Oracle Magazine

20 years ago, Chris Reilly left the Navy and opened the Plymouth branch of Signs Express. He’s part of the largest signs company in the UK and Ireland, which have branches across the country. They’re “Proud to Franchise”. We catch up with Chris a year after our first interview, to see what changes have been made to the business.

Signs Express is a franchise that works really well for Chris. “I can pick up the phone and talk to someone that I’ve known for a very long time, and they can give me advice- although it’s not needed all that much now!” After 20 years running the Plymouth branch, Signs Express is going from strength to strength, and Chris has expanded his business with a new team member.

Jessica Parnell, a graphic designer for Signs Express- is the newest edition to the team, and is settling in extremely well. Chris tells us that he needed to take on another member of staff due to continuing demand plus new skills and a new perspective. “I took Jess on to help with our designing. We weren’t keeping up with demand so I wanted someone with a fresh set of eyes to come in and offer an enhanced service to our customer base”.

Chris tells us that attitude is the key reason he chose Jess to fulfil that role. “I took Jess on, not just because of the work that she had done in the past, but because of her attitude. We can train her exactly as we want her to work, but attitude is something that you just can’t teach”.

Jess, who has only been with Signs Express for a few weeks; tells us that she finished her degree in Illustration at Plymouth University, and carried on her managerial role at Vue Cinema after graduating. “It was a filler job whilst I was at university really; illustration wasn’t working out for me so I started looking for something more in between”. That’s when a family friend recommended Chris. Jess applied for the vacancy, and her ‘can do’ attitude proved the right match for the job!

The business specialises in vehicle graphics, exterior and interior signs, window graphics, exhibition displays, PVC banners, labels and stickers, and health and safety signs for Plymouth and the surrounding areas.

Jess tells us that she was already familiar with a lot of the design software that Signs Express use, as well as the printing machines. “I pick up new things quite quickly, which is a massive help”. Jess has also taken on the role of Social Media expert, after Chris tells us he tends to shy away from it! “Jess has been excellent; she’s come in and completely sorted it all out. She has made us an instagram which is great as we are such a visual business”.

Talking about getting the job, Jess tells us that the biggest challenge was actually coming in on that first day. “Being completely on my own and knowing that the guys have all been working together for years was quite daunting. However it is clear to see she has settled in extremely well! “I think the guys are great. They’re all so helpful; I’m picking up the office banter already!”

It’s very important that staff are multi skilled, and it’s a massive benefit in a small company like ours

It seems that Chris’ loyal and hardworking team is the reason behind Signs Express success. He tells us that having more than one design skill really benefits a small company, as employees can juggle the workload between them. “Nobody gets bogged down, because everyone can help them out. If someones away, another member can step into their shoes quite easily”.

Chris tells us that since himself and his wife started up the franchise 20 years ago, the biggest challenge he has faced is finding the right staff. “We’ve got some really great staff now; and once you find them you have to keep them, because they’re like gold dust!” Mark, the Production Manager for Signs Express, tends to manage the floor now as Chris takes a step back. “I used to help with all of the design work, but now I’m more behind the scenes, managing the business and client relationships. I found that I was just getting in the way on the production floor!”

A typical day for the Signs Express staff consists coming in at 8:20am for that all important cup of tea, followed by a brief team meeting about the day ahead. Chris and Production Manager Mark will then get together and discuss any emails and potential jobs that have come through. “Everyone here can quote on a job- which is another aspect of being multi skilled”.

Waiting on a quote seems to be the biggest complaint in our industry, so we always try and send one out after 24 hours of enquiry. It’s in our name after all- Express!

The printing industry tends to progress rapidly in terms of new technology, and Chris explains that they are looking to upgrade some of their equipment. “Our digital printer is coming to the end of its life, so we are looking to replace that. There is new technology out there now that means the ink dries onto the material straight away. This will surely speed the process up and help us turn around customers orders even quicker”.

Mark, the Production Manager, tells us of their biggest job undertaken since we last spoke to the team in 2016. “We’ve recently undertaken work for Babcock, one of our regular clients. It was at their large facilities within the dockyard- and included large fabricated tray signs- and digital prints among other items”. Signs Express carries out a lot of internal work for Princess Yachts, as well as their most commonly requested work; vehicle graphics.

Jess, although having only been at the business for a short time; has already partially completed her first big job. “I got an email through enquiring about vehicle graphics. The initial process is mainly back and forward correspondence making sure you get a design that the client likes”. Jess tells us that it’s important to find a good middle ground, as sometimes what the customer wants isn’t necessarily the best design for their needs. “You want them to have the best they can get, so I like to give them alternative ideas and pointers”. The Design was signed off, and the vehicles are due in for the graphics to be placed in two weeks.

Talking about the future of the business, Chris tells us that he thinks he has the right team in place for long term success.“I want to sell on the business in the few years- and retire. I want to ensure the business is the best it can possibly be, so it can be passed on confidently”. As part of the franchising process, Chris has regular contact with a business Development Manager, who is helping him to progress with his plans. “He comes down to us at regular intervals and we speak on the phone twice a week so I am getting plenty of help from someone not directly involved with the business, which can really assist with keeping on track”.

It’s clear to see that Chris has built Signs Express up to the success it is now, and his plan to retire at a high point is in steady progress. Jessica Parnell makes a great addition to the hard working team, and adds another skilful individual to the ever growing franchise business.

| Call 01752 563336 or find them at Unit 14, Wolseley Business Park |

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