Sharing Experience: Steve Flory, Hudson Group
I got in my car and drove to their commercial unit, where I looked around and spoke to some of the people that worked there. Most of Hudson’s existing clients had moved to pastures new, and the annual turnover was around £250k. It was 4 o’clock on the Friday afternoon when I agreed to buy the company; an hour before it was due to close for good.
What did I know about signage? Absolutely nothing. So, why did I buy it? Because it was the only company I had ever owned, or been involved in, that physically made anything, and that really excited me.
What did I do next? On Monday morning at 9am, I got on the phone to all the old clients and told them we were staying open. Then I called Tom Wright who had been with me at my previous business, Ansaback. I asked him if he fancied selling signage and fortunately he said yes! The rest is history.
Over the last fifteen years, we found fantastic people to work with us, and I am very proud of what we have achieved. Through hard work, initiative and occasionally flying by the seat of our pants, we have turned the business around and we now make signs to go all over the world. We clothe the workforces of many companies. We also promote companies through our gifts side, and we wrap, and sign write vehicles. And, we have the best clients you could wish for.
So, why am I writing this?
Well, like many others, we have just been through the worst period I can remember. It’s been a horrible time for the World, and it does you good sometimes, to count your blessings, even though the future is looking even more turbulent. Many people lost their businesses during the pandemic. They will all have tried bloody hard to get through it, but forces outside their control will have stopped them. Well, we salute you and hope that you will rise again.
For us, the disruption caused by COVID-19 meant we had to review our business plans. Due to our expertise in signage, we were able to quickly pivot our operations to start making clear acrylic virus protection screens for both the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and Ipswich Hospital. Orders for these screens kept our factory running, minimising the need to furlough staff.
However, our 23-year old CNC router that was being used to manufacture the screens was starting to show signs of ageing. Normally used for the production of signage, it had never been worked so hard and we soon realised that, to keep up with demand and safeguard future production, we needed to invest in a new machine. At the same time, we wanted to purchase a ‘direct-to-garment’ and an OKI transfer printer, both of which would give us a greater ability to retain and upsell to our existing clients.
Yet, we needed help to do this. So we applied for a grant from the New Anglia LEP’s Business Resilience and Recovery Scheme, and we were delighted when we received a grant of £40,500 through the scheme which represented 50% of the total cost of the three machines.
It only took around eight weeks from submitting our application to getting it approved and the help we received was fantastic. There is no doubt that being able to come out of Covid in a healthier position than we went in has given us the very real prospect of growing our turnover and our client base, as well as increasing the number of people we employ. This couldn’t have been done without the financial support from the New Anglia LEP grant funding. It’s not only been good for the financial health of the company, but also for the morale of our staff.
I know that some businesses are still in this maelstrom, which is now being perpetuated by the turbulence in the worldwide economy and the cost of living crisis. To those what can we say, but carry on the fight, and keep an open mind to the opportunities that are out there, even if they don’t seem a natural fit for your business.
For most, we still have a long way to go before we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and for me, overall, has it been hard along the way? Always a yes. But has it been worth it? Well, that’s a big fat YES!
Off to the Caribbean: Hudson’s grandest bespoke project to date
It’s funny how business has a habit of throwing curveballs at you.
There we were in the office, contemplating the unfolding Covid crisis, when a random message came through from a gentleman claiming to be in the Caribbean, wondering if we could design, build, ship and help erect a huge sign for a luxurious new superyacht marina.
This would be no ordinary sign; the logo alone would be 11 metres high. The sign also needed to be designed and built from scratch, shipped to St Vincent and the Grenadines, and erected safely. It needed to withstand all weathers, including the occasional hurricane.
Oh, and could it be done in about three months?
At first, we thought it was a practical joke. Our metal-fabrication facility had made big outdoor signs many times, but nothing on this incredible scale. This display for the new Sandy Lane Yacht Club and Marina on the tiny island of Canouan would look majestic from miles out in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. And it would be one of the first things visitors would see when coming into land at the verdant island’s tiny airstrip.
Still surprised to be contacted out of the blue from 4,250 miles away, our contact sent us a drawing showing the scale of the lettering and the logo, featuring a pair of giant seahorses and an anchor. But there was little in the way of construction or fixing requirements. That was for us to conceive and go back with ideas.
We set about designing the huge logo, letters, and brackets to attach everything, and after some back and forth, we landed the contract and got the go-ahead to start building. Our brilliant team went from worrying about what was going to happen to the business during the pandemic, to launching themselves into one of our largest ever projects.
The factory became a hub of activity, as aluminium sheets were fashioned skilfully into lettering to piece together the words and logo. As everything came together, we prepared for the next stage, getting them powder coated in a pink, marine-grade paint finish that is guaranteed for ten years in the face of the local wind, sun and all that salty sea air.
We also needed to begin planning how to package and ship our creation. This was no easy matter. At first, we assumed one container would do the job, but it soon became clear we would need two. We also needed to strengthen the boxes to ensure nothing was damaged on the back of a lorry, or on the high seas.
At last, everything was on its way. The client asked us to assist on-site with building the sign. All this happened at the height of the pandemic, and COVID played havoc with travel plans. To get our fitter there, we needed to fly him to Barbados, and then charter a hair-raising, island-hopping flight to Canouan. He then needed to quarantine at the resort for a week – a tough job, but someone had to do it. Finally, the install got underway taking a month to complete.
The final sign looks fantastic in place. At night, it is imperious with downlighting added by the client and it’s incredible to think our team’s work back here will be seen and enjoyed by the world’s rich and famous as they cruise around the Caribbean.