After a year in partnership, Borney UK and Your Sign are seeing the strategy pay off. Could a similar move be your best route to growth?
You don’t have to be friends to be business partners but it helps. Indeed, the year-old partnership between well-established Borney UK and new start-up Your Sign only came into being because the directors knew each other well and realised that they could form a symbiotic relationship – a move that both parties now view as key to accelerated growth at a time when just standing still can be viewed as an achievement.
“Borney has always been a textile-based print company but was looking to diversify and expand having bought a Gerber Solara flatbed printer and router in the spring of 2009. I had worked at Borney as an account manager back in 2006/7 before setting up my own company, Your Sign, early in 2010,” says Nick Dowell. “Knowing that I was working in signage, an area Borney wanted to get more involved in, its directors Richard Beary and Andre Severs rang me to discuss what we could do to benefit each other’s business. The result was the formation of a partnership that saw Your Sign move into the same premises as Borney a year ago. Though we operate as two separate businesses - each with our own staff, accounts, websites etc.- we work very closely together to offer services that neither of us could have delivered before.”
For Dowell, who was running Your Sign from his home in Cambridgeshire with just one plotter and outsourcing the majority of production to various local printers while looking for a unit into which to expand, the benefits of partnership became apparent immediately. For a start, the move into Borney’s Huntingdon site meant Your Sign had proper business premises, which Dowell says “had a massive impact on customers’ perception of the company”. What’s more, as directors of a £1.2m turnover company, Beary and Severs (who also became co-director of You Sign alongside Dowell) could provide the working capital for the newcomer to form its own new website – something that Dowell admits he could not have done on his own in the same sort of timeframe. In its first year of business Your Signs turned over around £130,000, which in Dowell’s eyes is largely down to the partnership with Borney.
“We’ve tried to keep things as simple as possible,” he stresses. “Borney has the kit and I have the expertise and we leverage that. As a predominantly textile-print company Borney wanted someone to help them fill the capacity of their new flatbed by expanding the range of signage services they could offer, particularly in the automotive trade where they are very strong and well-known. They could see that there were flatbed products that they could be selling at a higher margin than the their mainstream work, flags, where the print had become commoditised. They had the kit but not the know-how on how to go about delivering those extra signage products but they knew I did.
“I had worked at Signs Express and at one time had thought about taking on a franchise there, but had decided to build my own business instead. When Beary told me Borney wanted to get into internal and external graphics for car showrooms etc. and asked if I would like to partner with them on providing the know-how on general signage and vehicle graphics it seemed an obvious route to growth and that has proved to be the case.”
Both parties cross-sell each other’s services where possible, which Dowell acknowledges has been a major plus-point in the growth of Your Sign. “Borney account managers may recommend to a client that Your Sign could do a job and vice-versa,” says Dowell. “The relationship between the two companies is transparent to customers and they don’t seem to have a problem with who delivers what part of a job. We’re proud of what we do and the backing of Borney has certainly given Your Sign gravitas.”
Apart from the small amount of work handled by Your Sign’s plotter, the majority of print taken on by the company is produced on Borney’s kit – though the time is coming when Dowell believes he will need to start investing in print technology too. “Currently, around 80% of our work at Your Sign (largely vehicle signage) is actually going through Borney’s Roland Versacamm now and we’re finding we’re needing more capacity on that front so in the next six months we expect to have bought a similar machine,” says Dowell.
So, why not stick with the current type of set-up and let Borney have all the hassle of kit investment? Dowell laughs at this, admitting that the time has perhaps come when Borney’s directors expect Your Sign to share some of that capital outlay and risk. “I also want to start production myself,” he adds. “We currently have just one production person (who handles the plotter work and applies vehicle wraps etc.) but we’re looking for another. Having the right people trained to the right level is part of what we bring to the partnership party.”
For Borney, its not just on the skills-set that Your Sign delivers, but on price. “We’ll do a job for Borney at a flat bread and butter cost so that they can add margin,” says Dowell, who points out that by the end of 2010 around a quarter of Your Sign turnover was coming via this route. “That means they can make money while it helps us cover wages etc. in a period that might have been flat.”
So once Borney has learned Your Sign’s know how won’t it just start cutting out the latter and handle all the work direct? “They might,” admits Dowell, “but that’s OK. Over time they will learn the complexities of what is still a fairly new print sector for them and start do it themselves and then we’ll review the partnership – maybe two or three years down the line – by which time we’ll both have grown. At the moment we have a two-year partnership plan and in that time both Your Signs and Borney expects to have grown turnover, customer base, profile etc.
“The thing to remember is that partnership can benefit both parties, but maybe only for a certain time. Then it might be time to dissolve it and take another look at where you are and what you want. It doesn’t have to be a commitment forever, but for a period that suits both party’s needs. In difficult times it’s really helped Your Signs establish itself and Borney to diversify. It has definitely accelerated our growth paths, definitely!”.