On message

On message

With fewer players than a football team, Nigel Vickers has built a £1m business that competes successfully against much bigger rivals. He tells Brian Nicholls how.

If you’re not familiar with Nigel Vickers’ business, you will surely have seen some of the flamboyant fruits of its work.  His company, Chromazone, prints all kinds of design display - billboards, posters, hoardings, cut-outs, pop-up stands, banners, signage, window and vehicle graphics.

Its impressive client list includes M&S, Mothercare, Prontaprint, Nike and John Lewis, of whom Nigel says: “We have worked successfully with the Newcastle store over the last three to four years.

As a result we have capitalised on our relationship to work for other stores in the group.” For M&S, Chromazone has provided internal signage and store directions in more than 100 UK outlets.

Sometimes it works directly with the end customers, such as M&S and Mothercare, at other times, the work is done through intermediates like shop fitters and design agencies.

“We find ourselves on lists of proven suppliers once we’ve shown our capability in one or two stores,” he says.

“We’ve worked with Prontaprint periodically over a number of years, doing display graphics for their stores around the country. They have used us mainly to provide light boxes or point-of-sale items.” Contracts like these are won against tough national competition.

In an industry where many firms have folded or merged, this David stands up to Goliaths with dedicated staff, fewer than a football team in number, and two thoroughbreds of printing, a Durst Lambda and a Rho.

With these, says Nigel, they have at Team Valley, Gateshead, the technology and printing capability to match work by any national corporate.

“We can punch well above our weight, providing the quality and fast turnaround required.

“Our 10-strong team has the necessary skill base, so our advantages are quality, flexibility and great service.” “Both printers are looked on as digital Rolls Royces among equipment for large format printing.

“The Italian manufacturer didn’t expect to sell many Durst Lambdas when they were first brought to market. They reckoned on maybe two or three of these photo-digital printers in the UK. But I think there are about 40 around this country now, primarily in the South and the Midlands.

“There aren’t many in the North – this is the only one in the North East. The others are in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Leeds.  As for the Rho, it’s a very versatile flatbed digital screen press, whose inkjet printer reproduces onto any surface.” The first impression of the print shop is that it could be a bio-tech laboratory. It looks spotless, light and airy with no trace of inky fingers.

“We get a good day’s work done then go home and live a life rather than drifting into evening working. It’s easy to slip into that.” Nigel’s keenness to get home promptly is understandable.  Originally from Darlington, he and his wife Penny and their two children, Laura, 10, and John, seven, moved four years ago from Newcastle to village life at Anick in the picturesque Tyne Valley. Technology ensures that Nigel needn’t be on site for work to go on.

He explains: “We can queue up a lot of files from the computer servers and leave work printing overnight. We can go home, come back in the morning, take that work off, process it and apply the print finishing. Some of our best printing work has probably been done when we’re not here.” The machines each cost about £200,000.

Nigel says: “It was quite a commitment investing in the first one.  We had to move premises to accommodate it.” Even then a hole had to be knocked in the wall to permmit entry to the former architects’ studios.

Earlier, the firm had premises near a university library in Newcastle, to which they had moved in the 1980s when their customers were mainly design and advertising agencies.  It was a nice place to be based, as Nigel remembers, but lacked space for the Durst.

“When desktop publishing came, and computer graphics fairly early on entered the design industry, Apple Macs penetrated quickly. We realised we had to move with this new technoogy. So we became a colour print provider in those days before people had their own in-house desktop colour printer.

“We offered the service to people in town running A4 and A3 prints. That led to developing larger format printing. We had the skills and technology to move to poster-size printing and beyond. We could walk into practically any company and its marketing manager would have a drawerful of slides and transparencies, to print from.

He’d be wanting prints for display and we’d offer that service directly.” Nigel, at 46, has now, in fact, a £1m a year turnover company.

“It still feels like a new business, to be honest. I’m highly motivated as a person. The company’s success is central to my ambitions and I’ve got a long way to go with it yet.” Five years from now, then? “I think we have potential to move to the next level of where technology is driving the industry. We’ve a very strong customer base and we don’t specialise in any one area.

I sense opportunities in several key sectors. “If we want to look for growth potential we can do so from a fairly strong and established business base.