Suffolk signage company uses grant to set new direction for growth

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Suffolk-based signage company Hudson Group used the disruption caused by COVID-19 to review its business plans and the market opportunities that would be available on the resumption of more normal trading conditions. Now, with the help of a grant from the LEP’s Business Resilience and Recovery Scheme, it has invested in new machinery that will position it favourably for the immediate and foreseeable future.

Hudson Group’s core activities are signage manufacture, metal fabrication, large format printing, vehicle graphics, branded workwear and promotional gifts. Its customers include Suffolk County Council, West Suffolk Hospital, BT, R G Carter, Hollywood Bowl and Big Yellow Self Storage.

COVID restrictions had a big impact on Hudson’s business. The demand for signage – especially for the retail sector – dried up, as it did for promotional gifts and branded workwear.

However, because of its expertise in signage, the Ipswich company was able to quickly pivot its 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 its Ipswich factory running, minimising the need for furloughing staff. And, as more businesses returned their staff to work, so the demand for them increased.

The 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 the management team soon realised that, to keep up with demand and safeguard future production, they needed to invest in a new machine.

While 2020 saw a massive reduction in demand for branded workwear and promotional gifts, the business saw that with the green shoots of recovery starting to appear, companies would be investing in workwear and uniforms. Although Hudson had established itself at the quality end of this market producing embroidered clothing, it could not really compete at the lower-cost, screen printing end of the market because the machinery it had was outdated.

The company recognised that by purchasing a ‘direct-to-garment’ digital printing machine for cotton and a transfer printer that would print to any other material, they would be able to better penetrate this segment of the market.

So, with the realisation that three new pieces of equipment would be needed, accompanied by a significant investment, they got in touch with New Anglia Growth Hub to find out if there was any funding available to help support their growth plans. They spoke to business adviser Fiona Little and were delighted with the support they received through the Business Resilience and Recovery Scheme.

The application they submitted was for a replacement CNC router that would speed up the production of signs and enable it to pitch for new business that their old router would not be able to cope with in terms of volume of orders or timelines.

Hudson Group also applied for funding to help buy a ‘direct-to-garment’ and an OKI transfer printer which would give it a greater ability to retain and upsell to existing clients. With clothing now expected to be a growth area, those clients that were previously customers of promotional gifts could be serviced for workwear.

The business received a grant of £40,500 through the scheme which represented 50% of the total cost of the three machines.

Tom Wright of Hudson GroupTom Wright, Sales Director of the Hudson Group (pictured), said: “It only took around eight weeks from submitting our application to getting it approved. The help we received from Fiona and from Lynn Gallant our grant officer was fantastic. They answered all our questions, advised us on how to best complete the application and, importantly, kept us informed all the way through the process. I would highly recommend any business to speak to the Growth Hub if you are thinking about investing in your business.”

He continued: “Being able to come out of the COVID restrictions in a healthier position than we went in with gave us the very real prospect of growing our turnover from an increased client base and 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 and the confidence of our customers to see that we are investing in securing our joint futures.”

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