Great Yarmouth company knows the signs of success

PUBLISHED: 08:00 11 August 2014

Mark and Ashley

Mark and Ashley


A company set up 25 years ago when a father and son found themselves unemployed now employs 100 staff -and is projecting to double its £8m turnover in the next five years swelling its workforce by a further 25.

Signwaves is tucked away in Lefevre Way on Great Yarmouth’s Gapton Hall industrial estate, but the iconic signs it produces - from the National Lottery to Wall Ice Cream - are familiar across the country.

As the firm celebrates its landmark anniversary, CEO Mark Ford, 54, recalls how it all began at the family home in Lowestoft, the front room serving as an office and the garage as a workshop.

He was 29 at the time and his father Ashley, 59, and they both found themselves out of work due to redundancy.

What might have been a disaster was seized on as an opportunity to realise the dream of Mr Ford senior to start his own family business.

Both had previously worked in graphics signage, and using their combined expertise, saw an opportunity in the market in the field of A-boards and pavement signs. Today, Ashley, 84, remains chairman of Signwaves.

Mark said: “We started off with a homemade screen printing press and that’s no exaggeration. We used a hoover as a vacuum and a bucket with sand in to provide a counter weight at the back.

“We started from nothing with the sales office in my front room and the buying and accounts department on my father’s landing.” The business got its first break when in its first month they secured an order from the then UK’s largest video rental store, Ritz Video Film Hire.

Mark said: “This was our first order and we literally had nothing: no brochure, no marketing material, nothing. My step mother who was an old school graphic designer, prepared a felt tip pen and pencil artist’s impression of an A-board. I presented this to Ritz and to my amazement, secured an order for 50 units.”

In the next six months they managed to secure a number of well-known brands – Michelin Tyres, Laing Construction and the AA. At this point they were still printing using the handmade screen bench.

A year after landing those contracts, Signwaves won the Walls Ice Cream pavement sign business and was on a roll.

Now Signwaves is regarded as one of the market’s leading players with a 50,000 sq ft factory and offices and a list of clients that most would envy.

BP, Tesco, Ben and Jerry’s, Rombouts and Currys are among their clients.

Today the company sells thousands of products from pavement signs and A-boards through to poster displays and forecourt signs.

As the firm projects further growth, Mark cited customer service as the biggest factor in their success.

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