raised suspicions, however we were interested to see what happened next, so we responded with a ludicrously high price, which unsurprisingly was accepted straightaway. The ‘client’ then proceeded to give us his credit card details with instruction to take an additional £1000 which we were to pay to his shipping company, as the banners were going out of the UK and would be picked up by Agorie Shipping. Bank details were of course included for Agorie.

We did some checks. The credit card was genuine and would go through for the full amount including the shipping costs. So what could possibly go wrong?

Well, quite a lot actually. We’d already tracked the IP address of the original email to Ghana, which raised some red flags and basic enquiries found that the credit card being offered belonged to a gentleman who resided in Romford. More red flags.

So what would have happened if we had gone through with the transaction? Well it’s simple really: once the gentleman in Essex discovered his card had been used fraudulently, the monies would be clawed back from us by the card company and we would of course be unable to recover the one thousand pounds paid by us legitimately to the shipping company (which, incidentally further investigations showed didn’t actually exist).

The conmen would have ‘earned’ one thousand pounds for just a couple of emails. Easy and lucrative. We’d followed the scam through, seen what we needed to see, now all that was left to do was inform the poor man in Romford his credit card details were being bandied around the Web by a man in an Internet Café in West Africa.

The funny thing was, we were having lunch with an industry friend just a few short weeks after we had played this out and over lunch he told us of this amazing deal he had put together on a large banner order. It all sounded terribly familiar. His face was ashen as we explained the scam to him. Unfortunately he had paid the shipping company, and predictably, the credit card payment to him was clawed back. No-one ever came to pick up those banners.

The Overpayment Scam

This is brutally simple but very effective, and seems to be organised in this country. Someone requests a quote from you for ten roller banners. They agree to the quote and ask for a pro-forma invoice. You’re paid. In fact with online banking, you can see the money sitting in your account.

Only by mistake they’ve over paid you by £1000. Realising their error they phone you, ‘admin error!’ they say and ask if you wouldn’t mind transferring the thousand pound overpayment back to them. Obviously they’re new customer and they’ve just spent a lot of money with you so your customer service reflex kicks in. ‘Of course’ you say ‘I’ll do it right now’. Wrong!

If you look very closely at your bank account, you’ll notice that even though the customer’s money is showing in your balance, it’s not actually cleared funds.

Guess what happens next……yep you guessed it, the money paid in by the customer is actually a cheque paid in over the counter and is destined to bounce in five days time, giving them ample time to fleece you. You are then left one thousand pounds out of pocket and if you’re really unlucky ten roller banners down as well.

We’ve managed to save several people falling victim to this scam because the scammers are lazy and use the same artwork for the roller banners every time. We were explaining this scam to one of our trade customers who had been targeted and had asked us to produce the roller banners for him but he was convinced it was a genuine order, he had spoken to the customer who was a ‘really nice bloke’ right up until the email came in ‘we’ve overpaid you, would you mind…’ which happened whilst we were actually on the phone to him! He was obviously disappointed to ‘lose’ a lucrative order, but thankful he wasn’t a grand out of pocket.

There are numerous ways these swindlers can try to steal from you so the Met Police and Barclays have produced a booklet outlining how to avoid becoming a victim of the scammers. Download it using the link below and as Shaw Taylor used to say, ‘Keep your eyes peeled’.

The Little Book of Big Scams – Business Edition (2.6MB) - This booklet has been produced by the Metropolitan Police in partnership with Barclays Bank plc.

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Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

I am sure you are aware Venture Banners advertise a double page spread in most of the leading print trade magazines. We have long standing relationships with these magazines and advertise month in, month out, all year round.

In fact very occasionally one of the editors phones me for a 250 word comment on whatever subject is the point of discussion that month. I’ve usually got an opinion, so it’s no problem for me to whip up something half readable.

And I must admit, I read most of the trade magazines cover to cover, I am fascinated by some of the articles and insights. Though every now and again, whilst leafing through the pages, I see an advert that looks very similar to ours, but is never as good. It’s offering products very similar to ours and would you believe it… prices very similar to ours. Someone is trying to muscle in on our business!

At this point you might expect me to get annoyed or worry about a potential loss of revenue, but instead I roll my eyes and continue my search for the advert featuring the girl with the ‘wrapped’ bottom.

The reason I am so philosophical about these copycat adverts is that I can pretty much guarantee that they won’t appear in next month’s issue, or if they do, they’ll do the company in question more harm than good. You see, we are pretty unique in the wide format print market. We don’t have ridiculously high minimum order costs or a price calculation system so complicated you’ll need your Captain Midnight Decoder Ring to understand it.

We are true trade-supplier. We are setup to work in the background to make you look fantastic. This philosophy and company culture gives us the edge in terms of the consistency of our levels of service to the trade. Our equipment is arguably the best in the world and our prices are set so that you can make a tidy margin on them. We handle huge volumes of trade work so that all our customers benefit from the economies of scale and on top of that, our levels of service and turnaround are consistently superb. And if ever they are not, phone me, I want to know about it.

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Banners with Pole Pockets

Pole pockets on banners are something that can cause a bit of confusion. This is compounded by the fact that some companies do things differently when producing banners with pole pockets.

Macy's Lamp Post Banners

Macy’s lamp post banners with wind-slits

What is a Pole Pocket?

A pole pocket is, as you would imagine, a pocket to slide a pole through. These can be on any side of the banner but is most commonly on the top and bottom so that it can be suspended between two horizontal poles.

A typical use for banners with pole pockets would be for lamp post banners or banners used on scaffolding.

Ordering Banners with Pole Pockets

The most common problem with pole pockets arises when ordering. Some people think that the pole pocket is going to be ‘added on’ to the size of the banner. However, this is not the case as the pole pockets needs to be included with the finished size of the banner – this makes things easier from the customer’s point of view if a banner is to bridge two poles.

Banner with pole pockets measurements

Measurements on a banner with pole pockets

As you can see by this example the final size of the banner includes the pole pockets. The pole pockets are inclusive of the banner’s size and not an addition to.

One thing that you have to bear in mind is that there may be minor fluctuations in the dimensions of the banner. This is due to the pole pocket being able to ‘squash’ its shape from circle to oval and even flat – this isn’t usually a problem on 99% of banners but if you think this may cause an issue please do speak to us.

Pole pocket diameter

The diameter of a pole

 

 

The size of a Pole Pocket

We will calculate the size of a pole pocket, required for each banner, all we require from you when ordering is the diameter of the pole going into the pocket. From this measurement we can then calculate the size of the pole pocket required.

How a pole pocket should look

How a pole pocket should look

The pole pocket should always have a bit of ‘wiggle’ (the very technical term we like to use), so that the pole can move freely within the pocket. This not only allows for easy fitting, but more importantly it distributes the stresses of the banner more evenly across the pocket and does not focus them on the join, increasing the life span of your banner.

How Pole Pockets Affect Artwork

Because of the un-flat nature of pole pockets it is best not to include any important information on the artwork where a pole pocket will be. Flat colour and imagery are fine, but you should steer clear of using any logos or text that you want readable in this area.

Another element to take into conisderation is the ‘weld line’. This is the transparent line that welds the banner to itself to produce the pocket. Although the weld line is transparent it does have a different appearance to the rest of the banner and if text crosses into this area it can hinder legibility.

The width of the weld line is typically 30mm in thickness.

Below are some example pole pocket sizes (based on the diameter of the pole) and how much clearance you need to give the text on your artwork. Please remember that plain colour and background imagery are fine within the clearance area.

Artwork clearance for pole pockets

Artwork clearance for pole pockets

These values work no matter which edge of the banner the pole pocket is situated.

The Summary

When ordering banners with pole pockets remember the following:

  • Provide us with the diameter of the pole going into the pocket
  • Give your artwork enough clearance
  • This applies whether it is a single or double-sided banner

This is only meant as a guide to help you when ordering banners with pole pockets and we are always at the end of a phone should you have any issues, on 0845 604 1030.

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It’s Been A While

How have you been keeping? We’ve taken our sweet time in getting this latest post up and for that we can only apologise, but we have good reason… honest.

Way back in March we announced that we had moved down the road from Chelmsford to Witham. Well, the main reason for this was to house the latest addition to our printer-family and to have it located closer to home (traditionally the majority of our print was handled further north).

This purchase and subsequent move has proven to be quite timely with us having our most productive year to date. Thanks to the team at CMYUK our new printer has hit the ground running and with only a few blips, has been invaluable to the business. Because of this we have had to change the way we process orders behind the scenes.

We develop all of our systems in-house which meant re-writing the admin system used to process our orders from the ground up. We finished the first stage and started trialling the new system in early December, and we’ve been debugging, fine-tuning and crying ourselves to sleep ever since.

This new system has come with added benefits to our customers, most notably the dispatch notifications and tracking now available on 90% of our orders.

This, combined with the VB Media websites we’ve developed, took up nearly all of last year, hence our slack approach to the blog.

Well, it’s a new year and we are still looking to expand our material and product range. We are looking into large-format paper/poster printing and the products that come with this. Exhibition displays and forecourt signage are other products due for release. These should be available to our trade customers soon, and although they will not be on the current retail site, they should still be available if required.

So, as we move into the new year you shall be hearing even more from us.

Fingers crossed for 2013.

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